“A Very Mischievous Boy" from "Things of the Day"

November 14, 1891

Bert Wilder

“A Very Mischievous Boy" <i>from</i> "Things of the Day"

Children, Symbolic; Presidential Administration, Benjamin Harrison; U.S. Foreign Policy;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.


No caption.

On October 16, 1891, outside the True Blue Saloon in Valparaiso, Chile, a brawl between American sailors and Chilean nationals resulted in two American sailors killed, 17 wounded (five seriously), and many arrested.  The incident sparked a diplomatic crisis that lasted for months, occasionally threatening war between the two countries, until a settlement was reached in early 1892.  The featured cartoon blames Patrick Egan, the U.S. minister to Chile, by portraying him as a mischievous boy who has cranked up a menacing Jack-in-the-box, which wields a sword labeled “Chilian War Scare.”

Tension in the U.S.-Chilean relationship dated back at least a decade to the tenure of James G. Blaine as secretary of state under Presidents James A. Garfield and Chester Arthur (March-December 1881).  Blaine had supported Peru against Chile in the War of the Pacific (1879-1884), charging that Chile’s military aggression was encouraged by Great Britain.  Hoping to enhance American trade in Latin America, Blaine criticized British economic interests in Chile.  Chileans nationalists shared Blaine’s anti-British sentiment, but distrusted the American secretary’s motives.  Chile and the United States were also on a collision course because influential elements in each hoped to make their respective country the dominant power in South America.

In March 1889, President Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) named Blaine secretary of state.  Blaine was pleased to find that the new Chilean president, José Manuel Balmaceda, was seeking to undermine British influence through a nationalistic campaign of “Chile for Chileans.”  To further “twist the [British] Lion’s tail,” the secretary of state named Patrick Egan as the U.S. minister to Chile.  Egan had fled Ireland in 1882 when the British government issued an arrest warrant against him for alleged crimes committed in the service of Irish independence.  In the United States, Egan obtained American citizenship and backed the political aspirations of Blaine (who was the Republican presidential nominee in 1884). 

When civil war erupted in Chile in early 1891, the United States threw its support to the Balmaceda government, while Britain backed the rebel faction called the “Congressionalists”.  In May 1891, the U.S. government responded to a request from the Balmaceda government to apprehend a rebel Chilean ship, the Itata, which had loaded a shipment of arms in San Diego, California.  The Congressionalists won the civil war, and the Harrison government released the ship in July and recognized the new Chilean government in August. 

Tensions remained high, however, and the U.S. Navy Department considered contingency plans in case of war.  Part of the friction stemmed from Egan’s grant of asylum in the American mission to several leaders of the defeated Balmaceda faction.  By October, only 15 of the original 80 refugees remained at the mission, but Egan refused an order from the Chilean government to surrender them.  In response, the Chilean secret police surrounded the building to prevent the refugees’ escape.

On October 16, the captain of the U.S.S. Baltimore gave shore leave to 117 American sailors in Valparaiso, Chile’s second most populous city and an important port.  Later that day, an altercation between an American sailor and a Chilean sailor escalated into a riot involving numerous sailors, boatmen, longshoremen, and townspeople.  Both sides blamed the other for initiating the violence, but American sources suspected a planned assault on American sailors.  

President Harrison, already angered by the refugee dispute, became furious over the Baltimore affair.  The United States government demanded “prompt and full reparation,” but the Chilean foreign minister, Manuel Matta, promised nothing until the judicial process was completed.  Secretary of State Blaine, who had been absent since May due to illness, returned to duty on October 26 and, to his critics' surprise, urged caution and patience during the diplomatic crisis.

The situation cooled somewhat for several weeks until a war of words erupted in early December.  In his annual address to Congress, President Harrison blamed Chile for the Baltimore affair and criticized the “offensive tone” of Chilean foreign minister Matta.  Navy Secretary Benjamin Tracy echoed the president’s sentiments.  Matta responded publicly on December 11 by declaring that the American government was insincere, wrong, and bellicose.  That further incensed Harrison, and Egan broke off communication with the Chilean government, which intensified its surveillance of the American mission. 

Harrison stepped back from the brink of war when Blaine insisted that no additional demands be made immediately on Chile, and when a newly installed Chilean administration replaced Matta on January 1, 1892, with a more conciliatory foreign minister, Luis Pereira.  Pereira met cordially with Egan, the secret police were removed from the American mission, and the refugees were allowed to leave the country without arrest.  On January 8, a Chilean court indicted three Chileans and one American for their involvement in the Baltimore affair.

With an end to the diplomatic dispute in sight, on January 20 the new Chilean government ineptly called for the removal of Egan as U.S. minister.  Harrison, this time with Blaine’s approval, sent a strongly worded message to Chile, rejecting the Chilean court’s findings, calling the Baltimore incident a deliberate attack on uniformed American servicemen, refusing to discuss Egan’s position, and demanding “a suitable apology and … adequate reparation for the injury done to this Government.” 

On January 25, the Chilean administration, warned by European ministers that the Americans were poised for war, conceded all points.  In February 1892, a Chilean court handed down prison sentences for the three indicted Chilean rioters, and in July the Chilean government offered to pay the United States $75,000 in reparations, which the Harrison administration accepted.  Egan remained as the U.S. minister until fired by President Grover Cleveland in 1893 after he again offered asylum during another Chilean civil war.

Robert C. Kennedy

“A Very Mischievous Boy" <i>from</i> "Things of the Day"
June 17, 2024

Home | About | Contact || Access | Features 

Website design © 2001-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
All Content © 1998-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to