Carter Henry Harrison Sr. (February 15, 1825 – October 28, 1893) was an American politician who served as mayor of Chicago, Illinois, from 1879 until 1887 and from 1893 until his assassination. He previously served two terms in the United States House of Representatives. Harrison was the first cousin twice removed of President William Henry Harrison, whose grandson, Benjamin Harrison, had also been president until just months prior to the assassination. He was also the father of Carter Harrison Jr., who would follow in his father's footsteps, and would serve five terms as the mayor of Chicago himself.

Carter Harrison
Mayor of Chicago
In office
April 17, 1893 – October 28, 1893
Preceded byHempstead Washburne
Succeeded byGeorge Bell Swift (acting)
In office
April 28, 1879 – April 18, 1887
Preceded byMonroe Heath
Succeeded byJohn A. Roche
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1875 – March 3, 1879
Preceded byJasper D. Ward
Succeeded byGeorge R. Davis
Member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners
In office
Personal details
Carter Henry Harrison

(1825-02-15)February 15, 1825
near Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedOctober 28, 1893(1893-10-28) (aged 68)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Cause of deathGunshot wounds
Resting placeGraceland Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Margarette Stearns, Sophonisba Grayson Preston
Children10, including Carter
EducationYale University (BA)
Transylvania University (LLB)

Early life, education, and career


Harrison was born on a plantation on February 15, 1825, in Fayette County, Kentucky near Lexington, Kentucky to Carter Henry Harrison II and Caroline Russell.[1][2][3] When Harrison was merely eight months old, his father died.[3]

Harrison's family had a long Southern lineage, dating back to early colonial Virginia.[2] He had ancestry in the Harrison family of Virginia, the Randolph family of Virginia, Carter family of Virginia, and Cabell family of Virginia.[3]

Harrison was educated by private tutors.[4] At the age of fifteen, he began to be tutored by Louis Marshall.[3] Harrison graduated from Yale College in 1845 as a member of Scroll and Key.[3][4] Following graduation, he traveled and studied in Europe from 1851 to 1853 before entering Transylvania College in Lexington, where he earned a law degree in 1855. Harrison was admitted to the bar in 1855 and commenced practice in Chicago.[3][4] In 1855[2] he and his family came to Chicago because he saw it as a land of opportunity. At the time, he inherited the Kentucky plantation and almost 100 slaves but sold out to be done with slavery.[5]

Harrison invested in real estate in Chicago,[2] and became a millionaire.[6]

Early political career


After the Great Chicago Fire, he became involved in politics. One of his first acts in politics was convincing Joseph Medill to run for mayor in 1871.[7] Later, during Harrison's own career in citywide politics, Medill, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, would come to be a political rival of Harrison's.[7]

Harrison ran an unsuccessful campaign in 1872 for election to the 43rd United States Congress.[4] The district in which he was nominated had a strong Republican lean. Harrison, while unsuccessful, had managed to greatly outperform previous Democratic nominees in the district.[4]

From 1874 through 1876, Harrison served a single term as a member of the board of commissioners of Cook County.[4]

Congressional career (1875–1879)


Due to his strong performance in his unsuccessful 1872 congressional campaign, Harrison was again nominated in 1874.[4] In 1874, Harrison was elected as a Democrat to the 44th United States Congress, and was reelected in 1876 to the 45th United States Congress.

Harrison's first wife died during his first congressional term.[4]

Scandal occurred in his second term in congress when, as chairman of the Committee on Reform of the Civil Service, Harrison had pushed through the payment of benefits to four self-proclaimed Union Army veterans purporting disabilities from wartime injuries despite the fact that their claims had previously been rejected. None of these individuals had actually seen active service, and none of them had suffered serious injuries.[6]

During his time in congress, he was noted for his flamboyant oration.[2]

In 1878, Harrison lost reelection to congress.[6]

First mayoralty (1879–1887)


During his first mayoralty, Harrison was elected mayor of Chicago for four consecutive two-year terms (in 1879, 1881, 1883, and 1885).

After he campaigned in 1879 with a pet eagle, he became affectionately nicknamed "the Eagle".[6]

He was sworn in for his first term on April 28, 1879.[8]

During his first mayoralty, he surpassed his predecessor Monroe Heath's title as the longest serving mayor Chicago had had up to that time.

Leadership and popularity


Harrison has been described as a practitioner of charismatic authority.[7] He governed the city in cooperation with a fractious Democratic Party organization.[7]

While Harrison garnered both business and working class support, the evangelical middle class generally disapproved of Harrison.[2]

Infrastructure and public safety


At the time he took office, Chicago had nearly a half-million residents.[2] However, it was still a developing city.[2] Harrison would later remark that, when he took office as mayor, "there were not ten miles of paved street in the whole city over which a light vehicle could move rapidly without injury to wheel or axle.”[2] Long a booster of his adopted city, Harrison was known to refer to Chicago as his "bride".[2] Harrison significantly increased the city's number of paved roads and sidewalks in its downtown and increased the size and improved the efficiency of its fire department.[7] Harrison also forced utility companies operating in the central business district to bury their wires.[7] Harrison fought the Illinois Central Railroad's right to the lakefront,[7] a legal battle which was ultimately taken by the State of Illinois to Supreme Court of the United States in Illinois Central Railroad Co. v. Illinois. He also worked to persuade railroads to begin elevating their tracks to eliminate level crossings.[7] He also attempted to push measures in the City Council that would have required locomotives, steamships and tugboats to burn anthracite,[7] which burned cleaner. He also attempted to have the city build new and longer public water system intake pipes.[7]

Haymarket affair


Harrison's first mayoral tenure was a period that saw many events which brought the city national and international attention. One such event was the Haymarket affair. Early on the evening of the Haymarket affair in 1886, Harrison had casually observed the then still peaceful demonstration of anarchists and trade unionists and advised the police to leave the demonstrators alone; he then left the scene before the "riot" occurred. A significant reason for his ability to attend the rally unbothered was that, while Harrison came from a Protestant background, he needed the votes of and thus made appeals to the city's large ethnic White Catholic population as well as its rapidly growing numbers of trade unionists. His administration gave the impression of being more favorable to trade unions and strikes than those of previous Chicago mayors as well as other mayors of the time, although his police force routinely viciously attacked striking workers and trade union activists - as the events of later that same evening were to prove once again.[citation needed]

In the aftermath, Harrison spoke against anti-socialist sentiments being published in the media. Harrison argued that socialists were not sympathetic with bomb throwers, and remarked that socialists were representatives of the country's "workers, thinkers, and writers."[9]

1884 Democratic National Convention


Harrison was a delegate to the 1880 and 1884 Democratic National Conventions.[4] At the 1884 convention, held in Chicago, Harrison supported the successful candidacy of Grover Cleveland, and delivered the seconding speech for Cleveland's nomination at the convention.[6][10][11] Harrison was also alleged to have ordered the Chicago police to fill the convention hall's convention hall with as many men sympathetic to Cleveland's candidacy as they could find on the street.[6]

1884 gubernatorial campaign


Heading encouragement from other Democrats,[3] in 1884 Harrison ran as the party's nominee for governor of Illinois. He lost to Republican Richard J. Oglesby.[4] The result was unsurprising, considering that the state of Illinois had a strong Republican lean at the time. However, Harrison had managed to decrease the Republican margin of victory in the gubernatorial election from the 40,000 margin of the previous election to 14,500.[3]

End of tenure


Harrison's tenure as mayor formally ended on April 18, 1887.[12]

Initial retirement from politics

Frontispiece from A Summer's Outing (1891)

Harrison retired from politics. He soon embarked on a sixteen-month world tour.[2]

In 1890, Harrison and his daughter took a vacation trip from Chicago to Yellowstone National Park and Alaska. His letters from the trip were first published in the Chicago Tribune and later compiled into an 1891 book, A Summer's Outing and The Old Man's Story.[13]

After leaving office, Harrison was owner and editor of the Chicago Times from 1891 to 1893,[4] where he continued to advocate for labor unions and the many Catholic and immigrant communities in Chicago.

Harrison married Margarette (or Margaret) E. Stearns in 1882, following the death of his first wife in 1876. She was the daughter of Chicago pioneer Marcus C. Stearns.

Unsuccessful 1891 mayoral campaign


Harrison unsuccessfully sought to stage a comeback, running in the 1891 Chicago mayoral election.

Second mayoralty (1893)


Harrison was re-elected mayor in 1893, in time for the World's Columbian Exposition being held in the city. His desire was to show the world the "true" Chicago, and he appointed 1st Ward Alderman "Bathhouse" John Coughlin to sit on the reception committee. This appointment was a small part in Harrison's plan to create a centralized Democratic Party machine consisting of empowered ward committeemen and precinct captains that would answer to the local Democratic Party. The plan would not be accomplished until Anton Cermak came to power in Chicago politics in the 1920s.

Harrison was sworn in for his fifth nonconsecutive term on April 17, 1893.[14]


Harrison delivers a speech to crowd during "American Cities Day" at the World's Columbian Exposition on October 28, 1893. Harrison would be assassinated later that day.
Harrison's tomb at Graceland Cemetery

On October 28, 1893, a few months into his fifth term and just two days before the close of the World's Columbian Exposition, Harrison was murdered in his home by Patrick Eugene Prendergast, an office-seeker who had supported Harrison's re-election under the idea that Harrison would reward him with an appointment to a post within his mayoral administration. Harrison was buried in Chicago's Graceland Cemetery.[15] As part of his funeral services, Harrison lay in state in the City Hall.[16] A celebration planned for the close of the Exposition was cancelled and replaced by a large public memorial service for Harrison. Prendergast was sentenced to death for the crime and hanged on July 13, 1894.

While Harrison died at a time when the elites, Protestants, and Republicans of all kinds greatly disliked him, he never lost his core supporters of labor unions, Catholics, immigrants, and the working class. He was Chicago's first mayor to be elected five times; eventually his son Carter Harrison Jr. was also elected mayor five times.

Harrison's career and assassination are closely associated with the World's Columbian Exposition, and are discussed at some length as a subplot to the two main stories (about the fair and serial killer H. H. Holmes) in Erik Larson's best-selling 2003 non-fiction book The Devil in the White City.

Political positions


Harrison was a populist Democrat.[17]

Harrison did not disapprove of liquor consumption or gambling.[6]

Hailing from a border state and wed to a woman who hailed from the Deep South, during the American Civil War, Harrison had occasionally openly expressed sympathy towards the Confederate cause, leading him to be derided as a Copperhead.[6]

Harrison saw the city's strength as being in its neighborhoods, and viewed it as a city of neighborhoods.[7]

Personal life


In 1855, Harrison married his first wife, the former Sophie Preston.[6][18] Together they had ten children, six of whom died at a young age.[6] She died in Europe in 1876.[18]

After being widowed, Harrison married Margarette (or Margaret) E. Stearns in 1882.[18] He was widowed again when she died in 1887.[18]

At the time of his assassination, Harrison was engaged to a young New Orleans heiress named Annie Howard, daughter of Louisiana State Lottery Company organizer Charles T. Howard, who was worth an estimated $3,000,000.[6][18]



The Carter H. Harrison Medal is one of two medals "granted to sworn members of the fire and police departments who have performed distinguished acts of bravery in the protection of life or property", the other being the Lambert Tree Award.[19][20][21]

See also



  1. ^ Johnson, Claudius O. (1928). Carter Henry Harrison I: Political Leader. University of Chicago Press. p. 7.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Green, Paul M.; Holli, Melvin G. (January 10, 2013). "The Mayors: The Chicago Political Tradition, fourth edition". SIU Press. pp. 17–19. Retrieved May 22, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Another Guiteau". Mt. Carmel Republican. November 3, 1893. Retrieved March 27, 2023 – via
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "HARRISON, Carter Henry (1825-1893)". Biographical Director of the United States Congress. Retrieved October 29, 2020.
  5. ^ Whitfield, Kay. "Murder in the Kentucky Colony". Classic Chicago Magazine.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Lindberg, Richard C. (2009). The Gambler King of Clark Street: Michael C. McDonald and the Rise of Chicago's Democratic Machine. SIU Press. pp. 101–102, 140–141, 210. ISBN 978-0-8093-8654-3. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Miller, Donald L. (2014). City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America. Rosetta Books. pp. 665, 678, 683, 732, 735, 738. ISBN 978-0-7953-3985-1. Retrieved May 23, 2020.
  8. ^ "Mayor Carter Henry Harrison III Inaugural Address, 1879". Chicago Public Library. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  9. ^ "Harrison,Carter H." Northwestern University. Retrieved October 6, 2023.
  10. ^ "The Convention Adjourning". The Fall River Daily Herald. July 10, 1884. Retrieved May 21, 2022.
  11. ^ Haynes, Stan M. (2015). President-Making in the Gilded Age: The Nominating Conventions of 1876-1900. McFarland. p. 108. ISBN 978-1-4766-2305-4. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  12. ^ "Mayor John A. Roche Inaugural Address, 1887". Chicago Public Library. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  13. ^ Harrison, Carter H. (1891). A Summer's Outing and The Old Man's Story. Chicago: Dibble Publishing. at Internet Archive
  14. ^ "Mayor Carter Henry Harrison III Inaugural Address, 1893". Chicago Public Library. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  15. ^ "Mayor Carter Henry Harrison III Biography". Chicago Public Library. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
  16. ^ "Chicago's Mayor Killed". Abbeville Press and Banner. November 15, 1893. Retrieved May 21, 2022.
  17. ^ Kantowicz, Edward. “The Emergence of the Polish-Democratic Vote in Chicago.” Polish American Studies, vol. 29, no. 1/2, 1972, pp. 67–80. JSTOR, JSTOR,
  18. ^ a b c d e The Assassination of Carter Harrison (PDF). A. Theo Patterson. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 9, 2022. Retrieved May 22, 2020.
  19. ^ "Medallion Awards". Retrieved February 6, 2021.
  20. ^ "Carter H. Harrison / Lambert Tree Award Recipients". Retrieved February 6, 2021.
  21. ^ "Mayor Emanuel Joins Police and Fire Department to Present Carter Harrison and Lambert Tree Awards for Exemplary Service" (Press release). Mayor's Press Office, City of Chicago. November 15, 2018. Retrieved February 6, 2021.
  • Abbott, W. J. (1895). Carter Henry Harrison: A Memoir. New York.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Johnson, Claudius (1928). Carter Henry Harrison I: Political Leader. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Mayor of Chicago
Succeeded by
Preceded by Mayor of Chicago
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of Illinois
Succeeded by