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Speeches of Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison

Compiled by Charles Hedges

with maps by Ian Randal Strock

ISBN: 978-1-62755-628-6 (hardcover)
ISBN: 978-1-62755-629-3 (trade paperback)

576 pages, $26.99 (hardcover), $17.99 (trade paperback)

       

   

In 1888, Benjamin Harrison campaigned for the Presidency in the manner common for candidates of his era: he stayed at home in Indianapolis and spoke to visiting delegations. In 1889, he traveled to Washington to take up residency in the White House, and made a few brief trips out of town. In 1890, he undertook a train journey lasting more than a week and covering nearly 2,700 miles, making stops and speeches in seven states. But in 1891, he did something no other President had done to that point: a transcontinental train journey lasting a month and covering more than 9,200 miles. On this voyage, he visited and made speeches in nearly 200 municipalities in no fewer than 18 states and three territories which would soon join the union. Later that year, he followed it up with a two-week, 1,400-mile journey through New York and Vermont, with another 30 stops and speeches.

This volume, originally compiled by Charles Hedges in 1892, is a complete collection of Harrison's addresses from February 1888 to February 1892, in chronological order, including all his campaign speeches, several important letters, and the numerous speeches delivered during his tours. It also includes extracts from his messages to Congress.

Unknowingly contrasting his subject with the politicians of today, Hedges writes in his introduction: "it is not the purpose of this book to present a few selections of oratory, laboriously prepared and polished, or occasional flashes of brilliant thought. From such efforts, prepared, perhaps, after days of study and repeated revision, one can form but an imperfect idea of their author. Such a compilation might show the highest conceptions of the man, and evidence a wide range of thought and a surpassing grandeur of expression; but it would be but a poor mirror of the man himself in his daily life." Instead, he wrote, the people deserve "to observe the character of their public servants, to come into closest touch with their daily thoughts, and to know them as they are—not when prepared for special occasions, but day after day and all the time." The vast majority of the speeches presented here "were delivered during the presidential campaign of 1888, often four or five in a day, to visiting delegations of citizens, representing every occupation and interest, and during his tours of 1890 and 1891, when he often spoke eight or ten times a day from the platform of his [train] car."

He goes on to laud Harrison's efforts, noting that among other reasons, the speeches are notable "in the fact that, while delivered during the excitement of a political campaign and in the hurry of wayside pauses in a journey by railroad, they contain not one carelessly spoken word that can detract from their dignity, or, by any possible distortion of language, be turned against their author by his political opponents. With no opportunity for elaborately studied phrases, he did not utter a word that could be sneered at as weak or commonplace." And also that "no thought of sameness or repetition is ever suggested.… One marvels at his versatility in adapting himself to every occasion, whether he was addressing a delegation of miners, of comrades in war, or of children from public schools.…"

This modern edition is newly typeset, and accompanied by maps detailing Harrison's journeys prepared specifically for this volume.