Replacing a 1792 law, this legislation established the line of succession in
case of the resignation, incapacity, or death of both the president and vice
president of the United States. The duties of the presidency would be
assumed by available cabinet officers in chronological order of each
department’s creation. The 1886 law was later superseded in turn by the
Presidential Succession Act in 1947 and the 25th
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1967.
Haymarket Square Bombing:
In 1885 and 1886, there were numerous labor strikes and boycotts across the
United States, often resulting in clashes between workers and the police.
The labor agitation culminated at a mass meeting of striking workers on May 4,
1886, at Chicago’s Haymarket Square, where a bomb killed seven police officers.
Eight men were arrested, seven of whom were sentenced to death. One of the
convicts committed suicide, four were hanged, and the other three (whose
sentences had been commuted to life in prison) were eventually pardoned by
Governor John Peter Altgeld of Illinois in 1893.
When he was appointed to President Grover Cleveland’s cabinet, Attorney
General Augustus Garland retained financial interest in the Pan-Electric
Telephone Company, which was seeking to influence federal officials in its
patent lawsuit against Alexander Graham Bell. The apparent conflict of
interest led to calls for Garland’s resignation and a congressional
investigation. Before the House committee, the attorney general expressed
surprise and innocence at the influence peddling by Pan-Electric. After
the hearings, he divested his holding in the company and its case against Bell’s
patent collapsed. Garland remained in office through the end of
Building a New Navy:
At the urging of Navy Secretary William C. Whitney, Congress approved funding
for two battleships, Texas and
Maine, in 1886. Before the end of the Cleveland administration in
March 1889, Congress authorized construction of 28 more naval ships.
Congress also complied with the secretary's reforms for improving the efficiency
of the Navy Department's bureaucracy. Whitney’s tenure in office marked an
important early phase of transforming the United States into a modern naval
Disability Pensions Bill Vetoed:
President Cleveland angered many Union veterans by vetoing numerous private
pension bills passed by Congress on claims previously deemed illegitimate by the
Pension Bureau. In January 1887, he further agitated Union veterans by
vetoing the Dependent and Disability Pensions Bill, which would have granted a
pension to every disabled Union veteran—even if the disability were not
traceable to military service—and to dependent family members of deceased Union
Dawes General Allotment Act:
Sponsored by Senator Henry Dawes of Massachusetts and signed into law on
February 8, the Dawes Act offered citizenship and land to American Indians who
gave up their tribal allegiance. It was an attempt to end the reservation
system and assimilate American Indians into American society. After
surveying Indian reservations, the federal government offered the allotment of
160 acres of cropland to heads of households, 80 to single adult males, and 40
per child, with amounts doubled for grazing land. Despite reformers’ high
hopes, the law largely failed.
Signed into law on March 2, the Hatch Act allocated federal funds for a
national network of stations run by agricultural colleges that would conduct
agricultural experiments. Its aim was to improve the quality and
productivity of farming and animal husbandry.
Tension between the president and Union veterans was exacerbated when,
following the advice of Adjutant General Richard Drum and Secretary of War
William Endicott, Cleveland issued an executive order in early June directing
the return of captured Confederate battle standards to their home states.
The Grand Army of the Republic, an influential veterans organization, denounced
the action as treasonous. On June 16, President Cleveland rescinded the
order, leaving the matter to Congress. The flags remained at the War
Department until the twentieth century.
In 1887, Congress passed
legislation creating the first federal regulatory agency, the Interstate
Commerce Commission, which was an attempt to make railroad rates and practices
more equitable. The law required that shipping rates be “reasonable and
just” and published openly. It also outlawed secret rebates and price
In December 1887, the president used his annual message to Congress to
appeal for a reduction in the nation’s high tariffs. An
administration-backed bill, sponsored by Congressman Roger Mills, passed the
House in early 1888. The Mills Bill and a Senate Republican alternative
were debated fiercely during that year’s presidential campaign, but neither
proposal became law.
Repeal of the Tenure
of Office Act:
In 1867, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act largely to protect
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who was cooperating with them on Reconstruction
policy, from being fired by President Andrew Johnson. The law required
Senate approval before any Senate-confirmed appointee could be removed from
office by a president. (Johnson’s attempt to remove Stanton was the major
factor in the
During a battle over political patronage in 1886, the Republican-controlled
Senate threatened to expand the act’s authority. However, President
Cleveland’s firm and well-reasoned stance in opposition attracted significant
press and popular support, resulting in the law’s repeal in 1887.
On February 15, Secretary of State Thomas Bayard and British
Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain signed a treaty establishing a
commission to decide longstanding disputes between American and Canadian
fishermen. In the politically charged atmosphere of a presidential
election year, the Republican Senate rejected the treaty. The
British put the terms of the Bayard-Chamberlain Treaty into effect
unilaterally, but the issue continued to trouble British-American and
Canadian-American relations into the twentieth century.
Sponsored by Congressman William Scott of Pennsylvania, the law
permanently banned the immigration or return of Chinese laborers to the
United States and ended exit visas for such workers. Under the
law’s provisions, about 20,000 Chinese who had left America temporarily
for China were refused reentry into the United States.
Democratic National Convention:
Democrats met on June 5-7 in St. Louis, where delegates unanimously
nominated President Grover Cleveland for reelection; chose Allen
Thurman, a former congressman and senator from Ohio, as his running
mate; and ratified a platform that endorsed tariffs for revenue only.
Republican National Convention:
Republican met on June 19-25 in Chicago, where delegates nominated
Benjamin Harrison, a former senator from Indiana, for president over
rivals John Sherman, Walter Q. Gresham, and others. Levi P.
Morton, a banker and former congressman and diplomat, was selected as
the vice-presidential nominee. The Republican platform endorsed
On November 6, Republican Benjamin Harrison was elected president
with a 233-168 victory in the Electoral College over Democrat Grover
Cleveland. Harrison lost the popular vote to Cleveland by less
than 93,000, 49%-48%.