Cogwheels of Democracy: A Study of the Precinct Captain

Cogwheels of Democracy: A Study of the Precinct Captain

Cogwheels of Democracy: A Study of the Precinct Captain

Cogwheels of Democracy: A Study of the Precinct Captain

Excerpt

Faith in democracy has too often tended to obscure certain defects in its functioning. The domination of political action by pressure groups, the frequent indifference of the electorate, and the corrupt practices accompanying elections are well known. It is a postulate of American democracy that a large proportion of the electorate is represented through candidates chosen and issues formulated by the two major parties. These parties function through political organizations which control the election machinery. Is the delegation of power to the political machines justified by the results? To determine an answer, this study is focused on the smallest agent of the machine--the precinct captain.

In the following pages, an attempt has been made to analyze the activities and characteristics of the precinct captain from interviews with six hundred of his kind taken from every ward. of Chicago. His activities are contrasted with those of other community agents, such as the social worker or the policeman. Attention is given to his part in the election machinery, to his effectiveness as an interpreter and manipulator of local governmental functions, and to his role as a party agent.

Although the interviews upon which this study is based were made several years ago, the duties and responsibilities of the precinct captain have not changed. It is within the particularly notorious period of the "Pineapple Primary" of April, 1927, and the November election which chose "Big Bill Thompson" as mayor, that the precinct captains of the succeeding pages were most active.

Some precinct captains were not easy to find, and information about others was not readily procurable. The captain's "hang- out" varied. He might be at home or in a dignified hotel room . . .

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