Organized by Secretary of State James Blaine, the First International Conference
of the American States met in Washington, D. C., from October 1889 into April
1890. Blaine chaired the delegation of representatives from 18 Western
Hemisphere nations, which discussed numerous economic and political issues.
Although little of substance was produced, this conference was the forerunner of
the present-day Organization of American States (1948).
Dependent and Disability Pensions Act:
In 1887, President Grover Cleveland vetoed the Dependent and Disability Pensions
Act. The next year, Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress
and the presidency. The bill was passed again in 1890 and signed into law
by President Benjamin Harrison. It granted a pension to every disabled
veteran—whether disability was traceable to military service or not—and to
dependent family members of deceased Union veterans.
Sherman Anti-Trust Act:
Senator John Sherman of Ohio, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act passed Congress in June
1890 with only one dissenting vote and was quickly signed into law by President
Benjamin Harrison. Its sweeping but vague language banned any “restraint
on trade,” and subjected violators to fines or prison.
Sponsored by Senator John Sherman of Ohio, the law obligated the federal
government to buy nearly all the nation’s monthly production of silver in return
for federal notes redeemable in gold or silver coin. Most note holders
chose to redeem in gold, drastically reducing the federal gold reserve.
Republicans had supported the legislation in order to gain the support of
pro-silver Westerners for the McKinley Tariff Bill.
McKinley Tariff Act:
Sponsored by Congressman William McKinley of Ohio, the protectionist law raised
tariff rates to an average 48%, the highest peacetime level in American history
to that date. It provoked a popular backlash resulting in the Republican
loss of the House of Representatives that November, including McKinley’s seat.
He recovered politically, however, to win the governorship in 1891 and 1893, and
the presidency in 1896.
In December, the national convention of the Farmers Alliance in Ocala, Florida,
passed resolutions that became the basis for the People’s (or Populist) Party.
The document called for a federal warehouse-loan system (called “sub-treasury”),
the free coinage of silver, an end to trade protectionism, a progressive income
tax, and other reforms.
||Forest Reserve Act:
This law gave presidents the authority to set aside forests as federally
preserved land. Before his term ended in March 1893, President
Harrison used the act to establish 15 forest reserves encompassing over
13 million acres of timberland.
The Judiciary Act of 1891:
Increased litigation in the post-Civil War decades clogged the federal
court system. Senator William Evarts of New York, a former U.S.
attorney general (1868-1869), sponsored legislation creating a tier of
appellate courts in the federal judicial system. The law (passed
in March) established one U.S. Court of Appeals in each of the nation’s
nine judicial district, and it limited the type of cases that could be
appealed to the Supreme Court. As a result, the High Court’s
caseload fell dramatically from 623 in 1890 to 379 in 1891 to 275 in
The Baltimore Affair:
On October 16, a saloon brawl in Valparaiso, Chile, between American
sailors assigned to the U .S. S. Baltimore and Chilean nationals
resulted in two American sailors killed, 17 wounded (five seriously),
and many arrested. The incident sparked a diplomatic crisis that
lasted for months, occasionally threatening war between the two
countries. In February 1892, a Chilean court indicted three
Chileans, and in July the Chilean government agreed to pay the United
States $75,000 in reparations.
When a new contract at Andrew Carnegie’s steel mill in Homestead, Pennsylvania,
reduced wages by up to 18%, the union went on strike. Subsequent violence
resulting in the deaths of three guards and seven workers prompted the state’s
National Guard to restore order. On July 23, manager Henry Clay Frick was
shot by an anarchist, who was not associated with the strikers. Despite
pressure from Republicans, Frick refused to settle. In mid-November, after
the presidential election, some of the strikers voted to return to work and the
strike was broken.
Sponsored by Congressman Thomas Geary of California, the law extended for
another decade all federal regulations related to Chinese immigration. It
also required all Chinese residents in the United States to apply for and carry
a certificate of residence. Furthermore, bail was denied to Chinese
residents in America who were involved in habeas corpus proceedings, and
Chinese witnesses were prohibited from testifying in court. The U.S.
Supreme Court upheld the Geary Act in 1893.
Meeting in Minneapolis on June 7-10, Republicans nominated President
Benjamin Harrison for reelection over the half-hearted challenge of his former
secretary of state, James Blaine, and a respectable showing for Governor William
McKinley of Ohio, who was not officially a candidate. Delegates then chose
journalist Whitelaw Reid to replace Vice President Levi P. Morton on the ticket.
The party platform supported trade protectionism.
Gathering in Chicago on June 21-23, Democrats gave Grover Cleveland, the
former president (1885-1889), a commanding first-ballot victory over Governor
David Hill of New York and Governor Horace Boies of Iowa. Adlai
Stevenson, a former Illinois congressman, was selected for the vice-presidential
spot. The party platform criticized Republican tax-and-spend policies,
endorsed tariff for revenue only, and condemned the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.
Convened on July 4 in Omaha, Nebraska, the Populists nominated James B. Weaver
of Iowa, a former Union general and Greenback congressman, for president and
James G. Field of Virginia, a former Confederate officer and state attorney
general, for vice president. The party platform demanded a sub-treasury
system, “free and unlimited coinage of silver and gold” at a ratio of 16 to 1, a
graduated income tax, and other reforms.
On November 8, Democrat Grover Cleveland was elected president with an
Electoral College victory over Republican Benjamin Harrison and Populist James
Weaver, 277-145-22. For the third consecutive presidential election,
Cleveland won the popular vote, 46%-43%-9%, the largest in 16 years.