Knowing the Presidents: Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison

Twenty-Third President, 1889-1893


A Republican, Benjamin Harrison campaigned against Grover Cleveland in defense of the protective tariff, as well as sound currency, pensions for Civil War veterans, and efficiency in office.


Reserved and self-contained, Benjamin Harrison was unsuited to reform the corrupt political arena of the late 19th century.

Harrison contributed to the collapse of the nation’s economy by accepting the agenda of the “Billion Dollar Congress” of 1890, which produced controversial legislation on monetary policy and tariff rates.

Major Acts:

The Tariff Act of 1890, supported by Ohio Representative William McKinley, was the highest protective tariff in the nation’s history and expanded presidential authority in foreign trade.

Benjamin Harrison’s administration produced the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, the most important legislation of its kind in the nation’s history. Though weak and ineffective, the act was the first federal law to regulate giant corporations.

The Sherman Silver Purchase Act assured silver producers that the federal government would purchase 4.5 million ounces of silver a month—a guarantee perceived as a threat to the gold standard, and a concession to western silver interests in return for their support of the Tariff Act of 1890.


Pursuing the most active agenda in foreign policy since Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Harrison set forth legislation that incorporated Hawaii into the United States, launching the nation on the road to empire that would distinguish the U.S. at the turn of the century.

Harrison began three distinguished initiatives: the construction of a modern navy, the control of a Central American canal, and the acquisition of naval bases in the Caribbean and the Pacific.