A Study in Boss Politics: William Lorimer of Chicago

By Joel Arthur Tarr | Go to book overview
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An Urban Politician in the House of Representatives, 1895-1901, 1903-09

DURING THE YEARS from 1895 to 1901, and again from 1903 to 1909, William Lorimer represented a Chicago congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. In many ways Lorimer, the local political boss, differed little from the bulk of his Republican colleagues. He generally voted the straight party line on national issues, he seldom spoke, and he represented the needs of his constituents and the industries in his district as he conceived them. The nature of his constituency, however, set him off from his fellows. For Lorimer came from an urban congressional district at a time when rural America elected the great mass of congressmen.1

Lorimer's congressional districts, the Second ( 1895-1901) and the Sixth ( 1903-09), consisted of several West Side Chicago wards and a number of Cook County towns, the largest of which was Cicero. Both were primarily working-class areas with pockets of middle-class residents toward the outlying sections. A majority of the voters in the two districts were either foreign-born or had foreign-born parents, of mainly German, Irish, English, and Bohemian stock. The Sixth District also contained a large bloc of Russians, the newest arrivals in the area.2

The population of the United States in 1890 was 64 percent rural (40,841,000) and 36 percent urban (22,106,000). U.S., Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United states ( Washington, 1961), 9.
Although the two districts shared some territory, the Second was much larger than the Sixth. It consisted of the Tenth, Twenty-eighth, Twenty-ninth, and Thirtieth Chicago wards and a number of county towns; the Sixth, formed in 1901 following a Chicago ward reapportionment, consisted of the Thirteenth, Twentieth, and Thirty- fourth wards and several county towns. U.S., Eleventh Census, 1890, "Population,"


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