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Harrison Administration

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

THE Baring failure, though its influence for universal evil was checked (as shown in another chapter) by the able management of Mr. Lidderdale, who was the chief instrument in adroitly using the power and funds of the Bank of England to avert a very extensive panic, was nevertheless followed by an unhappy aftermath, the effects of which were severely felt on this side of the Atlantic. Things might have been much worse here, however, except for two fortunate circumstances. One of these was the sound condition of our banks and the systematic management of the Clearing House which, in any threatened emergency or extraordinary tightness in the money market, issues certificates to tide over the trouble. The other circumstance was that we were blest with one of the best administrations that we have had since the days of Washington and Lincoln. The Harrison administration stands out in bold relief as one of the greatest in the history of the Republic. It was characterized by honesty and economy. In it Jingoism was conspicuous by its absence. It was too thoroughly American for that, and it sought no recognition from abroad. It did not seek to elevate itself into public notice by any display of cheap sensationalism. It was thoroughly unostentatious, and, avoiding all entangling alliances according to the advice of Washington, attended strictly to domestic business, which it looked after with constant assiduity. The last year of the Harrison administration, 1892, was one of the most prosperous in the history of the country, and, if General Harrison had been reelected there is every reason to believe that the same conditions would have continued. It would have been a continuous chain without a break; but when Harrison left the White House the scene was changed. General Harrison had not long taken his departure when the ominous forebodings of the Wilson Bill took hold of the minds of the people. What was the result? Our manufacturing industries were paralyzed, we had another panic on our hands, and the struggle against the malign influences of free trade went on until McKinley was elected. With regard to General Harrison himself, he is a man of unique personality and fine culture, a profound lawyer and an eloquent orator; yet he was never known to parade any of these gifts or attainments. His modesty in this respect has seldom been excelled by any one in an eminent office. His speeches are marvelous for their variety; wherein they differ from Bryan's, which always harp on the same theme. But General Harrison is unexcelled in versatility even by Horace Greeley. That Western trip of thirty days in the spring of I891 has no parallel in the annals of electioneering speeches- which they virtually were. General Harrison traveled, just as Mr. Bryan did, throughout the whole West and South; he covered more ground than Mr. Bryan in the same time, was equally ubiquitous, and made about as many speeches; but here the comparison ends. The speeches were of a different kind. In every separate State General Harrison displayed an intimate knowledge of that State and its people, with their habits and customs from the earliest times, as if he had been born there and lived among them all his life. Not only in variety, but even in mere number of addresses, Harrison leaves the free-silver orator far in the distance. He made nine speeches in one day, for instance, in San Francisco without repeating himself, and one of them was a banquet oration, regarded by both Republican and Democratic papers as one of the greatest oratorical efforts ever heard in that city. One very conspicuous point in General Harrison's visiting trip was the sudden and strong attachment of the people to him, which thus displayed the powerful magnetism of the man. He had a rare felicity in complimenting the people on the good points exhibited in their State, and of making them feel satisfied with their lot and location. A good illustration is from a little speech in Ashland, Oregon, as follows: - '"My friends, you have a most beautiful State, capable of promoting the comfort of your citizens in a very high degree, and, although already occupying a high place in the galaxy of States, it will, I am sure, take a much higher one. It is pleasant to see how the American spirit prevails among all your people, love for the flag and its constitution, those settled and permanent things that live, whether men go or come. They come to us from our fathers and pass down to our children. " You are blessed with a genial climate and most productive soil. I see you have in this northern part of California what I have seen elsewhere-a well-ordered community, with churches and schoolhouses, which indicate you are not giving all your thoughts to material things, but are thinking of those things that qualify the soul for hereafter. We have been treated to another surprise this morning in the first shower we have seen in California. I congratulate you that it rains here. May all the blessings fall upon you like this gentle rain." The chief qualities that characterize this speech are simplicity, terseness, directness, and a thorough appreciation of his audience. General Harrison has been charged with being cold, but the sympathetic tone in which he addressed the people of Ashland would seem to disprove the imputation. He may be cold toward those who would be incapable of appreciating his warmth, and between whom and himself there is no natural sympathy. Let us now regard General Harrison as a politician and a statesman. He is a man of remarkable candor and courage. This was displayed very prominently in his letter of acceptance, in which he refused to follow slavishly the platform of the party, but boldly expressed his own independent opinions. Candidates for the highest office in the land, or, indeed, for any office, are usually afraid to venture on such a course of action; but in the case of Harrison it was made clear that he was a thorough politician as well as a far-seeing statesman. It might be said of him, in fact, as a great Englishman, Viscount Bolingbroke (St. John), said of Dean Swift; "Turn him to any course of policy, the Gordian knot of it he will unloose, familiar as his garter." To show the depth of President Harrison's political insight, there probably could be no better testimony than that of James G. Blaine. Commenting on the political sagacity in General Harrison's letter of acceptance, the man of Maine said:" The position of the candidate, as defined by himself, is of far more weight with the voters, and the letter of acceptance has come to be the legitimate creed of the party. Notoriously, little heed is given to an exposition of principles by the committee on resolutions, and less heed is given to resolutions when submitted to the convention at large. This springs naturally from the fact that great haste characterizes the preparation of the platform, and if one man of the committee has any political hobby that he wishes to incorporate, he has little trouble, from the general inattention of the members, in compassing his end. Conventions often embody issues which are impracticable, and occasionally that are mischievous and embarrassing." General Harrison cleverly evaded the hobbies of the convention, while he paid due respect to the main features of the platform. This was respectful to the convention. Mr. Cleveland, on the contrary, in his acceptance took no chances. According to Mr. Blaine he made the platform himself, quite ignoring the convention. It must be remembered also that Mr. Cleveland was consistent in the maintenance of this independent policy to the end of his administration. The policy of President Harrison toward the South was of the most conciliatory character, and in no instance, perhaps, did his wisdom and prudence shine more brilliantly. His suggestion to Congress that provision be made " for the appointment of a non-partisan commission to consider the subject of apportionments and elections in their relation to the choice of federal officers " was a master-stroke of policy, especially at the time when Democratic politicians were attempting to inflame all the hostile passions of their party against the Federal Election Bill. President Harrison's wisdom was further shown in this matter by urging upon Congress the passage of a law which would give to the Supreme Court the appointment of the nonpartisan commission. This took the wind out of the Democratic sails and bereft several prominent journals of their best material for criticism, as well as many politicians of a prolific subject for discussion. Any review of that administration would be incomplete without a reference to those significant commercial projects contemplated by President Harrison and his brilliant minister, Secretary Blaine. I refer to the plan of reciprocity treaties wherever they could be profitably negotiated. Before the end of his administration the enterprise was well under way; it had worked admirably and profitably in Cuba and in the Windward and Leeward Islands; it had begun to manifest its good influences in South and Central America, and was materially lessening the balance of trade against us in those countries. But the succeeding Democratic administration did not see the incalculable benefits to be derived from this great movement in trade and commerce, partly through in appreciation of its commercial importance, and partly, perhaps, through partisan prejudices because Secretary Blaine and President Harrison were its original projectors. It is sad to think that partisanship should block the way of progress in some of the most benignant and patriotic enterprises; but perhaps such things must be while two political parties of generally opposite views seem necessary to carry on the government and to maintain those checks and balances indispensable to its stability.

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