Born in Ohio, Benjamin Harrison moved to Indianapolis in 1854 and was elected city attorney three years later. Following the Civil War, during which he rose from a colonel of the 70th Indiana Infantry to a brevet brigadier general. he returned to his law practice and re-entered politics.
In 1881 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, and was chairman of the Senate Committee on the Territories in his only term. He also advocated a protective tariff, endorsed railroad regulation, and spoke out for civil service reform. Harrison became the strongest GOP candidate for president in the 1888 campaign when James G. Blaine chose not to run.
Harrison defeated Grover Cleveland in the election. Naming Blaine secretary of state, Harrison arranged the Pan-American conference in 1889, expanded the navy and merchant marine, and pursued reciprocal trade agreements with Latin American countries. Key legislation during his single term were the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, outlawing business arrangements that restrain trade; the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which permitted coinage of larger amounts of silver; and the protective McKinley Tariff Act. Although Harrison was nominated by the Republicans to run for a second term, party apathy and general disenchantment with Republican policies led to Cleveland's victory.