A Study in Boss Politics: William Lorimer of Chicago

A Study in Boss Politics: William Lorimer of Chicago

A Study in Boss Politics: William Lorimer of Chicago

A Study in Boss Politics: William Lorimer of Chicago

Excerpt

Congressman William Lorimer, the Blond Boss of Chicago, controlled the Republican party in Cook County and the state of Illinois for over a decade at the turn of the century. Himself an English immigrant, his power base was on Chicago's West Side in one of the city's heaviest concentrations of foreign-born residents. The city's reformers considered him a dangerous man, but Lorimer was a hero to many of his constituents. They admired for his exemplary family life, for his loyalty to friends, and for his reputation for truthfulness. They were grateful for favors given them by Lorimer's machine. They shared his antipathy to the Chicago reform newspapers and delighted in his attacks upon the so-called "trust press."

In 1909 a bipartisan majority of the Illinois General Assembly elected Lorimer to the U.S. Senate. Approximately one year later, the Chicago Tribune published the confession of Assemblyman Charles A. White that he had been paid $1,000 for his Lorimer vote. The White confession began a series of events that resulted in Lorimer's ouster from the Senate in 1912, even though two Senate investigations and a 1911 Senate vote upheld his title to his seat. The Lorimer case, which has previously escaped close scrutiny, was one of the most important events splitting the Republican party in the 1910-12 period.

Although this work focuses upon the life of one man, it is intended more as a study of political behavior and of a political system than as a traditional biography. The emergence of a system of boss and machine politics in Chicago, as in other American cities in the late nineteenth century, caused a conflict between professional politicians coming from immigrant backgrounds, like William Lorimer, and elite native-American reformers. These reformers reflected a more "cosmopolitan" attitude toward the city and were influenced by cor-

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