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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 the 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.

Carter Harrison Sr.
Carter Harrison, Sr. - Brady-Handy.jpg
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
29th & 33rd[1] Mayor of Chicago
In office
Preceded byMonroe Heath
Succeeded byJohn A. Roche
In office
1893 – October 28, 1893
Preceded byHempstead Washburne
Succeeded byGeorge Bell Swift
Personal details
Carter Henry Harrison

(1825-02-15)February 15, 1825
Fayette County, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedOctober 28, 1893(1893-10-28) (aged 68)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Cause of deathAssassination by gunshot
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Margarette Stearns, Sophonisba Grayson Preston
Children9, including Carter Jr.

Life and careerEdit

Born near Lexington, Kentucky, to Carter Henry Harrison II and Caroline Russell,[2] he was only a few months old when his father died. He was educated by private tutors and 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. Harrison was admitted to the bar in 1855 and commenced practice in Chicago; he 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 U.S. 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 was a delegate to the 1880 and 1884 Democratic National Conventions.

Harrison was elected mayor of Chicago for four consecutive two-year terms (in 1879, 1881, 1883, and 1885) and later for a non-consecutive fifth term in 1893. He served as mayor during a period that witnessed many events which brought the city national and international attention. The night of the Haymarket Riot in 1886, which had been sparked by a bomb (reportedly thrown at police by anarchists) that killed seven police officers, 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.[citation needed] His administration was considerably more favorable to trade unions and strikes than those of previous Chicago mayors as well as other mayors of the time.

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

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 an 1891 book, A Summer's Outing and The Old Man's Story.[3]


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, a disgruntled office-seeker who had supported Harrison's re-election under the delusion that Harrison would reward him with an appointment to a post within his mayoral administration. Harrison was buried in Chicago's Graceland Cemetery.[4] 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 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 Erik Larson's best-selling 2003 non-fiction book The Devil in the White City.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Chicago Mayors". Chicago Public Library. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  2. ^ Johnson, Claudius O. (1928). Carter Henry Harrison I: Political Leader. University of Chicago Press. p. 7.
  3. ^ Harrison, Carter H. (1891). A Summer's Outing and The Old Man's Story. Chicago: Dibble Publishing. at Internet Archive
  4. ^ "Mayor Carter Henry Harrison III Biography". Chicago Public Library. Chicago Public Library. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
  • Abbott, W.J. (1895). Carter Henry Harrison: A Memoir. New York.
  • Johnson, Claudius (1928). Carter Henry Harrison I: Political Leader. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

External linksEdit