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Carter Harrison Sr.

Carter Harrison Sr.

American politician carter h. harrison iii
The basics
Occupation Politician Lawyer
Country United States of America
AKA Carter Henry Harrison III, Carter Henry Harrison Senior, Carter Henry Harrison Sr., Carter H. Harrison 1825 1893
Date of birth Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky, U.S.A.
Date of death Oct 28, 1893 Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, U.S.A.
Children: Carter Harrison Jr.
Education Yale University, Transylvania University
Political party Democratic Party
Authority Library of congress id ISNI id VIAF id
The details

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; he was subsequently elected to a fifth term in 1893 but was assassinated before completing his term. He previously served two terms in the United States House of Representatives. Harrison was the first cousin twice removed of President William Henry Harrison.

Life and career

Born near Lexington, Kentucky, to Carter Henry Harrison II and Caroline Russell, he was only a few months old when his father died. He was educated by private tutors, and was graduated from Yale College in 1845 as a member of Scroll and Key. 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. He was admitted to the bar in 1855 and commenced practice in Chicago; Harrison came to Chicago because he saw it as a land of opportunity.

Harrison ran an unsuccessful campaign in 1872 for election to the Forty-third Congress. Beginning in 1874, he served as a member of the board of commissioners of Cook County. He was elected as a Democrat to the Forty-fourth and Forty-fifth Congresses, and delegate to the 1880 and 1884 Democratic National Conventions.

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.

A Summer's Outing

Frontispiece from A Summer's Outing (1891)

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 the book (1891): A Summer's Outing and The Old Man's Story.


The night of the Haymarket Riot in 1886, Harrison walked unmolested through the crowd of anarchists and advised the police to leave the demonstrators alone. A large reason for this was because while Harrison came from a Protestant background, he appealed to, and worked for ethnic white Catholics and labor unions. His administration was considerably more favorable to trade unions and strikes than previous Chicago mayors as well as other mayors of the time.The riot was sparked by a bomb, reportedly thrown at police by anarchists (killing seven police officers). After leaving office, Harrison was owner and editor of the Chicago Times from 1891 to 1893, advocating for labor unions and the many catholic and immigrant communities in Chicago. He was re-elected in 1893, in time for the World's Columbian Exposition. 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 was a small part in Harrison's plan to create a centralized Democratic Party machine, consisting of empowered Ward Committeemen and precinct captains that answer to the local Democratic Party. This plan that wouldn't become accomplished until Anton Cermak came to power in Chicago politics.

On October 28, 1893, two days before the close of the Exposition, Harrison was murdered in his home by Patrick Eugene Prendergast, a disgruntled office seeker. Harrison was buried in Chicago's Graceland Cemetery. Prendergast was hanged on July 13, 1894. Harrison was Chicago's first five-time elected mayor; eventually his son Carter Harrison Jr. was also elected mayor five times.

Harrison's career and assassination are closely connected 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 The Devil in the White City. The celebration of the close of the Exposition was cancelled and replaced by a large public memorial service for Harrison. While Harrison died at a point in time where 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.

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