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Attorney General of the United States, Secretary of State
Richard Olney was born in Oxford, Massachusetts, on September 15, 1835. He graduated from Brown University in 1856 and from Harvard Law School in 1858, and began practicing law in Boston in 1859. In 1874, he served a term in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
In 1893, President Grover Cleveland named Olney as his Attorney General. In this capacity, he rose to national prominence during the Pullman Strike of 1894. Using the guise of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, Olney instructed district attorneys to secure from the federal courts writs of injunction restraining strikers from acts of violence. He also advised President Cleveland to use federal troops to quell disturbances in Chicago on the grounds that the government must prevent potential interference with the U.S. mails and general railway transportation between the states. These actions ultimately resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of Eugene V. Debs and other strike leaders, and to the end of the strike.
In 1895, Olney succeeded W.Q. Gresham as Secretary of State, upon the death of the latter. In this capacity, he was very prominent in the boundary dispute between the British and Venezuelan governments, during which he pointedly reminded Britain of America's interests in ending the controversy as outlined by the infamous Monroe Doctrine.
Olney retired from politics after the end of Cleveland's term and returned to the practice of law. He served as a regent of the Smithsonian Institution from 1900 to 1908. He died in Boston on April 8, 1917.
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This page was last updated on September 15, 2018.