11 Tips for That Benjamin Harrison Birthday Bash You're Probably Planning

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

If you’re looking for an excuse to host an impromptu Monday get-together, why not throw a birthday bash for America's last bearded president? Today happens to be Benjamin Harrison’s 179th. Here are 11 party-planning tips that’ll help you set the scene for an epic celebration.

1. Leave the Lights On

It is imperative that your rave be well-lit. Benjamin Harrison was the first president to have electricity installed in the White House. He was so afraid of being electrocuted that he refused to touch the light switches. Consequently, he and his wife often left the lights on all night long. So if you want to rage Harrison-style, don’t expect to do it in the dark.

2. Rent a Goat!

Harrison kept a pet goat named Old Whiskers who would often pull the president's grandchildren around the White House lawn in a cart.

One day, Old Whiskers managed to slip through the White House gates and made a break for it, pulling the kids behind him. Harrison chased them down Pennsylvania Avenue, frantically waving his cane as he struggled to hold on to his top hat. Passersby eventually apprehended the rogue goat when they saw the president feverishly running after him. We suggest you unveil your Capricorn early to establish an Animal (White) House vibe early on.

3. Ice, Ice Baby!

Harrison wasn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy guy. In fact, he was known as “the human iceberg” —and it wasn’t exactly a term of endearment. Theodore Roosevelt once called Harrison “a cold-blooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid old psalm-singing Indianapolis politician.” To honor His Frigidness, prepare a party menu that includes plenty of chilled items. Serve up ice cream, ice pops, frozen margaritas, Patron on the rocks—anything below 32 degrees. Maybe even include a little Vanilla Ice or Ice Cube on your party playlist. We hear Harrison was a big fan of (18)90’s rap. (OK, that’s probably not true.)

4. Spend it Up . . .

If you’re throwing a party for Benjamin Harrison, get ready to part with some Benjamin Franklins. Harrison’s was the first administration to appropriate more than $1 billion in Congressional spending, and we’ve never looked back. While Harrison spent the money on internal improvements, naval expansion, subsidies for steamship lines, and veterans’ pensions, we suggest that you budget your bash differently.

5. . . . But Not at Walmart

If Harrison were alive today, we’re betting he wouldn’t be buying his party supplies at America’s superstore. During his presidency, Harrison supported the landmark Sherman Antitrust Act, the first bill that ever attempted to curb the power of America's corporate giants. Harrison was also a protectionist who favored high tariffs—meaning that businesses who wanted to import products from other countries had to pay major taxes. Harrison believed that consumers should buy American-made products at fair prices. He once said, “I pity the man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman who produces the cloth will starve in the process.”

6. Be Chill With Big Love

When it comes to a Benjamin Harrison rager, anything goes. Harrison wasn’t exactly your everyday swinger, but he did give his polygamist friends a free pass. In 1893, he issued a proclamation pardoning Mormons who had been in polygamous marriages on the condition that they stick to monogamy from then on. And though he may have appeared supremely traditional, Harrison had his fair share of romantic drama. After Harrison’s first wife Caroline passed away, he married her niece Mary – a widow nearly thirty years his junior.

7. VIP Treatment for the Bearded

Harrison was, regretfully, America’s last bearded president. To honor him right, give your bewhiskered guests special treatment. Rope off a reserved VIP section that only guests with beards can enter. Make sure that they get all sorts of presidential perks—like permission to eat all the chocolate out of the Neapolitan ice cream without consequence.

8. Serve Cleveland Sandwiches as Hors d’Oeuvres

Harrison’s presidency was sandwiched between Grover Cleveland’s two nonconsecutive terms. In 1888, Harrison lost the popular vote to Cleveland by a narrow margin, but won the Electoral College. In 1892, however, Harrison lost to Cleveland in a landslide—largely because his tariff policies were so unpopular. Scrumptious Cleveland sandwich hors d’oeuvres might consist of ice cream to represent the notoriously frigid Harrison, sandwiched between two soft, buttery cookies to symbolize the generously proportioned Cleveland.

9. Show the 700 Club

Turning on a TV or two can help create a party-appropriate ambiance. While your run-of-the mill nightclub probably shows music videos or sports games, we suggest a totally original program to really get the party started: The 700 Club. Televangelist Pat Robertson is a relative of the Harrison clan. Harrison was a born-again Christian himself, and his faith formed the sense of duty that underlaid his political activities. Harrison’s rhetoric reflected civil religious themes, advocating equal opportunity.

10. Steal the Stage

Make sure you prepare a few eloquent words to appease the mid-party calls for a speech. After all, it’s not a real Ben Harrison bash without a great speech or five. Harrison was known as an outstanding and prolific orator; he once made 140 different speeches in one month. That’s 4.67 distinct addresses per day! And he came by his love of public speaking honestly. Harrison’s grandfather, William Henry Harrison, gave the longest inaugural address on record; it lasted nearly two hours and was delivered outside in a snowstorm. (Grandpa Wills died of pneumonia about a month into his term, which many people attributed to his record-breaking address.) We suggest that you make your toast a little shorter, and consider holding it indoors just in case.

11. Ignore the Party Poopers

Harrison certainly wasn’t popular with everyone. In fact, some scholars argue that his economic policies contributed to the Panic of 1893 shortly after he left office. Although he’s not traditionally regarded as one of our most distinguished chief executives, recent historians have come to recognize the important achievements of the Harrison administration. Harrison helped usher the United States into a new epoch of international trade, convened the first Pan-American conference, championed for black citizens’ voting rights, admitted six states into the Union, and took the first step toward curbing the power of corporate giants – all while maintaining impeccably groomed facial hair. So if partygoers aren’t enjoying your awesome rager, give them some time (a hundred years or so) to get into the mood.

Could You Keep Up With Theodore Roosevelt's Ruthlessly Efficient Daily Routine?

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

An avid outdoorsman, politician, and quote machine, Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was never one to sit idle. The 26th president of the United States (1901 to 1909) regarded the calendar as something to be conquered and fulfilled, never squandered. He employed a number of routines to help him achieve his goals during his presidency and beyond, and each was ruthlessly efficient—particularly when he was on the campaign trail.

In his role as running mate to presidential candidate William McKinley in 1900, Roosevelt adhered to a strict schedule that packed more into one day than some people accomplish in a week. In his book The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, author Edmund Morris detailed Roosevelt's activities:

7:00 a.m. Breakfast

7:30 a.m. A speech

8:00 a.m. Reading a historical work

9:00 a.m. A speech

10:00 a.m. Dictating letters

11:00 a.m. Discussing Montana mines

11:30 a.m. A speech

12:00 p.m. Reading an ornithological work

12:30 p.m. A speech

1:00 p.m. Lunch

1:30 p.m. A speech

2:30 p.m. Reading [Scottish novelist] Sir Walter Scott

3:00 p.m. Answering telegrams

3:45 p.m. A speech

4:00 p.m. Meeting the press

4:30 p.m. Reading

5:00 p.m. A speech

6:00 p.m. Reading

7:00 p.m. Supper

8-10 p.m. Speaking

11:00 p.m. Reading alone in his car

12:00 a.m. To bed

Clearly, Roosevelt had an effective strategy for fulfilling the obligations of his working life while still making time for reading in order to enrich his intellect. The habits grew out of his experience at Harvard, where he balanced his schoolwork with athletic pursuits and other interests. Roosevelt devoted fragments of each day to study and refused to entertain any interruptions. Studying or reading for even half an hour with an appropriate amount of focused intensity, he believed, was more beneficial than sitting for twice as long while distracted by friends, food, or daydreaming.

When he became president following the assassination of McKinley in 1901, Roosevelt's responsibilities grew exponentially, but he remained insistent on a highly organized approach to the day. During one week in February 1903, Roosevelt took up to eight meetings in an hour, averaging 7.5 minutes to conduct whatever business was on the table. During this time, he was also posing for his official presidential portrait by artist John Singer Sargent. Rather than sit for one or two marathon sessions, Roosevelt agreed to pose for just one half-hour a day. On Sunday, he cleared his schedule to unwind and keep up with correspondence.

The ability to concentrate has only gotten harder in an era of screens and buzzing phones, and you might think Roosevelt had it comparatively easier. It might help to remember that, in 1912, he was shot by a would-be assassin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin just before going on stage to give a scheduled speech. He managed to complete the 84-minute speech with a bullet lodged in his ribs. For Roosevelt, nothing was going to interfere with the day's routine.

Think you know everything there is to know about T.R.? Test your knowledge with our quiz, "Did Theodore Roosevelt Do That?"

Can a Person Refuse a Presidential Pardon?

Harris & Ewing, Inc., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Harris & Ewing, Inc., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Presidential pardons have been in the news, which has led to an onslaught of questions about just how far a president's pardoning powers extend—and what would happen if the person being offered the pardon declined it altogether? Is such a thing even possible, or does the pardoned individual in question have no choice in the matter? Believe it or not, it's an issue that has come up a few times over the past two centuries—and the answer isn't exactly a clear-cut one.

To fully answer the question, first an important distinction has to be made between commutation and pardoning. Both are part of the pardoning powers given to the president, but differ in levels. Speaking to ABC News, Randy Barnett, a professor at Georgetown University, explained that "Pardon is an 'executive forgiveness of crime'; commutation is an ‘executive lowering of the penalty.'" And the answer to the question depends on that distinction.

UNITED STATES V. WILSON

In 1833 the Supreme Court heard the case of the United States v. George Wilson. On May 27, 1830, Wilson and co-conspirator James Porter were both sentenced to death after being convicted of robbing a U.S. postal worker and putting the carrier’s life in jeopardy. While Porter was executed just over a month later, on July 2, 1830, Wilson managed to escape the sentence. President Andrew Jackson decided to pardon Wilson for the death penalty charge on the understanding that he had yet to be sentenced for other crimes (for which he was looking at a minimum of 20 years). For some reason Wilson waived the pardon, possibly because of confusion about what case he was being tried for at the time and what cases the pardon was for.

In 1833, the Supreme Court ultimately weighed in on the issue, ruling “A pardon is a deed, to the validity of which delivery is essential, and delivery is not complete without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered, and if it be rejected, we have discovered no power in a court to force it on him.” (Strangely, the details of whether or not Wilson was ever executed are lost to time.)

BURDICK V. UNITED STATES

This right of refusal was affirmed in 1915. George Burdick, city editor of the New York Tribune, refused to testify regarding sources for articles on alleged custom fraud by invoking his Fifth Amendment rights [PDF]. President Woodrow Wilson then gave a pardon to Burdick, protecting him from any charge he may incriminate himself of during his testimony. The idea behind the pardon was to force Burdick to testify, under the theory that he could no longer be convicted for any acts he may reveal. But Burdick rejected the pardon, continued to invoke his rights, and was found guilty of contempt.

The Supreme Court ruled that Burdick was within his rights to refuse the pardon and as such he did not lose his Fifth Amendment rights.

BIDDLE V. PEROVICH

A 1927 ruling added a new wrinkle to the pardoning issue. In 1905, Vuco Perovich was sentenced to hang for murder, which President Taft commuted to life imprisonment a few years later. Perovich was then transferred from Alaska to Washington, and later to Leavenworth. Perovich eventually filed an application for writ of habeas corpus, claiming that his commutation was done without his consent. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that "the convict’s consent is not required."

This ruling has led decades of legal scholars to wonder if the Perovich ruling overturned these earlier cases, with Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. arguing “Whether these words sound the death knell of the acceptance doctrine is perhaps doubtful. They seem clearly to indicate that by substantiating a commutation order for a deed of pardon, a President can always have his way in such matters, provided the substituted penalty is authorized by law and does not in common understanding exceed the original penalty" [PDF].

In other words: You may be able to refuse a pardon, but you would not be able to refuse a commutation.

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