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Religion In The Lives Of The American Presidents

A series of lectures organized and compiled by the Forum Class, Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, Washington DC, in 1976. Full text online


Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison

After the election, Senator Matthew Quay of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, called on President-elect Benjamin Harrison at his home in Indianapolis. According to Matthew Josephson in his interesting study THE POLITICOS .1865-1896, Quay "...found the usually self-possessed Harrison deeply stirred, and in pious Presbyterian fashion inclined to thank his God for having favored the Republican Party." "Providence has given us the victory," he exclaimed in deep and solemn tones.

"The Pennsylvania chieftan assented out of habitual politeness, but afterward imparted to his friend, Colonel A. K. McClure, the thought that Harrison was doubtless a "political tenderfoot" and made a poor impression upon him."

"'Think of the man,' Quay exclaimed. ’He ought to know that Providence hadn’t a damn thing to do with it.’ And, he added emphatically, that he supposed Harrison ’would never know how close a number of men ' were compelled to approach the gates of the penitentiary to make him President.’"

During Harrison's term (1889-1893) the McKinley Tariff and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act were enacted as was also the Dependent Pensions Act, which doubled the number of pensions between 1889 and 1893.

Suffering from tuberculosis, Mrs. Harrison died in the White House in October 1892 . Two weeks later, Harrison was decisively defeated for re-election by former President Grover Cleveland.

Harrison was certainly a good churchman. He served as a deacon and later as an elder of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A, In addition, he taught a men's Bible Class in the church and the Y.M.C.A. When his son, Russell, became involved in some foolish financial speculation that proved costly, Harrison offered this advice: "There is nothing for you except to meet your difficulties bravely and squarely... Do not let any pressure of seeming necessity draw you one inch away from the line of honor and duty... Prayer steadies one when he is walking in slippery places." Like Cleveland, Harrison and his wife attended the National Presbyterian Church while in Washington.

Three years after his departure from the White House, Harrison remarried. His second wife was Mrs. Mary Scott Lord Dimmock, by whom he had a daughter. A son and a daughter had been born of his first marriage. In 1901, five years following his second marriage, Harrison died and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, alongside his first wife.

Thomas Bailey regards Harrison as "a medium-sized man with perhaps better than medium-sized abilities," one who "had given the Country a mediocre, mark- time administration. The experts lodge him almost in the middle -- that is, the middle of the Average category, but he seems to slip more comfortably into the top of the Below Average (Presidential) group." With that assessment, I am inclined to agree.

Presented by Dr. William Lloyd Fox, Professor of History, Montgomery College; Author, and Member of the Universalist National Memorial Church.

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Posted By: J.J. Burks

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Updated: 6-3-2016