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The Journal Gazette

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Monday, March 04, 2019 1:00 am

Five Questions for Ray Boomhower

Author, "Mr. President: A Life of Benjamin Harrison"

Local appearance

Ray E. Boomhower will discuss the life of Benjamin Harrison at the History Center, 302 E. Berry St., at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

City Councilman Geoff Paddock will also be on hand, discussing his book, “Indiana Political Heroes,” a collection of essays on eight Hoosiers who had impact on state and local government.

The presentations will be followed by book signings. 

1 Benjamin Harrison may not be one of the best-known presidents – even in Indiana, where he lived before and after his four-year presidency and where he is buried. What about Harrison caught your interest enough to do a book on him?

I had known something of Harrison through some research I had previously done on the 1888 presidential election, but did not know much of Harrison as a person. I saw writing about him as a way to highlight his essential decency and the achievements he made in office in spite of being defeated for re-election.


2 How did growing up the grandson of another president, William Henry Harrison, affect Benjamin's life and career?

Harrison's distinguished ancestry did make it easier for him to make a mark in politics, both in Indiana and nationally. But it was always important to Harrison to be his own man. He once said at a political gathering: “I want it understood that I am the grandson of nobody. I believe that every man should stand on his own merits.”


3 Benjamin Harrison lost the popular vote but won the presidency by winning the Electoral College, with Indiana's votes turning out to be crucial. Why did Indiana wield so much political power in those days?

From the end of the Civil War to World War I, Indiana played a prominent role in national politics, contributing candidates for president and vice president to both the Democratic and Republican parties. At that time, only four states had more electoral votes than Indiana, and Democrats and Republicans needed the state to win the White House.

Also, from 1851 to 1880, Indiana was an “October state,” casting ballots for state and local offices in October, a month before the national election, providing an early indication of how voters were feeling.


4 Harrison also was a big tariffs guy. Are there other parallels between him and the current president? What do you think Harrison would make of today's political climate?

Harrison was a hands-on, active chief executive who possessed strong oratorical skills through his long years arguing cases as an attorney. If officials in his administration took ill and could not fulfill their duties, Harrison took on their work.

Also, he would not be surprised at today's political climate. After all, Harrison was involved in politics at a time when there were fierce battles between Democrats and Republicans. Party loyalty was expected of every person eligible to vote, and he said it was the “duty of every American citizen to support that party to which he gives the allegiance of his heart and mind.”


5 Do you think Harrison's unsuccessful attempt to annex Hawaii sprung from his familiarity with Hoosier winters?

That may have played a role, but more likely Harrison was looking to expand America's influence in the Pacific. In addition, because he had pushed modernizing the American Navy, Harrison saw Hawaii as a logical place for a future naval base, as Pearl Harbor became.