Ruling Suburbia: John J. McClure and the Republican Machine in Delaware County, Pennsylvania

Ruling Suburbia: John J. McClure and the Republican Machine in Delaware County, Pennsylvania

Ruling Suburbia: John J. McClure and the Republican Machine in Delaware County, Pennsylvania

Ruling Suburbia: John J. McClure and the Republican Machine in Delaware County, Pennsylvania

Synopsis

Ruling Suburbia chronicles the history of the Republican machine that has dominated the political life of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, since 1875, and of the career of John J. McClure, who controlled the machine from 1907 until 1965.

Excerpt

THIS WORK CHRONICLES THE HISTORY OF THE REPUBLICAN POLITICAL machine that has dominated the political life of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, since approximately 1875. For a majority of that time, the machine was controlled by one of two men: William McClure, from 1875 until his death in 1907; and son John J. McClure from 1907 until his death in 1965. Chapter one recounts William’s career. The rest of the monograph focuses on the career of John—a career that has been described as “having no equal in the annals of Pennsylvania politics.”

In the process of telling John McClure’s story, I attempt to make four primary points. Firstly, political machines were not confined to urban areas. Furthermore, the demographic and political peculiarities of suburban counties lent themselves, in this case, to continued domination by a political machine long after the heyday of the urban machine had passed. Secondly, contrary to much that has been written on machine politics, neither the New Deal, immigration restriction, nor the rise of organized labor destroyed all the old Republican machines. Delaware was but one of several counties in southeastern Pennsylvania where Republicans continued to hold sway throughout the twentieth century. Thirdly, not all blacks switched their electoral loyalties to the Democratic party in 1936. The black population of Delaware County continued to support machine-sponsored Republicans for state, county, and municipal office.

Finally, the citizens of Delaware County supported and continue to support the Republican machine because the machine delivered and continues to deliver those things that the citizens want most. At the turn of the century, it provided food, work, and police protection to Chester’s European and black immigrants. During Prohibition, it supplied the county with liquor. Through the Depression, patronage kept a significant portion of machine loyalists employed. In the 1950s and 1960s, the machine kept taxes low, initiated a war on organized vice, successfully defeated all threats to home rule, and discouraged blacks from settling historically white communities. The trash was collected, the snow plowed, the streets repaired. The buses were on time, the playgrounds and parks were clean, the Little Leagues ran on schedule, and the schools were acceptably average. These were the most important concerns of a majority of a county’s citizens. While the citizens and their concerns changed over time, two things seem to have remained . . .

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