The President You Might Not Know

That swagger you might notice from the Virginia Episcopalians descending on Indianapolis could come from many sources. One of them is our commonwealth’s legacy as the “Mother of Presidents.” Eight chief executives of the United States were born in our fair state, compared to—how can we say this graciously?—none in Indiana.

Before that state pride becomes too pronounced, however, let’s note the fine print from the historic record. The last president claimed by Virginia was elected 100 years ago. And though Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, his career as a political leader and university president was more closely tied to New Jersey.

And there’s this asterisk too. Indiana still claims a president, even though he was born in Ohio. Indeed, if you have a few extra minutes on the Fourth of July saunter on over to the Benjamin Harrison Museum at 1230 North Benjamin HarrisonDelaware Street. You can enjoy a Victorian Circus, while indulging in an ice cream social from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The cost is $12 for adults and $5 for children.

Don’t remember Benjamin Harrison? Well, here’s a short primer, with a Virginia touch! As the 23rd president of the United States, Harrison was elected a century after our first president—George Washington of Virginia. Harrison’s 1889 to 1893 Republican administration came between the two non-successive terms of Democrat Grover Cleveland.

Indiana’s claim to Harrison, who established relations with Central America, raised the issue of civil rights and built up the professionalism of the military, goes back to 1854. That’s when Harrison and his wife, future first lady Caroline, moved to Indianapolis. In 1874, they began building their 16-room, Italianate brick house at a whopping cost of almost $25,000. The home and grounds, with many of the original possessions, are preserved as a National Historic Landmark.

Here’s where it all comes back to Virginia. Harrison’s great grandfather, also named Benjamin, was born in Berkeley, Va., served in the Continental Congress, and became governor. Benjamin Harrison’s grandfather, William Henry Harrison, was born in Virginia, became a military hero of the War of 1812, and went down in history as the shortest serving president. He died in 1841, one month after his chilly inauguration.

So head on over to North Delaware Street and enjoy the legacy of a president you might not know—a lawyer who became a Union general during the Civil War. You missed the Wicket World of Croquet tournament (that was on June 16), but you can still reflect on a president who was booted out of office after one term due to a bad economy. Surely that will never happen again.

–Ed Jones, Editor

Categories: GC2012