Tuesday, March 13, 2007

March 13, 1901:

Benjamin Harrison Dies

Benjamin Harrison, in as much as he’s remembered at all, is known as the only president who had a grandfather for a president – namely that extreme short-timer William Henry Harrison back in 1841. Benjamin was just a lad of 7 when his presidential grandfather died, and not only did the lad grow up to be president from 1889 to 1893, surviving his entire term, but he also became the first president to die in the 20th century, checking out about 10 weeks into the new century at his home in Indianapolis.

Among the men who were president, one died in the 18th century – Washington – 20 died in the 19th century, 15 in the 20th century, and two so far have died in the 21st, namely Reagan and Ford. Benjamin Harrison’s early passing in the century turned out to be only a few months ahead of William McKinley, assassinated in September.

Harrison didn’t get quite the official send-off that presidents who preceded him in death did. According to the New York Times upon word of Harrison’s death: “Deep interest was exhibited in all of the executive departments throughout the day in the reports that came as to the condition of ex-President Harrison. As office hours had closed for the day before the end came[,] the first official action regarding the death will be deferred until to-morrow, when, following precedents, President McKinley will issue his proclamation to the people, notifying them of Gen. Harrison's death, and setting out in becoming terms his virtues and characteristics. He also will order salutes to be fired at the various army posts the day of the funeral and on shipboard when the news is received.

“The Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy will send out special notices to soldiers and sailors conveying the President's directions in this matter. Little more can be done officially, as the act of March 3, 1893, specifically forbids the draping of public buildings in mourning or the closing of the executive departments on the occasion of the death of an ex-official.

“It is a curious fact that two orders issued by President Harrison himself probably brought about the enactment of this law. Jan. 18, 1893, the President was obliged to issue an order announcing the death of ex-President Hayes, closing the departments on the day of the funeral and ordering all public buildings to be draped in mourning. Almost before this period of mourning had expired ex-Secretary of State Blaine died, and another funeral proclamation issued from the White House. The long continuation of the exhibition of mourning was too much for Congress, which promptly passed the act above referred to, prohibiting mourning display and the closing of the departments on the occasion of the death of an ex-official.”

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