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On July 4, 1888, the United States celebrated the 112th anniversary of its independence. John Calvin Coolidge, who would eventually become the 30th President of the United States, celebrated his sixteenth birthday. But for this article, we will focus on an individual who would become President more imminently. This is the story of Benjamin Harrison, who on July 4, 1888, accepted the Republican nomination for President of the United States.

The 1888 Republican National Convention

From June 19-25, 1888, the Republican delegates gathered in Chicago to select the presidential ticket that would take on incumbent President Grover Cleveland that November.

After eight ballots, former Senator Benjamin Harrison of Indiana secured the nomination over Senator John Sherman of Ohio. Benjamin Harrison became the first and only grandson of a former President to secure the nomination, 48 years after his grandfather, William Henry Harrison, won the presidency. The runner-up, John Sherman, came from no less an impressive family – his brother being William Tecumseh Sherman. Levi Morton of New York secured the vice presidential nomination on the first ballot.

Benjamin Harrison, who was not in attendance at the convention, would receive small delegations at his home in Indianapolis congratulating him in the immediate aftermath of his nomination. But it would not be until Independence Day when he would be formally presented with the nomination.

Benjamin Harrison Accepts the Republican Nomination for President

Harrison accepted the Republican nomination for president on July 4, 1888, ten days after he prevailed at the Republican National Convention. The details of the occasion are set forth in Speeches of Benjamin Harrison: Twenty-Third President of the United States, compiled by Charles Hedges and published in 1892. In the following sections, I will go over the events of the day with reference to the book. I will include page numbers in order that you may follow along (Internet Archive / Project Gutenberg).

Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President of the United States, gave a speech accepting the Republican nomination for President on July 4, 1888.
Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President of the United States, pictured in “Speeches of Benjamin Harrison: Twenty-Third President of the United States.”

The Committees

(Pages 35-36)

The Republican National Convention dispatched a “committee on notification” to Indianapolis to formally notify Harrison of his nomination. The chairman of the Indiana Republican State Committee, James N. Huston, designated a committee of Indiana Republicans to receive and escort the committee on notification to Senator Harrison’s house.

The Indiana “committee to receive the committee on notification” consisted of the following gentlemen: Ex-Gov. Albert G. Porter, Mayor Caleb S. Denny, Col. John C. New, J. N. Huston, Col. J. H. Bridgland, Hon. Stanton J. Peelle, William Wallace, M. G. McLain, N. S. Byram, Hon. W. H. Calkins, W. J. Richards, and Hon. H. M. LaFollette.

The Republican National Convention’s committee on notification consisted of the following delegates: Judge Morris M. Estee of California, Chairman; Alabama, A. H. Hendricks; Arkansas, Logan H. Roots; California, Paris Kilburn; Colorado, Henry R. Wolcott; Connecticut, E. S. Henry; Delaware, J. R. Whitaker; Florida, F. M. Wicker; Georgia, W. W. Brown; Illinois, Thomas W. Scott; Indiana, J. N. Huston; Iowa, Thomas Updegraff; Kansas, Henry L. Alden; Kentucky, George Denny; Louisiana, Andrew Hero; Maine, Samuel H. Allen; Maryland, Wm. M. Marine; Massachusetts, F. L. Burden; Michigan, Wm. McPherson; Minnesota, R. B. Langdon; Mississippi, T. W. Stringer; Missouri, A. W. Mullins; Nebraska, R. S. Norval; Nevada, S. E. Hamilton; New Hampshire, P. C. Cheney; New Jersey, H. H. Potter; New York, Obed Wheeler; North Carolina, D. C. Pearson; Ohio, Charles Foster; Oregon, F. P. Mays; Pennsylvania, Frank Reeder; Rhode Island, B. M. Bosworth; South Carolina, Paris Simpkins; Tennessee, J. C. Dougherty; Texas, E. H. Terrell; Vermont, Redfield Proctor; Virginia, Harry Libby; West Virginia, C. B. Smith; Wisconsin, H. C. Payne; Arizona, Geo. Christ; Dakota, G. W. Hopp; Dist. Columbia, P. H. Carson; Idaho, G. A. Black; Montana, G. O. Eaton; New Mexico, J. F. Chavez; Utah, J. J. Daly; Washington, T. H. Minor; Wyoming, C. D. Clark.

The Committee on Notification Arrives at Benjamin Harrison’s Residence

(Page 36)

The book reports that the Republican National Convention notification committee, under escort from the Indiana Republican State Committee, arrived at Harrison’s Indianapolis residence at 674 Delaware Street at noon. Judge Morris M. Estee of California, Chairman of the Republican National Convention, delivered an address on behalf of the delegates, offering the party’s nomination for president to Harrison. A copy of the address, which was signed by the delegates, was also presented to Harrison.

Benjamin Harrison’s Favorable Response to the Committee on Notification

With the committee’s pageantry having gone according to plan, all that was left was for Harrison to accept the nomination. He accepted it with the humility and dignity befitting of the era. Below, I will present the speech in its entirety, copied from the collection of speeches, before offering my own thoughts on the address.

Benjamin Harrison’s Speech

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Committee—The official notice which you have brought of the nomination conferred upon me by the Republican National Convention recently in session at Chicago excites emotions of a profound, though of a somewhat conflicting, character. That after full deliberation and free consultation the representatives of the Republican party of the United States should have concluded that the great principles enunciated in the platform adopted by the convention could be in some measure safely confided to my care is an honor of which I am deeply sensible and for which I am very grateful. I do not assume or believe that this choice implies that the convention found in me any pre-eminent fitness or exceptional fidelity to the principles of government to which we are mutually pledged. My satisfaction with the result would be altogether spoiled if that result had been reached by any unworthy methods or by a disparagement of the more eminent men who divided with me the suffrages of the convention. I accept the nomination with so deep a sense of the dignity of the office and of the gravity of its duties and the responsibilities as altogether to exclude any feeling of exultation or pride. The principles of government and the practices in administration upon which issues are now fortunately so clearly made are so important in their relations to the national and to individual prosperity that we may expect an unusual popular interest in the campaign. Relying wholly upon the considerate judgment of our fellow-citizens and the gracious favor of God, we will confidently submit our cause to the arbitrament of a free ballot.

The day you have chosen for this visit suggests no thoughts that are not in harmony with the occasion. The Republican party has walked in the light of the Declaration of Independence. It has lifted the shaft of patriotism upon the foundation laid at Bunker Hill. It has made the more perfect union secure by making all men free. Washington and Lincoln, Yorktown and Appomattox, the Declaration of Independence and the Proclamation of Emancipation are naturally and worthily associated in our thoughts to-day.

As soon as may be possible I shall by letter communicate to your chairman a more formal acceptance of the nomination, but it may be proper for me now to say that I have already examined the platform with some care, and that its declarations, to some of which your chairman has alluded, are in harmony with my views. It gives me pleasure, gentlemen, to receive you in my home and to thank you for the cordial manner in which you have conveyed your official message.

Thoughts on Harrison’s Acceptance Speech

Since I thought to write this article for the upcoming Independence Day holiday, I will start with Harrison’s having noted that the Republican National Convention chose to present him with the nomination on July 4. He stated that the fact that the party chose to visit him on July 4 to present him with the nomination “suggests no thoughts that are not in harmony with the occasion.” Harrison elaborated, tying the sentiments of the nominating Convention to those that motivated the founders in winning America’s independence and the Union in freeing the slaves and winning the Civil War. It should be noted that Harrison himself had served with distinction in the Civil War, concluding it as a brevet brigadier general of volunteers.

The bulk of Harrison’s address, however, was devoted to ensuring that no one thought he was too eager for political power. He reassured those who were listening that he made no assumption that he was the best man for the job. He added, in this vein, that he would “accept the nomination with so deep a sense of the dignity of the office and of the gravity of its duties and the responsibilities as altogether to exclude any feeling of exultation or pride.” Harrison cast himself as accepting the nomination out of a sense of duty. Whether he was the most qualified was beyond his control, but he pledged to comport himself fully in accord with the dignity and gravity of the office. Furthermore, Harrison foreshadowed the fact that he would not personally travel around the country and campaign, instead running one of the last “front porch” campaigns from his home: “Relying wholly upon the considerate judgment of our fellow-citizens and the gracious favor of God, we will confidently submit our cause to the arbitrament of a free ballot.”

The Harrison Family and Tippecanoe

On November 7, 1811, Benjamin Harrison’s grandfather, William Henry Harrison, then the Governor of the Indiana Territory, won a military victory over Tecumseh’s Confederacy at the Battle of Tippecanoe. The battle helped make William Henry Harrison a well-known figure nationally.

The role of The Battle of Tippecanoe in the 1840 presidential election is perhaps better known than the battle itself now. William Henry Harrison ran on a ticket with John Tyler, and supporters popularized a campaign song, Tippecanoe and Tyler Too. It is perhaps ironic that Tyler, an afterthought in the campaign song, would become the first vice president to ascend to the presidency through the death of the president and set a precedent for all those who came after.

The Tippecanoe Club Marches to Deliver Congratulations to Harrison

(Page 38)

Returning to 1888, the book of Benjamin Harrison’s speeches informs us that after he accepted the Republican nomination for president, he received “congratulations of a unique character from the Tippecanoe Club of Marion County…” The Tippecanoe Club was “a political organization composed exclusively of veterans who had voted for General William Henry Harrison in the campaigns of 1836 and 1840.” (William Henry Harrison finished second to Martin Van Buren in the 1836 presidential election before defeating President Van Buren in 1840.)

Unsurprisingly for a political club based in part on having voted for a presidential candidate 48 and 52 years earlier, most of the members of the Tippecanoe Club were on the older side. The book reports that “[t]heir average age was seventy-five years…” The oldest member of the Tippecanoe Club of Marion County, James Hubbard of Mapleton, Indiana, “was over one hundred years old.” To put that in perspective, Mr. Mapleton, who was alive to celebrate a presidential nomination in 1888, had been born before George Washington became the first president of the United States.

The age of the Tippecanoe Club members did not stop many of them from campaigning vigorously for Benjamin Harrison: “Nearly all the younger and able-bodied members attended the Chicago Convention and worked unceasingly for the nomination of General Benjamin Harrison.”

After Benjamin Harrison accepted the Republican nomination, 91 members of the Tippecanoe Club, who had worked to help elect his grandfather 48 years earlier, marched to Benjamin Harrison’s house in the rain. The club members were commanded by their marshal, Isaac Taylor. When they arrived, they delivered a congratulatory address to Harrison, “which was presented by a committee consisting of Dr. George W. New, Judge J.B. Julian, and Dr. Lawson Abbett…”

Before reprinting Harrison’s reply to the Tippecanoe Club members, I must note what a moment it must have been for those veterans who had revered and worked hard to help elect William Henry Harrison, and who had stayed in touch for many decades thereafter, to be able to congratulate his grandson on winning the nomination for president in his own right.

Benjamin Harrison’s Rely to the Tippecanoe Club of Marion County

(Pages 38-39 – remarks reprinted in their entirety)

Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Tippecanoe Club of Marion County—I am very deeply touched by your visit to-day. The respect and confidence of such a body of men is a crown. Many of you I have known since I first came to Indianapolis. I count you my friends. [Cries of “Yes, sir, we are!”] You have not only shown your friendliness and respect in the political contests in which my name has been used, but very many of you in the social and business relations of life extended to me, when I came a young man among you, encouragement and help. I know that at the beginning your respect and confidence was builded upon the respect, and even affection—may I not say, which you bore to my grandfather. [A voice, “Yes, that is true!”] May I not, without self-laudation, now say that upon that foundation you have since created a modest structure of respect for me? [Cries of “Yes, sir!” “We have!” “That’s the talk!”] I came among you with the heritage I trust, of a good name [cries of “That’s so!” “Good stock!”], such as all of you enjoy. It was the only inheritance that has been transmitted in our family. [Cries of “It has been!”] I think you recollect, and, perhaps, it was that as much as aught else that drew your choice in 1840 to the Whig candidate[39] for the presidency, that he came out of Virginia to the West with no fortune but the sword he bore, and unsheathed it here in the defence of our frontier homes. He transmitted little to his descendants but the respect he had won from his fellow-citizens. It seems to be the settled habit in our family to leave nothing else to our children. [Laughter and cries of “That’s enough!”] My friends, I am a thorough believer in the American test of character [cries of “That’s right!”]: the rule must be applied to a man’s own life when his stature is taken He will not build high who does not build for himself. [Applause and cries of “That’s true!”] I believe also in the American opportunity which puts the starry sky above every boy’s head, and sets his foot upon a ladder which he may climb until his strength gives out.

I thank you cordially for your greeting, and for this tender of your help in this campaign. It will add dignity and strength to the campaign when it is found that the zealous, earnest, and intelligent co-operation of men of mature years like you is given to it. The Whig party to which you belonged had but one serious fault—there were not enough of them after 1840. [Laughter and applause.] We have since received to our ranks in the new and greater party to which you now belong accessions from those who were then our opponents, and we now unite with them in the defence of principles which were dear to you as Whigs, which were indeed the cherished and distinguishing principles of the Whig party; and in the olden and better time, of the Democratic party also. Chief among these were a reverent devotion to the Constitution and the flag, and a firm faith in the benefits of a protective tariff. If, in some of the States, under a sudden and mad impulse some of the old Whigs who stood with you in the campaign of 1840, to which you have referred, wandered from us, may we not send to them to-day the greetings of these their old associates, and invite them to come again into the fold?

And now, gentlemen, I thank you again for your visit, and would be glad if you would remain with us for a little personal intercourse.

Thoughts on Harrison’s Address to the Tippecanoe Club

Harrison began by noting that he had known some of the members of the Tippecanoe Club delegation for many years. He added that they had aided him not only in his political career, but also by introducing him to social and business contacts in the areas.

In one of the more interesting passages, Benjamin Harrison briefly discussed his grandfather, to whom the members of the Tippecanoe Club had originally devoted their political energies. He noted that he inherited a good name from his grandfather, and that “[i]t was the only inheritance that has been transmitted in our family.” He tied that line into his opining on what had first drawn the veterans to William Henry Harrison: “[P]erhaps, it was that as much as aught else that drew your choice in 1840 to the Whig candidate for the presidency, that he came out of Virginia to the West with no fortune but the sword he bore, and unsheathed it here in defence of our frontier homes.” Harrison then added again, perhaps jokingly, that his grandfather transmitted nothing but his good name, and that it was a settled habit in the Harrison family to leave nothing to descendants but a good name. In a serious note, however, Harrison stated that this is exactly how it should be: “He will not build high who does not build for himself.”

The second half of Harrison’s speech reflected on the political journey that he and the members of the Tippecanoe Club had traveled. The members of the Tippecanoe Club, William Henry Harrison, and Benjamin Harrison himself had been members of the Whig party. Benjamin Harrison joked about the demise of the Whigs: “The Whig party to which you belonged had but one serious fault—there were not enough of them after 1840.” Commenting on their Republican Party, Harrison stated that they had “since been received to our ranks in the new and greater party to which you now belong accessions from those who were then our opponents, and we now unite with them in the defence of principles which were dear to you as Whigs, which were indeed the cherished and distinguishing principles of the Whig party; and in the olden and better time, of the Democratic Party also.” Harrison then made his first reference to a specific policy debate of the day, noting that in addition to devotion to the Constitution and the flag, one belief the Whigs had carried over to the Republican Party was “a firm faith in the benefits of a protective tariff.”

Harrison asked the members of the Tippecanoe Club to try to persuade fellow former Whigs who had left the fold to support the Republican party: “If, in some of the States, under a sudden and mad impulse some of the old Whigs who stood with you in the campaign of 1840, to which you have referred, wandered from us, may we not send to them to-day the greetings of these their old associates, and invite them to come again into the fold?”

Harrison concluded his remarks by asking the members of the Tippecanoe Club to remain with him and his wife to talk more.

Postscript: Benjamin Harrison Elected as the 23rd President

Benjamin Harrison would, as I noted earlier, remain in Indiana for most of the campaign, receiving delegations and delivering speeches from his home. His front porch campaign would be enough to narrowly defeat the incumbent President, Grover Cleveland. Harrison became the third president – after John Quincy Adams in 1824 and Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 – to win the election while having fewer total votes than his opponent. He would be the last until George W. Bush 112 years later. Harrison carried the Electoral College 233-168. Notwithstanding the 65 vote margin in the Electoral College, the election turned on President Cleveland’s native New York. Had Cleveland carried New York – which he lost by a mere 14,373 votes out of 1,319,748 cast – its 36 electoral votes would have secured for him a second consecutive term.

Harrison took the oath of office in Washington D.C. in the rain on March 4, 1889, beneath his umbrella being held aloft by the man he defeated in the election.

Benjamin Harrison taking the oath of office on March 4, 1889, before giving his inaugural address speech as President.
Benjamin Harrison takes the oath of office at his inauguration on March 4, 1889. Grover Cleveland, Harrison’s predecessor and eventual successor, holds the new President’s umbrella while he takes the oath of office. Photographer not credited; Library of Congress Presidential file. derivative work: Jim Evans.

Harrison would serve one term as president before being defeated in his reelection bid by none other than Grover Cleveland, who became the first – and thus far only – president to serve two non-consecutive terms.

Final Thoughts

I had originally found the book of President Harrison’s speeches for the purpose of tracking down a story in Calvin Coolidge’s autobiography. That story will have to wait for another day. In looking for some unusual Independence Day stories to deliver for you, I scanned through the text to see if President Harrison had delivered any Independence Day remarks. The only Independence Day remarks in the book, however, were from his accepting the Republican nomination for president in 1888.

There is nothing exceptionally remarkable about the remarks. The Republican National Convention organized a colorful procession to deliver its nomination to Harrison at his home on Independence Day. Harrison responded with a speech befitting the political sensibilities of his era, and ultimately foreshadowing the modest campaign he would run to win the presidency.

I was not expecting, however, to find the charming story about the Tippecanoe Club. That is proof that you never know what you might find when you open an old and long-forgotten text. The men of the Tippecanoe Club, whose average age was 75, held Benjamin Harrison’s grandfather in great esteem. Nearly half a century earlier, they all worked toward William Henry Harrison’s election. So devoted they were to their shared service and William Henry Harrison’s memory, that they would look out for members of his family, including Benjamin Harrison, over the coming decades.

In 1888, when Benjamin Harrison sought the presidency, the members of the Tippecanoe Club who were still able ventured to the Republican National Convention in Chicago to work to ensure his nomination. Having succeeded, 91 members of the Tippecanoe Club marched through the rain to Harrison’s house to formally congratulate him on being the nominee. Harrison’s remarks to them were interested not only for his comments about his grandfather’s legacy and the friendship of the club members, but also for his tying their long and arduous political journey – which began in a party that no longer existed and crossed the Civil War – to the present political moment.

For people who had worked tirelessly to elect William Henry Harrison in the elections of 1836 and 1840, it must have been a crushing disappointment when he succumbed to illness 31 days after taking the oath of office. It was perhaps a bit of redemption for them to see the nephew of the general and president to whom they were devoted win a new party’s nomination for president with their support, and ultimately be elected as the 23rd President of the United States. While both presidents Harrison may be among the lesser known U.S. presidents today, there was a time when the members of the Tippecanoe Club and others invested a great deal of time and energy in seeing to their political triumphs.