A Study in Boss Politics: William Lorimer of Chicago

By Joel Arthur Tarr | Go to book overview
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Victory through Organization

THE TWO-PARTY system dominated Chicago politics in the 1890's as it did politics in other large American cities. Third parties, although not unusual, were generally unsuccessful in polling a winning percentage of the vote. The "competing political parties . . . with the consent of voters secured by competitive election" largely governed the city.1 But who ran and dominated the political parties? That is, who furnished political leadership in Chicago?

As previously noted, Mayor Carter H. Harrison ruled the Democratic party. Native-American "silk-stocking" Democrats, men "high in the professional, the social and business world," challenged his leadership and objected to his catering to the immigrant vote, but without success.2 The Catholic Irish, German, Bohemian, and Polish wards and the German Lutheran wards provided the voting strength of the Democratic party, and Harrison appealed to them by championing "personal liberty," opposing Sunday closing, and defending the teaching of German and other languages in the public schools.

Republican leadership in the 1880's also reflected the social composition of the Republican areas of the city. The party was strongest in the Protestant sections, especially among the native Americans, British, Scandinavians, and English Canadians. In their Chicago campaigns, the Republicans promised to achieve economy and efficiency in government, suppress gambling, and maintain law and order. These planks were often summarized under a "good-government" label.

Robert A. Dahl, Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City ( New Haven, 1961), 5.
Harrison, Stormy Years, 37.


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