One of the main issues that Harrison faced during his presidency was civil service reform. Congress was deeply divided on this issue, creating a no-win situation for the president. Therefore, not much was accomplished on this front during Harrison's term in office. In fact, because he appointed people to positions based on merit rather than on political patronage, he created an enemy in the powerful speaker of the house, Thomas Reed. Because of the enmity between the two of them, legislation that was important to Harrison was often voted down or ignored.
Harrison experienced a lot of firsts while he was president. As already stated, he was the first to have electricity in the White House. He was also the first to attend a baseball game, and the first to have his voice recorded. A strong believer in civil rights, Harrison held afternoon receptions open to the public that for the first time African Americans were allowed to attend.
New States and Relations
Six states entered into the Union during Harrison's time in office — more than during any other president's administration. It was also during his term that relations were established with Central America. The Pan American Congress met in 1889 in Washington, D.C. Its purpose was an increase in cooperation between North, Central, and South America.
At the end of the nineteenth century, reformers were beginning to set their sights on the unfair business practices of many trusts and monopolies. To combat this, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was passed in 1890. This bill was the first to attempt to stop businesses from forming unfair monopolies and using other means to reduce competition. The law itself was vague and did not have much effect on the trusts that it was targeting. However, it did have the unwanted effect of being used against labor unions. In fact, labor unions that tried to use collective bargaining practices like strikes were targeted through this law as having created unfair monopolies.
Nonetheless, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was an important first step toward making sure that trade was not limited by the existence of monopolies.
In 1890, Representative William McKinley sponsored a tariff that required those wishing to import products to pay a whopping 48 percent tax. This was seen as a response to a recession that was occurring in America. The goal was to encourage people to buy American goods. However, consumer prices rose for imported items and in many cases a reduction of supply occurred. Consumers blamed Republicans — including Harrison — for their economic woes and this led to his defeat in the election of 1892.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS…
Harrison realized the importance of keeping workers happy, presaging the future changes to help protect laborers. As he said: “We cannot afford in America to have any discontented classes, and if fair wages are paid for fair work we will have none.”