Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Governor Henry Horner, Chicago Politics, and the Great Depression

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Governor Henry Horner, Chicago Politics, and the Great Depression

Article excerpt

Governor Henry Horner, Chicago Politics, and the Great Depression. By Charles J. Masters, (Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 2007. Pp-xviii, 243, $24.95.)

Master's study is a welcome, if brief addition to the small body of literature on one of Illinois' most revered governors. Horner's tenure as governor was complicated by the unprecedented economic crisis of the Depression and his attempt to assert his authority over the Chicago Democratic Party organization that wanted him to act as an agent of their own political agenda.

The volume adds some new information on Horner's family background and his upbringing in the Democratic organization. It also tells us a little more about the friendship between James Aloysius Griffin, the Catholic bishop in Springfield, and Horner, though much is left out. While Griffin could not appear to support any candidate in the primary campaign of 1936, he was not an impartial bystander. He quietly marshalled clergy in his diocese, encompassing a broad swath of the state between Peoria and Alton, to turn out the vote for his friend, and we can be sure he lobbied others in the Catholic hierarchy as well as other church leaders to do the same.

Much of the material on Horner's career, however, is derived from Thomas Littlewood's 1969 biography, Horner of Illinois - perhaps too much. The same stories are told of Horner demonstrating how to store sacks of flour at a state institution so that they were not damaged (p. 139), his first serious attack when he found himself kneeling on the floor of his limousine unable to speak (p. 199), the primary campaign against Dr. Bundeson, or thumping his hand on the table to express irreconcilable opposition to the Kelly Nash machine, and the story of a physically and mentally disabled girl whom Horner rescued from neglect in one of the state's institutions (pp. 216 ff.). Some of these are properly cited, others are not. Given Horner's fame as a Lincoln collector, readers will find it strange that Masters omits mention of New Salem's re -construction by the WPA during Governor Horner's term.

Where Masters hopes to break new ground is the analysis of the experience of state and local government in dealing with the Depression. Yet the precise lessons he would have the reader draw are not clear. He describes FDR's efforts to revive the nation's economy as a "shotgun approach", and suggests, without offering more detail, that Horner was less than enthusiastic about the New Deal's programs. …

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