1878-1899: Government and Politics: Chronology

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1878-1899: Government and Politics: Chronology




  • 10 Jan. Sen. Aaron A. Sargent (R-Cal.) introduces a woman suffrage amendment in the Senate, where it is defeated by a vote of 1634.
  • 22 Feb. The Greenback Labor Party meets in Toledo and nominates candidates for the November elections, in which the party wins more than one million votes.
  • 11 July President Rutherford B. Hayes asks for the resignation of fellow Republican (and future president) Chester A. Arthur, collector of the Port of New York, because of his corrupt practice of distributing federal jobs to loyal Republican Party members.
  • 5 Nov. Democrats gain control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1858. In the Forty-sixth Congress the House of Representatives has 149 Democrats, 130 Republicans, and 14 Greenback Laborites; the Senate has 42 Democrats, 33 Republicans, and one Greenback Laborite.


  • In the Kansas Exodus tens of thousands of African Americans, led by Benjamin Pap Singleton, migrate from the South to Kansas to escape the growing number of legal restrictions placed by southern state governments on former slaves.
  • 15 Feb. Congress gives women the right to practice law before the Supreme Court.


  • 2-8 June At the Republican National Convention fights between the Stalwart faction, which supports the party-patronage system, and the Half Breeds, who favor reform, result in a compromise ticket of James A. Garfield, a Half Breed, for president and Chester A. Arthur, a Stalwart, for vice president.
  • 22-24 June At their national convention the Democrats nominate Winfield Scott Hancock to run for president and William H. English for vice president.
  • 2 Nov. Garfield defeats Hancock in a Cose presidential election, winning by an electoral vote of 214-155 and a popular vote of 4,446,158 (48.27 percent) to 4,444,260 (48.25 percent). The Greenback Labor candidate, James B. Weaver, gets 305,997 votes. Democrats lose their majority in the House, where Republicans outnumber them by 147-135 (plus 11 from minor parties), and the two major parties are tied in the Senate, 37-37 (plus 1 from a minor party).
  • 17 Nov. The United States and China sign a treaty that allows the United States to regulate, limit, and suspend Chinese immigration, but not to ban it outright.


  • The federal government has doubled in size from fifty thousand employees in 1871 to one hundred thousand in 1881.
  • 2 July President Garfield is shot by disappointed officeseeker Charles J. Guiteau, who claims he was attempting to ensure that Vice President Arthur, a Stalwart who favors the spoils system, would become president.


  • 19 Sept. President James Garfield dies of complications from the wounds he sustained in July and is succeeded by Vice President Arthur, who surprises his supporters by allying himself with proponents of a merit system for civil-service appointments.
  • 6 May Congress passes the Chinese Exclusion Act, suspending Chinese immigration to the United States for ten years.
  • 3 Aug. Congress passes a law that imposes a head tax of fifty cents on each new immigrant and excludes people who are insane, mentally retarded, or likely to become public charges.
  • 7 Nov. In congressional elections Democrats regain a majority in the House of Representatives, outnumbering Republicans by 197-118 (plus 10 from minor parties), while Republicans win a 38-36 majority in the Senate (plus 2 from minor parties).


  • 16 Jan. Congress passes the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, an attempt to depoliticize appointments of federal employees engaged in governmental operations. Signed into law by President Arthur, the act establishes a Civil Service Commission and specifies rules for a merit system based on competitive examinations.
  • 3 Mar. Congress authorizes the building of three steel cruisers as part of the movement to establish a moden navy.


  • 3-6 June At the Republican National Convention James G. Blaine is nominated for the presidency with Gen. John A. Logan as his running mate.
  • 8-11 July At their convention Democrats nominate Grover Cleveland and Thomas A. Hendricks to head their national ticket.
  • 6 Oct. As part of the movement to reform the U.S. Navy, the Naval War College is established at Newport, Rhode Island.
  • 4 Nov. Cleveland is elected president in an extremely Cose election, defeating Blaine by a popular vote of 4,874,621 (48.5 percent) to 4,848,936 (48.25 percent) and an electoral vote of 219-182. Protest movements represented by the Greenback Labor Party and the Prohibition Party win more than 300,000 votes (3.21 percent). The Democrats keep their majority in the House (183-140 plus 2 from minor parties), and the Republicans control the Senate (38-36 plus 2 from minor parties).


  • 25 Feb. Congress prohibits the fencing of public land in the West, and on 7 August President Cleveland backs the act by ordering the removal of all illegal enclosures.
  • 3 Mar. The U.S. Post Office begins special-delivery service.


  • 19 Jan. Congress passes a Presidential Succession Act. If both the president and vice president are unable to serve, they are succeeded by members of the cabinet in the order that their departments were created.
  • 3 May At the McCormick Harvester plant outside Chicago police fire into a crowd of striking workers, killing one and wounding others.
  • 4 May At a protest rally in Haymarket Square, Chicago, one policeman is killed and seventy-six others are wounded (six fatally) by a bomb allegedly thrown by anarchist strikers. As a result, eight radical labor leaders are arrested; seven are sentenced to death; and four are eventually hanged.
  • 25 Oct. In Wabash, St Louis & Pacific Railway v. Illinois the Supreme Court rules that only the federal government, not the individual states, may regulate interstate railway rates.
  • 2 Nov. In the congressional elections Republicans lose four seats in the Senate but hold their majority over the Democrats by 39-37. In the House, Democrats lose ground but keep a majority of 169-152 (plus 4 from minor parties).


  • Henry Bowers forms the American Protective Association, an anti-Catholic, nativist organization centered in the Midwest.
  • American settlers in Hawaii force King Kalakaua to establish a constitutional government.
  • 20 Jan. The Senate approves a treaty giving the United States the exclusive right to establish a naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
  • 4 Feb. Congress passes the Interstate Commerce Act establishing the Interstate Commerce Commission, the first national regulatory commission, in an attempt to curb price fixing and other abuses by interstate railroads.
  • 8 Feb. Congress passes the Dawes Act, which provides for the division of tribal lands among individual Native Americans and the sale of surplus land to non-Indians.


  • 5 June The Democrats nominate President Cleveland to run for a second term, with Allen G. Thurman as his running mate.
  • 13 June Congress creates a Department of Labor, without cabinet-level status.
  • 25 June The Republicans nominate Benjamin Harrison and Levi P. Morton to head their national ticket.
  • 6 Nov. Harrison narrowly defeats President Cleveland, by an electoral vote of 233-168. Although Harrison wins the election in the Electoral College, Cleveland receives more popular votes, 5,534,488 (48.62 percent), than Harrison, who garners 5,443,892 (47.82 percent). Minor-party candidates from the Union Labor and the Prohibition parties win nearly 400,000 votes, preventing either major party from gaining a clear majority. In Congress Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives by 166-159 and maintain their 39-37 majority in the Senate.


  • 11 Feb. Congress raises the Department of Agriculture to cabinet status.I
  • 2 Nov. North Dakota and South Dakota become states, followed by Montana on the eighth and Washington on 11 November.


  • 14 Apr. At a conference that began in Washington, D.C., on 2 October 1889, Western Hemisphere nations form the Pan-American Union.
  • 27 June Congress passes the Dependent Pension Act granting a pension to any Union army veteran of the Civil War who had served ninety days and was unable to support himself by manual labor, causing pension roles to swell from 490,000 in 1889 to 966,000 in 1893 and the cost of pensions to increase from $89 million to $175 million during the same period.
  • 2 July Congress passes the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which authorizes the federal government to initiate court proceedings to dissolve trusts or contracts in restraint of trade, in an attempt to limit or prevent business monopolies.
  • 3 July Idaho becomes a state, followed by Wyoming on 10 July.
  • 1 Oct. The Republican majority in Congress passes the McKinley Tariff, raising duties on imported goods and turning the popular vote in the 1890 elections for the House of Representatives to the Democrats.
  • 4 Nov. Republicans gain eight seats in the Senate for a 47-39 majority (plus 12 from minor parties), but they drop seventy-eight seats in the House, giving the Democrats a hefty 235-88 majority (plus 9 from minor parties).


  • After succeeding her brother to the Hawaiian throne Queen Liliuokalani issues an edict revoking the constitution of 1887 and assuming autocratic powers, thus taking power away from the pro-American annexation faction, which has dominated Hawaiian politics since the establishment of a constitutional government in 1887. American settlers form a revolutionary committee.
  • 4 Mar. Congress passes the International Copyright Act, granting British, French, Belgian, and Swiss writers copyright protection in the United States.
  • 19 May The national Populist Party is founded in Cincinnati.


  • 7-11 June At their national convention Republicans nominate President Benjamin Harrison for reelection with Whitelaw Reid as his running mate.
  • 21-23 June The Democrats nominate former president Grover Cleveland to run for a second term with Adlai Ewing Stevenson as his running mate.
  • 4 July The Populist Party nominates James B. Weaver for president and James G. Field for vice president. They run on a reform platform that calls for increased silver coinage, a federal income tax, and national ownership of railroads.
  • 8 Nov. Former president Grover Cleveland defeats incumbent Benjamin Harrison by more than 370,000 votes, becoming the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms. Cleveland wins 46.05 percent of the popular vote to 42.96 percent for Harrison and wins in the electoral by a margin of 277-145. Weaver, the Populist candidate, wins 8.5 percent of the popular vote and 22 votes in the Electoral College. The Democrats win a majority in the Senate (44-38 and 3 from minor parties) and maintain control of the House (218-127 and 11 from minor parties).


  • 17 Jan. Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii abdicates the day after U.S. Marines land to back a rebellion led by proannexation American settlers.
  • 1 Feb. Hawaii is proclaimed a U.S. protectorate with Sanford B. Dole as president of the provisional government.


  • The Immigration Restriction League is founded, expressing Americans fears that their culture and way of life are threatened by the high numbers of immigrants entering the United States.
  • 1 May Jacob S. Coxey and two lieutenants are arrested in Washington, D.C., for trespassing on the Capitol lawn. The arrest breaks up Coxeys bonus army of some four hundred veterans, who have marched across the country to bring attention to the plight of unemployed veterans.
  • 11 May A violent strike begins at the Pullman railroad plant outside Chicago.
  • 26 June Supporting the Pullman strikers, the American Railway Union strikes against most railroads. President Cleveland sends in federal troops to break up the strike, which is led by Eugene V. Debs, who is arrested and imprisoned for violating a court injunction prohibiting workers from interfering with the delivery of the mail. The strike finally ends on 3 August.
  • 4 July The Republic of Hawaii is proclaimed, and the government is recognized as a foreign power by President Cleveland on 7 August.
  • 27 Aug. Congress passes the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act, which lowers the tariff rate; many see it as a victory for Democratic reductionism and a blow against Republican protectionism. Attached to the act is a graduated income tax, which the Supreme Court declares unconstitutional in 1895.
  • 6 Nov. In congressional elections Republicans regain control in the Senate (43-39 and 6 from minor parties) and the House (244-105 and 7 from minor parties).


  • 12 June President Cleveland calls on Americans to avoid giving aid to Cuban rebels who have risen up against the colonial government of Spain.


  • 16-18 June At their national convention the Republicans nominate William McKinley and Garret A. Hobart to head their national ticket.
  • 7-11 July At the Democratic National Convention, after delivering his Cross of Gold speech advocating the free coinage of silver, William Jennings Bryan wins the nomination of his party for the presidency. Arthur Sewall is nominated for vice president.
  • 22 July The Populists nominate Bryan for president with Thomas E. Watson of Georgia as his running mate.
  • 3 Nov. McKinley is elected president, defeating Bryan by a popular vote of 7,108,480 (51.01 percent) to 6,511,495 (46.73 percent) and an electoral vote of 271-176. Republicans maintain their control of the House (204-113 and 40 from minor parties) and Senate (47-34 and 7 from minor parties).


  • 7 July Congress passes the Dingley Tariff Act, raising import duties to a new high averaging 57 percent.


  • 15 Feb. The U.S. battleship Maine explodes in the harbor at Havana, Cuba.
  • 20 Apr. Congress adopts a joint resolution recognizing Cuban independence and authorizing the president to use military force if it is necessary to force Spain to withdraw from Cuba.
  • 24 Apr. Spain declares war on the United States.
  • 25 Apr. Congress passes an official declaration of war on Spain, effective 21 April.
  • 1 May In the Battle of Manila Bay Adm. George Dewey defeats the Spanish Pacific fleet without losing a man.
  • 1 July American forces in Cuba defeat the Spanish at El Caney and San Juan Hill.
  • 3 July Adm. William T. Sampson defeats Spanish fleet off Santiago, Cuba.
  • 7 July Recognizing the strategic military value of its naval base at Pearl Harbor, Congress approves the annexation of Hawaii by joint resolution.
  • 17 July Spanish troops in Cuba surrender to the United States.
  • 13 Aug. American troops take Manila, completing the invasion of the Philippines.
  • 8 Nov. In congressional elections Republicans maintain control of the House (185-163 and 9 from minor parties) and the Senate (53-26 and 8 from minor parties).
  • 10 Dec. A treaty ending the Spanish-American War is signed in Paris.


  • The expansion of the federal government makes it one of the leading U. S. employers, reaching close to 250,000 by 1899.
  • Secretary of State John Hay convinces Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Italy, and Japan to agree reluctantly to an Open Door policy in regard to trade with China rather than erecting prohibitive trade barriers to other nations.
  • 9 Jan. Congress ratifies the treaty with Spain, which is signed by President McKinley on 10 February. The United States acquires Puerto Rico and Guam, and Spain granfe mdependence to Cuba. The United States buys Spanish holdings in the Philippines, gaining virtual control over the islands.

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1878-1899: Government and Politics: Chronology

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1878-1899: Government and Politics: Chronology