Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Emerson C. Harrington (1864-1945)
MSA SC 3520-1479

By Nasim Moalem, summer intern at the Maryland State Archives, summer 2001.


               Harrington's term as Comptroller proved to be a challenge.  The state under the administration of Republican Governor Phillips
               Lee Goldsborough continued with Progressive Era reforms.  Child labor laws were extended statewide, a compulsory education law
               was passed, women were limited to a 10 hour workday, road building and oyster conservation programs were expanded, and funds
               were provided for the "indigent insane."1

               All of these programs and initiatives increased the workload of the Comptroller's office, but the problems lay in the finances of the
               state.  While the sale of state bonds and bond issues paid for the construction of the new facilities and infrastructure, their
               maintenance remained the responsibility of the Treasury.  However, while the costs of maintenance increased, the Treasury's
               revenue levels were remaining relatively constant.  This prompted Harrington, in his annual report in 1914,  to call on state
               lawmakers to "practice economy" and seek "increased revenue from indirect source or sources... now escaping taxation."2
               The state continued with its expansion programs and within an 11 year period (from 1909 to 1920), the state debt increased by 21
               million dollars.3  The financial affairs of the state proved to be a big campaigning point for Harrington's opponent in the 1916
               Democratic gubernatorial primary elections, Senator Blair Lee.  Lee blamed the deficit on the poor management of finances by
               Harrington.  Harrington defended himself by saying he called attention to the state's finances early and did everything he could do
               as comptroller.  The defense seemingly worked--he defeated Lee for the nomination and eventually won the general election.4

               The Lee incident was not the only time Comptroller Harrington and other state officials would be at odds.  In 1912, a bitter battle
               ensued over a controversial move by Harrington involving Howard County's John F. O'Malley.  O'Malley had been voted by the
               Board of Public Works (consisting of the Governor, the Treasurer and the Comptroller) to succeed the late George Ash of Cecil
               County, but he chose to serve out his post as chief clerk in the Land Commissioner's Office until the expiration of the term of
               Commissioner Thomas A. Smith.  Later in the legislative session, however, O'Malley was arrested and charged with offering a
               bribe to a delegate in return for a vote against the Local Option bill of the Anti-Saloon League.  The charges were later dismissed
               by the grand jury.  O'Malley then wanted to take the post of State Auditor, but the State Attorney-General  ruled that since
               O'Malley hadn't taken the oath within 30 days of the election, he had to be re-elected by a majority of the members of the Board of
               Public Works.  Governor Goldsborough, a Republican, voted against O'Malley, while Treasurer Vandiver voted for O'Malley.  It
               was now up to Harrington to decide whether O'Malley would hold the post.  At this point, Harrington refused to re-elect O'Malley.
               Newspaper accounts report that despite enormous pressure from all sides, Harrington never budged.5

               In 1913, another controversy that put the spotlight on the accuracy and honesty of state finances compelled the Comptroller's
               office to institute a new system calling for "greater care in the checking of the vouchers and bills of the various departments."
               Previously, various state agencies and boards presented vouchers and bills to the Comptroller's office which were, in turn, paid
               without protest.  However, in the summer of 1913, the Governor dismissed Game Warden Franklin E. Cox, charging him with
               irregularity in his accounts.  The Governor then claimed that if Cox had submitted bills to the Comptroller's Office for expenses he
               had not incurred and was paid for those fees, then he was guilty of obtaining money from the state under false pretenses.  The case
               was then referred to the Anne Arundel grand jury.6

               The situation with Cox propelled Harrington into action.  Soon thereafter, he returned several of the vouchers and bills to the state
               agencies, saying they had not been "O'K'd" or were not properly itemized.  The Baltimore (Evening) Sun reported that in one
               case, the unpaid bill amounted to $2500.  While it is unclear what the new system of greater checks entailed, the paper is quick to
               point out that had Cox received money from the state in error, Harrington's bond would have been called upon to pay back the
               State any amount not covered under Cox's bond.7


               In 1916, E.C. Harrington made a successful bid for the highest seat in state government--the governorship.  One of Harrington's
               most enduring acts as governor involved the creation of the Commission on Economy and Efficiency in the State Government,
               better known as the Goodnow Commission.  Named after its chairman, Johns Hopkins University President Dr. Frank Goodnow,
               the commission's mission was to submit to the Governor recommendations on the form of the Executive budget as well as matters
               concerning the efficiency and economy in the administration of state government.  Based on the recommendations of the Goodnow
               Commission, the General Assembly adopted the Budget Bill Amendment to the Maryland Constitution.  The Amendment allowed
               the governor to present a budget to the General Assembly that Assembly members could then only reduce, not add appropriations.
               If the Assembly wanted to add spending, it would have to accompany the proposal with a revenue-raising plan.  According to
               newspaper reports, the state budget system was considered one of the best in the state at the time and was a model for the national

               Harrington's tenure fell in the midst of the First World War and he took an active part in military readiness.  In 1917, when the
               country entered the war, he called a special session of the General Assembly to appropriate funds to ensure Maryland's
               contribution to military readiness.9  The Assembly set aside 2 million dollars for war purposes and established a Maryland Council
               of Defense which was responsible for coordinating some 200 different organizations.  Harrington's "work or fight" slogan pushed
               forward the enactment of a compulsory labor law compelling able-bodied men between 18 and 50 to perform some useful service
               during the war, without regard to standing or wealth.10

               Harrington's administration also saw the adoption of the State Parole System, creation of the State Law Department, formation of
               the Conservation Commission and organization of the Annapolis Clairborne Ferry system linking Maryland's eastern and western
               shores with the highways system.

               Governor Harrington also had the unenviable task of dealing with the women's suffrage issue.  Although the issue never gained
               much support in Maryland, by 1919, the National government was considering an amendment to the Federal Constitution enabling
               women to vote.  Despite the pleadings of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and suffragists, Harrington refused to call a special
               session of the General Assembly to vote on the 19th Amendment.11

               Perhaps the most controversial move by Governor Harrington, one that continues to have repercussions today, involved the
               murder trial of John Snowden, an African-American convicted of murdering a pregnant white woman.  The case fueled racial
               tensions in Annapolis.  Snowden maintained his innocence until his execution and a large public outcry arose, including from 11 of
               the 12 jurors who convicted Snowden, asking the Governor to commute Snowden's sentence to life imprisonment.  Harrington
               never did.  Snowden was the last man to be publicly hanged in Annapolis.  More than 80 years after Snowden execution, Governor
               Parris Glendening pardoned him in 2001.12

               Although the state underwent a great deal of change under Harrington's leadership, his administration has been described as one
               dominated by the larger than life personality of its Attorney General and future 4 term Governor Albert C. Ritchie.

Notes on sources

Return to Emerson C. Harrington's introductory page

Maryland State Archives