Benjamin Harrison barely registers a twitch on the needle of “Famous Presidents.” He wasn’t a particularly successful President, even though he had a Party Majority in both Houses of Congress. Somehow or another, things just… didn’t get done.
There were however at least two things that should make him more appreciated. First, he was the driving force behind the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Of course, he also appointed the Supreme Court Justices who would help to gut the legislation, and he never held any of the Congressmen who voted FOR it accountable for its enforcement. So while its remnants are still on the books today, it wasn’t the Trust-busting panacea it was supposed to be when he signed it.
More importantly, Harrison was a robust supporter of the 15th Amendment and the rights of African-Americans men to vote. It infuriated him that the former Confederate States – and some Union States – were still not willing to allow Black men the vote. But while he lobbied hard to make changes, he was largely ineffective and unable to overcome the prejudice and inertia of the post-Civil War nation.
So what exactly did he accomplish with regards to the Constitution? It starts with Article II, Section 3: “The President shall take Care that the Laws be Faithfully executed.” William McClain of North Carolina, during that States Ratification Debates, commented that “If the President takes care to see the laws faithfully executed, it will be more than is done in any government on the continent; for I will venture to say that our government, and those of the other states, are, with respect to the execution of the laws, in many respects mere ciphers.”
Washington had seen the clause as applying to Federal Laws, and for most of the preceding century, Presidents limited themselves to things that were directly covered by the US Codes, the laws passed by Congress.
But on August 14, 1889, a Supreme Court Justice was arriving in California to ride circuit. President Harrison had heard about a potential threat to the Justice.
And he decided to… Take Care…