Harper's Weekly
November 14, 1891

A Very Mischievous Boy

Artist: Herbert Merill Wilder

                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

                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

                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

                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