Political history of Chicago

Politics in Chicago through most of the 20th century was dominated by the Democratic Party. Organized crime and corruption were persistent concerns in the city.


19th century

In 1855, Chicago Mayor Levi Boone threw Chicago politics into the national spotlight with some dry proposals that would lead to the Lager Beer Riot by the wets.[1]

The 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago nominated home-state candidate Abraham Lincoln. During the 1880s, 1890s, and early 20th century, Chicago also had an underground radical tradition with large and highly organized socialist, communist, anarchist and labor organizations.[2] The Republicans had their own machine operations, typified by the "blonde boss" William Lorimer, who was unseated by the U.S. Senate in 1912 because of his corrupt election methods.[3]

20th century

The political environment in Chicago in the 1910s and 1920s let organized crime flourish to the point that many Chicago policemen earned more money from pay-offs than from the city. Before the 1930s, the Democratic Party in Chicago was divided along ethnic lines - the Irish, Polish, Italian, and other groups each controlled politics in their neighborhoods Under the leadership of Anton Cermak, the party consolidated its ethnic bases into one large organization. With the organization behind, Cermak was able to win election as mayor of Chicago in 1931, an office he held until his assassination in 1933.

The modern era of politics was dominated by machine politics in many ways, and the Cook County Democratic Party was honed by Richard J. Daley after his election in 1955. Richard M. Daley, his son, is a former mayor of Chicago and had served for 21 years as mayor and 38 as a public servant. Daley announced on September 7, 2010 that he would not be seeking re-election.[4] Daley was succeeded by former Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

The New Deal of the 1930s and the Great Society of the 1960s gave the Democratic Party access to new funds and programs for housing, slum clearance, urban renewal, and education, through which to dispense patronage and maintain control of the city.[5] Machine politics persisted in Chicago after the decline of similar machines in other large American cities.[6] During much of that time, the city administration found opposition mainly from a liberal "independent" faction of the Democratic Party. This included African Americans and Latinos. In the Lakeview/Uptown 46th Ward. The first Latino to announce an aldermanic bid against a Daley loyalist was Jose Cha Cha Jimenez, the Young Lords founder.[7]

A point of interest is the party leanings of the city. For much of the last century, Chicago has been considered one of the largest Democratic strongholds in the United States. For example, the citizens of Chicago have not elected a Republican mayor since 1927, when William Thompson was voted into office. Brian Doherty was the only Republican council member in recent decades.

The police corruption that came to the light from the Summerdale Scandals of 1960, where police officers kept stolen property or sold it and kept the cash, was another black eye on the local political scene of Chicago.[8] Eight officers from the Summerdale police district on Chicago's Northwest Side were accused of operating a large-scale burglary ring. News of the scandal was splashed across the city's newspapers and was the biggest police-related scandal the city had ever seen at the time. Mayor Daley appointed a committee to make recommendations for improvements to the police system.

The Daley faction, with financial help from Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., helped elect John F. Kennedy to the office of President of the United States in the 1960 presidential election.[9] The electoral votes from the state of Illinois, with nearly half its population located in Chicago-dominated Cook County, were a factor in the win for Kennedy over Richard Nixon.

Chicago politics have also hosted some very publicized campaigns and conventions. The Democratic Party decided on Harry S. Truman as the vice-presidential candidate at the 1944 Democratic National Convention. The 1968 Democratic National Convention was the scene of mass political rallies and discontent, leading to the famous trial of the Chicago Seven. Seven defendants—Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner—were charged with conspiracy, inciting to riot, and other charges related to protests.

Home-town columnist Mike Royko wrote satirically that Chicago's motto (Urbs in Horto or "City in a Garden") should instead be Ubi est mea, or "Where's Mine?[10]


Chicago has a long history of political corruption,[11] dating to the incorporation of the city in 1833.[12] It has been a de facto monolithic entity of the Democratic Party from the mid 20th century onward.[13][14] Research released by the University of Illinois at Chicago reports that Chicago and Cook County's judicial district recorded 45 public corruption convictions for 2013, and 1642 convictions since 1976, when the Department of Justice began compiling statistics. This prompted many media outlets to declare Chicago the "corruption capital of America".[15] Gradel and Simpson's Corrupt Illinois (2015) provides the data behind Chicago's corrupt political culture.[16][17] They found that a tabulation of federal public corruption convictions make Chicago "undoubtedly the most corrupt city in our nation",[18] with the cost of corruption "at least" $500 million per year.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Richard Carl Lindberg, To Serve and Collect: Chicago Politics and Police Corruption from the Lager Beer Riot to the Summerdale Scandal: 1855–1960 (1991) ch. 1
  2. ^ Schneirov, Richard (April 1, 1998). Labor and Urban Politics. University of Illinois Press. pp. 173–174. ISBN 0-252-06676-6.
  3. ^ Joel Arthur Tarr, A Study In Boss Politics: William Lorimer of Chicago (1971),
  4. ^ "Sun times article covering Daley Jr. withdrawal from 2011.website=Suntimes.com". Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  5. ^ "Politics". Encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  6. ^ Montejano, David, ed. (January 1, 1998). Chicano Politics and Society in the Late Twentieth Century. University of Texas Press. pp. 33–34. ISBN 0-292-75215-6.
  7. ^ "Promotwo - Sun Times Market". Suntimes.com. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  8. ^ "Policing". southside.uchicago.edu. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  9. ^ "November 4, 1960: The Night Richard J. Daley Bought NBC for JFK. Video of Chicago's greatest political rally". Richsamuels.com. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  10. ^ Joravsky, Ben. "The Radical Rokyo". Chicagoreader.com. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-02-26. Retrieved 1970-01-01. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ Thomas J. Gradel and Dick Simpson, Corrupt Illinois: Patronage, Cronyism, and Criminality (University of Illinois Press, 2015), pp. 11-12, 211.
  13. ^ "Illinois: The Most Democratic State". Nbcchicago.com. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  14. ^ "Chicago Democrats Make Appeal To Republican Candidates". Npr.org. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  15. ^ "Chicago Named "Corruption Capital of America"". Nbcchicago.com. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  16. ^ Simpson, Thomas J. Gradel and Dick. "UI Press - Thomas J. Gradel and Dick Simpson - Corrupt Illinois: Patronage, Cronyism, and Criminality". Press.uillinois.edu. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  17. ^ "A 'must read' tells how corrupt Chicago and Illinois are". Chicago.suntimes.com. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  18. ^ Thomas J. Gradel and Dick Simpson, Corrupt Illinois: Patronage, Cronyism, and Criminality (University of Illinois Press, 2015), for the characterization of Chicago, p. xii; for the Table of Federal Public Corruption Convictions," p. 5.
  19. ^ Thomas J. Gradel and Dick Simpson, Corrupt Illinois: Patronage, Cronyism, and Criminality (University of Illinois Press, 2015), p. 195.

Further reading


  • Cohen, Adam, and Elizabeth Taylor. American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley - His Battle for Chicago and the Nation. Boston: Back Bay Books, 2001. ISBN 0-316-83489-0
  • David K., Fremon. Chigaco politics: ward by ward. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1988
  • Gradel, Thomas J. and Dick Simpson, Corrupt Illinois: Patronage, Cronyism, and Criminality (University of Illinois Press, 2015) ISBN 978-0252078552
  • Green, Paul M.. The Mayors: The Chicago Political Tradition. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-8093-2612-4
  • Kimble Jr., Lionel. A New Deal for Bronzeville: Housing, Employment, and Civil Rights in Black Chicago, 1935-1955 (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015). xiv, 200 pp.
  • Lindberg, Richard Carl. To Serve and Collect: Chicago Politics and Police Corruption from the Lager Beer Riot to the Summerdale Scandal : 1855-1960. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1991. ISBN 0-275-93415-2
  • Sautter, R. Craig, Edward M. Burke. Inside the Wigwam: Chicago Presidential Conventions, 1860-1996. Chicago: Loyola Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8294-0911-4
  • Simpson, Vernon. Chicago's Politics & Society: a Selected Bibliography. DeKalb: Center for Government Studies, DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University, 1972.
  • Wendt, Lloyd, Herman Kogan, and Bette Jore. Big Bill of Chicago. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2005 ISBN 0-8101-2319-3


1841 Chicago mayoral election

The 1840 Chicago mayoral election saw Democrat Francis Cornwall Sherman defeat Whig Isaac R. Gavin by a 4.7% margin of victory.

The election was held on March 5.Sherman was the proprietor of the Sherman House HotelPrior elections had been conducted in a manner requiring voters to state their party preference upon entering their polling place. This election was conducted in a manner which provided voters more privacy/anonymity than the previous four mayoral elections had.

Chicago-style politics

Chicago-style politics is a phrase which has been used to refer to the city of Chicago, regarding its hard-hitting sometimes corrupt politics. It was used to refer to the Republican machine in the 1920s run by William Hale Thompson, as when TIME magazine said, "to Mayor Thompson must go chief credit for creating 20th Century Politics Chicago Style."The phrase has often been used to refer to the Democratic Party-dominated machine, or "boss," politics of Chicago during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Political scientist Harold Gosnell wrote the most detailed analysis in Machine Politics: Chicago Style (University of Chicago Press, 1937). Paul E. Peterson extended the term to cover School Politics, Chicago Style (University of Chicago Press, 1976). Paul Kleppner looked at ethnic politics in the city in "Mayoral Politics Chicago Style: The Rise and Fall of a Multiethnic Coalition, 1983-1989." National Political Science Review 5 (1995): 152-180.

The term has been used by critics of the administration of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, and to Chicago's history of political corruption more generally. More recently, the phrase was used by Republican Party politicians and activists during the 2008 Presidential Election and 2012 Presidential Election campaigns against Barack Obama, who had lived in Chicago since 1985.The phrase has also been used in recent years to characterize a supposedly offensive “tough, take-no-prisoners approach to politics”.

Cook County Democratic Party

The Cook County Democratic Party is a political party which represents voters in 50 wards in the city of Chicago and 30 suburban townships of Cook County. The organization has dominated Chicago politics (and consequently, Illinois politics) since the 1930s. It relies on a tight organizational structure of ward and township committeemen to elect candidates. At the height of its influence under Richard J. Daley in the 1960s, it was one of the most powerful political machines in American history. Party members have been convicted of public corruption. By the beginning of the 21st century the party had largely ceased to function as a machine due to the decline of political patronage following the issuing of the Shakman Decrees. The current Chair is Toni Preckwinkle.

History of African Americans in Chicago

The history of African Americans in Chicago dates back to Jean Baptiste Point du Sable’s trading activities in the 1780s. Du Sable is the city's founder. Fugitive slaves and freedmen established the city’s first black community in the 1840s. By the late 19th century, the first black person had been elected to office.

The Great Migrations from 1910 to 1960 brought hundreds of thousands of blacks from the South to Chicago, where they became an urban population. They created churches, community organizations, important businesses, music, and literature. African Americans of all classes built a community on the South Side of Chicago for decades before the Civil Rights Movement, as well as on the West Side of Chicago. Residing in segregated communities, almost regardless of income, the Black residents of Chicago aimed to create communities where they could survive, sustain themselves, and have the ability to determine for themselves their own course in Chicago history.

History of Chicago

The history of Chicago, Illinois, has played a central role in American economic, cultural and political history and since the 1850s the city has been one of the most dominant Midwest metropolises. The area's recorded history begins with the arrival of French explorers, missionaries and fur traders in the late 17th century and their interaction with the local Pottawatomie Native Americans. There were small settlements and a U.S. Army fort, but the soldiers and settlers were all driven off in 1812. The modern city was incorporated in 1837 by Northern businessmen and grew rapidly from real estate speculation and the realization that it had a commanding position in the emerging inland transportation network, based on lake traffic and railroads, controlling access from the Great Lakes into the Mississippi River basin.

Despite a fire in 1871 that destroyed the Central Business District, the city grew exponentially, becoming the nation's rail center and the dominant Midwestern center for manufacturing, commerce, finance, higher education, religion, broadcasting, sports, jazz, and high culture. The city was a magnet for European immigrants—at first Germans, Irish and Scandinavians, then from the 1890s to 1914, Jews, Czechs, Poles and Italians. They were all absorbed in the city's powerful ward-based political machines. Many joined militant labor unions, and Chicago became notorious for its violent strikes, and high wages.

Large numbers of African Americans migrated from the South starting in the World War I era as part of the Great Migration. Mexicans started arriving after 1910, and Puerto Ricans after 1945. The Cook County suburbs grew rapidly after 1945, but the Democratic party machine kept both the city and suburbs under control, especially under mayor Richard J. Daley, who was chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party. Deindustrialization after 1970 closed the stockyards and most of the steel mills and factories, but the city retained its role as a financial and transportation hub. Increasingly it emphasized its service roles in medicine, higher education, and tourism. The city formed the political base for national leaders of the Democratic Party, especially Stephen A. Douglas in the 1850s, Adlai Stevenson in the 1950s, and Barack Obama in recent years.

Illinois's 5th congressional district

The 5th congressional district of Illinois covers parts of Cook and DuPage counties, as of the 2011 redistricting which followed the 2010 census. All or parts of Chicago, Elmhurst, Elmwood Park, Franklin Park, Hinsdale, La Grange Park, Norridge, Northlake, River Grove, Schiller Park, and Oakbrook Terrace are included.It has been represented by Democrat Mike Quigley since a special election in April 2009.

James Hutchinson Woodworth

James Hutchinson Woodworth (December 4, 1804 – March 26, 1869; interred in Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago), was a member of the Illinois State Senate and the Illinois State House of Representatives, served as a Chicago Alderman, was elected to consecutive terms as Mayor of Chicago, Illinois (1848–1850) as an Independent Democrat, and served one term in the US House of Representatives as a member of the Republican Party. Woodworth completed his career in Chicago as one of the city's most noteworthy bankers. He is a member of the Woodworth political family.

John Comiskey (politician)

John Comiskey (1826 – January 8, 1900) was an American Democratic Party politician in Chicago, Illinois. He was the father of Charles Comiskey.

P.W. Chavers

P.W. Chavers (1876–1933) born Pearl William Chavers, was a banker, entrepreneur, industrialist, philanthropist, African-American journalist, and real estate developer in Chicago, Illinois. He devoted his life to the establishment of a black economy in Chicago, Illinois and in Columbus, Ohio.

He started the first National Bank in Chicago for African Americans called the Douglass Bank was the author of a Congressional Bill introduced in 1924 to provide Federal guarantee of bank deposits, known today as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

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