Baltimore Incident

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Baltimore Incident

Baltimore Incident, an 1891 diplomatic dispute between the United States and Chile. Following the September collapse of the Balmaceda government, Captain Winfield Schley permitted some of the sailors serving on the cruiser U.S.S. Baltimore to have shore leave on 16 October in Valparaíso. Schley failed to realize that the presence of uniformed American sailors might fan latent Chilean hostility into a firestorm of confrontation.

Various brawls between American servicemen and Chileans erupted in Valparaíso's sleazy waterfront saloons and brothels. By the evening's end, the police had jailed seventeen Americans, and two U.S. sailors had died from knife wounds.

The Americans charged that the police not only failed to protect them but had joined the crowds in beating the sailors. The Chilean courts disagreed with the American charges, however, concluding that the U.S. sailors had started the brawl. Benjamin Harrison, the American president, regarded the incident as an insult to the United States and demanded an apology and compensation from the Chilean government. Refusing to apologize, Chile's foreign minister, Manuel Antonio Matta, publicly described Harrison as either stupid or a liar. The irate American president sent an ultimatum to the Chilean government: either apologize for injuring the American servicemen and offer compensation, or the United States would declare war.

Chile, having only recently ended a costly revolution, was ill prepared for a confrontation with the United States. Worse, Santiago feared that Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru would take advantage of a war with the United States to attack Chile. Finally, Chile's allies in Europe-Germany and Great Britain-indicated that they would not attempt to restrain Washington. Friendless and surrounded by potential enemies, Chile acceded to Washington's demands, paying compensation and apologizing for the episode. The Baltimore incident remained a sore point in relations with the United States because many Chileans regarded the diplomatic confrontation as yet another example of American imperialism.

See alsoUnited States-Latin American Relations .


Joyce S. Goldberg, The "Baltimore" Affair (1986).

William F. Sater, Chile and the United States: Empires in Conflict (1990), 61, 66-68.

Additional Bibliography

Collier, Simon, and William F. Sater. A History of Chile, 1808–2002. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Morales Pérez, Salvador E. La diplomacia mexicana y conflictos chilenos en 1891. México, D.F.: Centro de Investigación Científica "Ing. Jorge L. Tamayo," 1996.

Núñez P., Jorge. 1891, crónica de la guerra civil. Santiago [Chile]: LOM Ediciones, 2003.

                                        William F. Sater