Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Key Events in the Presidency of Benjamin Harrison


March 4, 1889

Republican Benjamin Harrison is inaugurated as the twenty-third President after losing the popular vote to Grover Cleveland. The Republicans hold small majorities in both houses of Congress, making this the first time since 1875 that Republicans control both Congress and the White House.

March 7, 1889

The Harrison Cabinet meets for the first time. It decides against the use of an informal "Kitchen Cabinet" and criticizes the practice of "senatorial courtesy" and the spoils system. Secretary of State James G. Blaine serves as a prominent figure in Harrison's core group, campaigning heavily for American interests in Latin America and Hawaii.

April 29, 1889

The Berlin Conference on Samoan Affairs begins, with the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom attempting to bring peace to the troubled area. The conference will conclude with the making of a treaty, "The Final Act of the Berlin Conference on Samoan Affairs," which declares the neutrality and nominal independence of Samoa while creating a three-power protectorate over the islands. Secretary of State Blaine handles the negotiations.

May 3, 1889

Harrison invites Theodore Roosevelt to the White House and appoints him Civil Service Commissioner on May 7. Roosevelt, a reform Republican from New York, heads the department until 1895.

August 6-16, 1889

Building on the work of President Arthur, Harrison tours New England and reveals plans for an expanded merchant marine and two-ocean Navy. Expansion of the Navy will be a distinguishing feature of Harrison's presidency.

October 2, 1889

Secretary of State Blaine initiates the first Pan-American Conference, primarily to increase U.S. commercial interests in Latin America. Blaine hopes to heighten the American presence in Latin America to the detriment of Britain.

November 2, 1889

North and South Dakota join the Union as the thirty-ninth and fortieth states.

November 8, 1889

Montana becomes the forty-first state.

November 11, 1889

Washington is admitted as the forty-second state.

December 3, 1889

Harrison sends his first message to Congress. Among his recommendations are civil rights and civil service reform, naval legislation, improved conditions for railroad workers, and pensions for veterans.

December 4, 1889

Harrison nominates David J. Brewer to the Supreme Court. The Senate approves the choice two weeks later.


June 27, 1890

The Dependent Pension Bill is passed, providing benefits to Union veterans as well as to their children and widows. Former President Cleveland vetoed the same bill three years earlier. By 1907, the law will have cost the government more than a billion dollars.

July 2, 1890

The Sherman Anti-Trust Act is enacted, forbidding business practices that restrain trade and commerce or attempt to create monopolies. Until the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, the government will rarely invoke the law: between the act's inception and 1901, only eighteen antitrust suits appear, with four of them coming against labor unions.

July 3, 1890

Idaho is admitted as the forty-third state.

July 10, 1890

Wyoming is admitted as the forty-fourth state.

July 14, 1890

Harrison signs into law the Sherman Silver Purchase Act after convincing free silver senators to compromise on the legislation. Support comes from farmers who argue that increased silver coinage will inflate the currency supply and raise prices, as well as from leaders of new western states with silver mines. The law permits the Treasury to buy 4.5 million ounces of silver each month, doubling the previous purchase amount. Nevertheless, the bill has little effect on the economy.

July 29, 1890

Harrison sends a special message to Congress in which he requests legislation to ban lottery ticket sales by mail.

September 2, 1890

Congress passes the Anti-Lottery Bill proposed by John Caldwell of Ohio. It is signed into law on September 19.

October 1, 1890

Congress passes the McKinley Tariff, introduced by Ohio Senator William McKinley, future President of the United States. Average duties on manufactured goods are increased to 49.5 percent. It is the most controversial legislation passed during Harrison's term, greatly expanding the power of the President in foreign trade. A section of the tariff allows the President to negotiate reciprocity agreements for certain commodities. Secretary of State Blaine endorses this portion of the bill, believing it will enable Harrison to influence Latin American countries to lower rates on American exports. In June, Harrison will sign several such accordance agreements.

November 7, 1890

The mid-term elections result in a Democratic sweep of the House, while in the Senate the Republican majority falls to eight. The Democratic victory reflects society's displeasure with the higher tariffs imposed by the McKinley Tariff.

December 29, 1890

Harrison appoints Henry B. Brown to the Supreme Court.


March 3, 1891

Harrison signs a historic measure creating nine Circuit Courts of Appeals. The new Courts are set up to relieve the demands on the Supreme Court.

March 14, 1891

A mob in New Orleans lynches eleven Italian immigrants from Sicily, resulting in Italy severing its diplomatic ties to the United States and threatening war. Those murdered are among a group of nineteen Italian immigrants indicted for the murder of police chief David C. Hennessey. Amidst allegations of threats and bribes to the jury, all nineteen had been cleared. The incident helps usher the word "mafia" into common parlance.

May 6, 1891

Responding to a request from the Balmaceda government of Chile, the United States seizes a Chilean rebel ship, the Itata, as it is carrying an arms shipment from San Diego. The rebels eventually defeat the Balmaceda government in a civil war, leading to the emergence of tense relations between the United States and Chile.

October 16, 1891

A brawl between American sailors and Chilean nationals in Valparaiso, Chile, results in the deaths of two Americans and many arrests. Tensions between the United States and Chile escalate, and many fear the outbreak of war between the two nations.

December 9, 1891

In his annual message to Congress, Harrison denounces the Valparaiso attack as "savage, brutal, unprovoked."

December 16, 1891

Harrison nominates Stephen B. Elkins as the new secretary of war.


January 1-20, 1892

Harrison states that all members of his cabinet are in favor of war with Chile. During the first three weeks of January, Secretary of State Blaine is the only cabinet member arguing against an ultimatum.

January 21, 1892

The United States sends an ultimatum to Chile.

January 25, 1892

In a special message to Congress, Harrison asks that lawmakers take "appropriate action" regarding Chile.

January 26, 1892

Chile backs down in the conflict. Ultimately, it pays an indemnity of $75,000.

May 23, 1892

Harrison decides to run for re-election; party bosses oppose him.

June 4, 1892

Secretary of State Blaine resigns. His disagreements with the President have increased. Additionally, Blaine has grown increasingly ill and will die less than eight months after leaving office.

June 7-10, 1892

Harrison is nominated on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. Whitelaw Reid of New York is nominated as his running mate.

June 23, 1892

The Democrats nominate Grover Cleveland and Adlai E. Stevenson.

July 6, 1892

After being locked out over a contract dispute, steel workers at the Homestead plant (part of Carnegie Steel) in Pennsylvania fight with men from the Pinkerton Detective Agency, who have been brought in to bust the strike. Seven Pinkertons and nine workers die. Six days later, 8,000 militiamen accompany and protect the Pinkerton men.

July 11, 1892

Silver miners at Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, go on a violent strike. Thirty men are killed as they fight non-union help. Harrison sends in federal troops to restore order.

July 30, 1892

Harrison privately supports mediation in the Homestead Steel Strike and sends Whitelaw Reid as an emissary to Henry Clay Frick, the man whom Carnegie has left in charge of Homestead. This proves to be fruitless; the strike lasts five months, breaks the union, and deals a major blow to organized labor. When the strike ends on November 20, Carnegie realizes his major aim as the union is virtually destroyed.

October 25, 1892

After suffering from tuberculosis, Harrison's wife dies.

November 8, 1892

Garnering 43 percent of the popular vote, Harrison is defeated by Grover Cleveland, who gains 46 percent in the presidential election. Cleveland receives 277 electoral votes to Harrison's 145.


January 17, 1893

Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii is deposed on January 17, with a provisional government being established under Sanford B. Dole. News of the revolt reaches Washington on January 29. Harrison responds by deploying 150 marines to Hawaii to protect the new government.

February 16, 1893

Harrison sends a treaty to the Senate requesting "full and complete" annexation of Hawaii. The Senate, intensely divided, refuses to act.

March 4, 1893

Grover Cleveland is inaugurated as President, and Harrison returns to Indianapolis.