A Seperate World
Richard Joseph Daley was a product of the bloody world of the Chicago slaughterhouses. Chicagoans of his day, both Catholics and non-Catholics, located themselves by referring to their local parish -- they came from Saint Mary's or Saint Nicholas's. Daley came from Nativity of Our Lord, the parish church of his childhood, where he would be eulogized seventy-four years later. Nativity was founded in the mid-1800s to serve the poor Irish-Catholic laborers who were flooding the area to work in the growing meat-packing industry. The church's simple stone building stood at the corner of 37th and Union, on the fringes of the South Side neighborhood of Bridgeport and hard up against a vast expanse of cattle-slaughtering facilities. Standing on the steps after Mass, young Daley could smell the fetid mixture of manure and blood that wafted over from the sprawling Union Stock Yards to the south. The gurgling in the background was the cackle of "Bubbly Creek," a torpid offshoot of the Chicago River that got its name from the fermenting animal carcasses and offal in its slow-moving waters. If Nativity seemed like an unlikely place for spiritual repose, it had once been worse. The church's first home had actually been in the former J. McPherson livery stables. The name "Nativity" was a reference to the fact that the church, like Christ, had been born in a stable -- an attempt to put a holy gloss on grim surroundings. Nativity's new building had a pleasant interior, including ornate stained-glass windows, but nothing could make up for the harsh reality of geography. Daley's spiritual home was located just a few hundred feet from what one parish history called "the greatest and bloodiest butcher shamble in the world."
The whole city of Chicago had a reputation for coarseness and for lacking the style and sophistication of older cities like Philadelphia or Boston. "Having seen it, I urgently desire never to see it again," Rudyard Kipling wrote after visiting in 1889. "It is inhabited by savages."
Chicago was the industrial capital of the Midwest, a tough town dominated by factories that belched black smoke. Theodore Dreiser, who roamed the city as a reporter, marveled in his book Newspaper Days at the "hard, constructive animality" of the rougher parts of Chicago. It was not uncommon, he found on his rounds, to come across men standing outside ramshackle homes "tanning dog or cat hides." The Chicago of this era was a town in which displaced farmhands and struggling immigrants competed for space in ramshackle tenements and rooming houses, and hooligans roamed the streets. Block after block of "disorderly houses" did a brisk business corrupting hordes of guileless young girls, like Dreiser's Sister Carrie, who arrived daily from small towns in a desperate search for a better life. And it was Chicago saloonkeepers who invented the Mickey Finn, a chloral hydrate?laced drink slipped to solitary patrons so they could be easily robbed. "The New York Tenderloin," journalist Lincoln Steffens wrote, "was a model of order and virtue compared with the badly regulated, police-paid criminal lawlessness of the Chicago Loop and its spokes." Chicago's moral climate was shaped by Al Capone and the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, and by the ignominy of the 1919 Chicago White Sox -- the team that shocked the nation by fixing the World Series. "Chicago is unique," journalist A. J. Liebling would conclude after visiting for a year to research a book. "It is the only completely corrupt city in America." Loving Chicago, Nelson Algren once said, was like loving a woman with a broken nose.
Even by the standards of turn-of-the-century Chicago, Daley's neighborhood was a grim place. It was Chicago's first slum, known in its early days by the evocative name Hardscrabble. It was settled in the 1830s and 1840s by the Irish "shovelmen" who built the nearby Illinois & Michigan Canal, many working for whiskey and a dollar a day. The area was renamed Bridgeport in the 1840s, when a bridge was built across the Chicago River at Ashland Avenue, forcing barges to unload on one side and reload on the other. When the canals were completed, Bridgeport's dirty work of canal-building gave way to the even less savory trade of animal slaughter. Chicago killed and prepared for market much of the livestock raised in the farm states surrounding it. Leading the nation in slaughterhouses, it was truly -- as Carl Sandburg observed -- "hog butcher for the world." In the mid-1800s, Chicago slaughterhouses were being forced out of the congested downtown, and they found the vast expanses south of Bridgeport an ideal place to relocate. The area had sweeping tracts of open land, and a steady supply of water from the Chicago River available to use in the slaughtering and treatment processes. It was also near railroad tracks, which meant that once the cattle arrived from the countryside, they would not need to be led through the city streets on their way to the slaughter. In 1865, several slaughterhouses that once operated in downtown Chicago combined to form the
Union Stock Yards, an enormous collection of meat-processing plants that dominated the area just south of Bridgeport.
Upton Sinclair, whose novel The Jungle exposed the horrific world of the Chicago slaughterhouses, captured the unsavory surroundings in which Daley grew up. There were "so many cattle no one had ever dreamed existed in the world," Sinclair wrote. "The sound of them here was as of all the barnyards of the universe; and as for counting them -- it would have taken all day simply to count the pens." Young Daley used to watch as the animals were driven down Archer Avenue to their demise, and he and his friends would gawk at the remnants that showed up in Bubbly Creek. Thousands of Daley's neighbors labored in the slaughterhouses, their workdays an uninterrupted assembly line of killing. Pigs with chains around their hind legs were hooked to a spokeless wheel, which hoisted the squealing animals into the air and carried them by overhead rail across the length of the building, where a man covered in blood cut their throats by hand. The blood that drained out was collected for use as fertilizer. Then the hog, often still squirming with life, was dropped into a vat of boiling water. Cattle were treated no better. It was hard, dispiriting work. Daley's neighbors were the workers Sinclair told of, those who fell prey to the chemicals used to pickle meats, which caused "all the joints" of their fingers to "be eaten by the acid, one by one." Coming of age in this violent world, Daley was robbed of any illusions early.
As its original name suggested, Bridgeport was a hardscrabble place. The neighborhood's earliest residents had lived in wooden shanties along the Chicago River that sank into the muddy soil of the riverbank. It was a wild region, where wolves ran free in the early years of Daley's childhood. The predominant form of housing, after residents gained the wherewithal to move beyond wooden shanties, was the humble "bungalow," a staple of working-class Chicago architecture. These long and narrow houses, or "shotgun-shacks,"were a big step up from the squalid accommodations along the river, but they were still cheap housing for people who could not afford better. These small bungalows, on not-much-larger lots, were usually home to large immigrant families that would have been crowded in twice the space. Years after Daley was elected mayor, his wife would recall the cramped conditions of her childhood bungalow, in a neighborhood adjoining Bridgeport. "There were 10 children in our family and we only had one bathroom but somehow we all managed," Sis Daley told a newspaper reporter cheerfully.
Bridgeport was, as much as any neighborhood in Chicago, a world apart. It lay on the geographical fringes of the city, five miles from downtown, on land that had only recently been incorporated. And it was separated on all sides by imposing barriers: the Chicago River to the north, the stockyards to the south, Bubbly Creek to the west, and wide railroad tracks -- and then a black ghetto -- to the east. Ethnic groups had divided Chicago according to an unwritten peace treaty.
Germans settled on the North Side, Irish on the South Side, Jews on the West Side, Bohemians and Poles on the Near Southwest Side and Near Northwest Side, and blacks in the South Side Black Belt.
Bridgeport was more diverse than most Chicago neighborhoods: it was home to several different white Catholic immigrant groups. But this only meant that Bridgeport was itself divided into ethnic enclaves.
Most of its Poles were concentrated in northwest Bridgeport, west of Halsted Avenue, the traditional boundary line between Irish and non-Irish Bridgeport. Lithuanians also lived predominantly in the northwest, with Morgan Street separating them from the Poles.
Germans and Bohemians were more spread out, but they too stayed mainly on the non-Irish side of Halsted. It is a reflection of how ethnically divided Bridgeport was that in 1868 the "index of dissimilarity" -- the most commonly used measure of residential segregation -- between its Lithuanians and Irish was .96, indicating almost complete separation. In turn-of-the-century Bridgeport, a block or two meant a world of difference. Tom Donovan, who would later become Daley's patronage chief, grew up at 39th and Lowe Avenue, only a few blocks from Daley's home at 35th and Lowe. But it was one parish over -- Saint Anthony's, rather than Nativity of Our Lord -- so, Donovan insisted, "I didn't grow up in his neighborhood." Even Bridgeport's Irish were divided up into sub-neighborhoods: the north-west Bridgeport Irish; the Dashed Irish, who lived along upper Union Avenue, once named Dashed Avenue; the Canaryville Irish, who lived in the marshy far-south end of the neighborhood; and, just north of Canaryville, the little rectangle of land around Nativity of Our Lord Church known as Hamburg.
Daley's deepest loyalties were to this small Irish-Catholic village-within-a-village. Hamburg was no more than a few square blocks, stretching from 35th Street down to the stockyards at 39th Street, and bounded by Halsted Avenue on the west and the railroad tracks along Wentworth Avenue on the east. Its major institution was Nativity, which like all Catholic churches of the time was as much a center of communal life as a place of worship. Archbishop James Quigley, who led the Chicago Archdiocese from 1903 to 1915, had decreed that "a parish should be of such a size that the pastor can know personally every man, woman, and child in it,"7 and this was certainly the case in tiny Nativity Parish. The annual parish fair -- which featured gambling games, booths selling oyster stew, and a Hibernian band playing in the corner -- was almost a family gathering. Hamburg also had an array of secular institutions tying its residents together. The 11th Ward offices, headquarters of one of the most important units of the city's powerful Democratic machine, were located on Halsted Avenue at 37th Street. Directly across Halsted was the neighborhood saloon, Schaller's Pump, which many said was the real headquarters of the 11th Ward Democrats. Young residents had an institution of their own, the Hamburg Athletic Club, a combination of sports club, adjunct to the political machine, and youth gang. Hamburg was a tight little world inhabited by people who shared a religion, an ethnicity, and a common set of values, and who were mistrustful of those who lacked these bonds. Though it was in the middle of a large city, Hamburg was "not only a separate neighborhood, but . . . a separate world -- a small town on a compact . . . scale."
By one well-established formulation, a neighborhood is a "place to be defended." For all its seeming solidity, Irish-Catholic Hamburg was already in decline even at the time of Daley's birth. Nativity Parish was losing congregants, declining from 2,800 to 1,200 in the early years of the century, and beginning to encounter financial troubles. Throughout Daley's childhood, other ethnic groups were growing in size and drawing closer to Hamburg: formerly Irish Lawler Avenue, a mere four blocks west of Daley's childhood home, was renamed "Lithuanica" as the Lithuanian population around it grew. Mr. Dooley, the fictional creation of the great Irish-American journalist Finley Peter Dunne, expressed Bridgeport's fears of being engulfed by fast-encroaching ethnic rivals. In Dunne's columns in the Chicago Daily News, Mr. Dooley was the Irish-born keeper of a Bridgeport saloon. In 1897, five years before Daley's birth, Mr. Dooley was already bemoaning the fact that "th' Hannigans an' Leonidases an' Caseys" were moving out to greener pastures, "havin' made their pile," and "Polish Jews an' Swedes an' Germans an' Hollanders" had "swarmed in, settlin' on th' sacred sites." The most telling sign of Bridgeport's "change an' decay," Mr. Dooley said, was the selection of "a Polacker" to tend the famous "red bridge," which joined Bridgeport to the rest of the city, thereby placing control of the neighborhood in the hands of a non-Hibernian. It was the rising tide of black immigration, though, that Bridgeporters found most worrisome. Daley's youth coincided with the start of an unprecedented migration, as southern blacks moved north to take industrial jobs in the Northeast and Midwest. Most of the blacks flooding into Chicago were settling in the South Side Black Belt, just a few blocks east of Bridgeport, and the ghetto was always threatening to move closer. By the time Daley was born, many Bridgeporters had decided that their tough little neighborhood, with its workaday bungalows and slaughterhouse ambience, was best left to the new ethnic groups that were engulfing it on all sides. Irish residents of Hamburg who had the money -- like Mr. Dooley's Hannigans, Leonidases, and Caseys -- were already moving out to more attractive and prestigious neighborhoods where the lawns were larger and the air did not smell of blood. But despite all sense and logic, Daley's family, and later Daley himself, remained intensely loyal to their small Irish-Catholic village. Daley never moved out and, it might be said, he spent a lifetime defending it.
Daley was born in a simple two-flat at 3502 South Lowe on May 15, 1902. Daley's father, Michael, was the second of nine children born to James E. Daley, a New York born butcher, and Delia Gallagher, an immigrant from Ireland. Like most Irish-American immigrants, Daley's forebears came to the country as part of the Great Potato Famine migration, which caused more than two million Irish to expatriate between 1845 and 1850. Though not brought over in chains, these Irishmen and Irishwomen were torn from their land and forced to emigrate by extraordinarily cruel circumstances. Before the famine ended, perhaps one-quarter of Ireland's population of eight million had died of starvation and disease. Many survivors headed for America. Their journey across the ocean, made in aptly named "coffin ships," was perilous. Passengers often succumbed to "ship fever," a kind of typhus, along the way. It was a migration of refugees fleeing a country they held dear, often forced to leave loved ones behind. Family legend has it that Daley's grandfather began his own journey when he went to market in Cork with his brother to sell pigs and, with the few shillings he made on the sale, boarded the next ship for America.
Growing up in Bridgeport, Daley could not have avoided hearing about the horrors of the "Great Starvation." Adults in the neighborhood, some of whom had seen the suffering firsthand, passed on to the children lurid tales of skeletons walking the countryside, and peasant women dying in the fields. These famine stories were invariably laced with bitter accounts of how the hated British had exported wheat and oats out of the country while the Irish starved. In the course of his childhood, Daley learned the whole tragic history of his people -- the centuries of rule as a conquered territory, the rebellions brutally put down, the absentee landlordism that drove farmers into poverty, and the language all but obliterated.
The America Daley's grandparents immigrated to rescued them from famine, but it was far from welcoming. The flood of Irish arriving in the nation's large cities produced a feverish outpouring of anti-Catholic sentiment. Protestant ministers preached about the threat posed by a Catholic Church they referred to by epithets like "The Scarlet Lady of Babylon" and "The Whore of Rome." And the American reading public devoured incendiary anti-Catholic books like the infamous novel Artful Disclosures, an "exposé" of convent life in which a nun describes forced sexual relations with priests, frequent orgies, and the murder of nuns who refused to submit.
This anti-Catholic fervor found political expression in the Know-Nothing Party, which in the elections of 1854/55 won seventy-five seats in Congress. In newspapers and popular magazines, a stereotype soon emerged of Irish immigrants as shiftless and prone to drink, with a dangerous propensity for brawling, gambling, and other lowlife pastimes. "Who does not know that the most depraved, debased, worthless, and irredeemable drunkards and sots which curse the community are Irish Catholics?" the Chicago Tribune asked in 1855. The Irish were regarded as particularly disposed to crime.
"Scratch a convict or a pauper," the Chicago Post declared in 1898, and "the chances are that you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic at the same time -- an Irish Catholic made a criminal or a pauper by the priest and politicians who have deceived him and kept him in ignorance, in a word, a savage, as he was born."
America reserved some of the lowest rungs on the economic and social ladder for the new Irish immigrants. Signs proclaiming "No Irish Need Apply" were common. Advertisements for housekeepers often specified "Protestant girls" only, because young Irish-Catholic women, as one account had it, were "the daughters of laborers, or needy tradesmen, or persecuted, rack-rented cotters, they are ignorant of the common duties of servants in respectable positions." Irish men, for their part, were largely relegated to the jobs native-born whites would not take. They were the laborers who carved out the canals, laid the railroad tracks, and dug the ditches -- often at great personal cost. As one Irish-American lamented at the time: "How often do we see such paragraphs in the paper as an Irishman drowned -- an Irishman crushed by a beam -- an Irishman suffocated in a pit -- an Irishman blown to atoms by a steam engine -- ten, twenty Irishmen buried alive by the sinking of a bank -- and other like casualties and perils to which honest Pat is constantly exposed in the hard toils for his daily bread."
Coming of age in Bridgeport, Daley absorbed a keen understanding of Ireland's long years of "misery, suffering, oppression, violence, exploitation, atrocity, and genocide." And he felt deeply the discrimination that, even in America, his countrymen experienced. Hard as it may be to imagine now, one of the major forces driving Daley -- born in a working-class Irish-Catholic neighborhood in a city run by wealthy Protestants -- was something as basic as "an aspiration for full-class citizenship." Later in life, after he had taken control of the Chicago Democratic machine and been elected mayor, Daley spoke at an Irish-American dinner at Chicago's venerable Conrad Hilton Hotel. "I can't help thinking of your mothers and fathers and grandparents who would never have been allowed in this hotel," Daley declared.
The lace-curtain Irish crowd laughed, but Daley did not. "I want to offer a prayer for those departed souls who could never get into the Conrad Hilton." Daley's childhood catechism of Irish deprivations left him convinced that no group had suffered as his kinsmen had suffered. In the 1960s, when Daley was turning a deaf ear to the civil rights movement, one liberal critic opined: "I think one of the real problems [Daley] has with Negroes is understanding that the Irish are no longer the out-ethnic group."
Daley spent his childhood in conditions a distinct notch above the world of his grandfathers. He was born just as Chicago's Irish immigrants were making the hard transition from "shanty Irish" to the more respectable echelons of the lower middle class. Daley's father, Michael, was a sheet-metal worker and a business agent for his union. The Daleys fit in well in a neighborhood whose beliefs were few but deeply cherished: the Catholic Church, family, labor unions, and the White Sox, who played at Comiskey Park, just a few blocks away from the Daley home.
In the teeming Irish-Catholic world of Hamburg, Daley was a rarity: an only child. He and his parents were, perhaps because there were only three of them, an unusually closely knit family. Michael Daley, a wiry man who almost always sported a derby, was a man of few words. If Daley did not learn ambition or politics at his father's knee, he did acquire one of the mannerisms that would serve best in his career: speaking little and keeping his own counsel. "Part of the mystique of Richard Daley is that no one ever seems to know precisely what he thinks," one observer has written. Daley's taciturn ways may have been sheer political strategy, but they were also the prevailing character trait in the Daley household. "I think the reason he's always had trouble talking," an old Bridgeport neighbor recalled, "was that there weren't any other children in his home, and his parents were quiet people." Daley's father also taught him respect for authority and reverence for the government. Years later, when his own mayoral authority was questioned by civil rights protesters, Daley would invoke a lesson he learned from his father at the funeral parade for Governor Edward Dunne. "There is the governor of Illinois, son," Daley recalled his father saying to him. "Take off your hat."
Lillian Dunne Daley was eight years older than Daley's father, and she had a far stronger personality. Students of Irish history contend that as families left the land and moved to cities, gender roles changed, and women began to play a more dominant role. Mrs. Daley was one of this new breed, the "powerful and autocratic Irish matron." She was an active force in the church. Once, a young priest new to the parish wanted to start a bingo game, but was too shy to bring it up. Mrs. Daley advised him to raise it at an upcoming meeting of churchwomen. When the priest said in an uncertain voice that he wanted to start bingo, Mrs. Daley shouted out, "And we all do, too!" applauding, and carrying along the other women in the group. In addition to her work at Nativity of Our Lord, Mrs. Daley was a committed suffragist -- not a usual cause for women in Bridgeport -- and even took her son along to marches in support of the franchise for women. It is a measure of how formidable a force Lillian Daley was that a spectator would recall that as the Daley family walked by, a neighbor pronounced with dark Irish humor, "Here they come now, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost!" Daley remained close to his mother her entire life, never moving more than a block away. Years later, as mayor, Daley would nod and wipe a tear from his eye when a women's float at a Chicago Saint Patrick's Day parade waved a banner saying, "The Mayor's Mother Was a Suffragette!"
Mrs. Daley had high hopes that her only son would end up somewhere better than the stockyards or a South Side sheet-metal union hall. She always dressed Daley more formally than his contemporaries, in suits with neckties, which made him look like a little adult -- an extravagance made easier by the fact that the family had only one child to clothe. Young Daley often sported a handkerchief and he was, according to one family friend, the only child in Bridgeport at the time who owned pajamas. Whether it came from his parents or from somewhere within, Daley had a strong work ethic from a very young age. His first childhood job was selling newspapers at the corner of 35th and Wallace. Daley also made the rounds of the city's streetcars, riding to the end of the line as he walked up and down the aisle selling papers. These early jobs provided Daley with spending money, but they also trained him for his future career. "I think selling newspapers is a good thing for kids," Daley would say later. "They learn how to handle themselves with people." Daley also worked Saturday mornings, starting at 7:00, running up and down stairs to make deliveries for a peddler who sold vegetables door-to-door from a horse-drawn wagon. Bridgeport was a neighborhood in which many parents expected nothing more of their children than for them to match their own modest achievements. Lillian Daley, however, always made it clear she wanted more. This pressure to succeed was a constant in Daley's life as long as his mother lived. Shortly before her death, after Daley won the Democratic nomination for the powerful post of Cook County sheriff, Lillian Daley made it clear that she was unimpressed. "I didn't raise my son to be a policeman," she told a friend. She also had another reason for opposing his run for sheriff. Gilbert Graham, a priest and a friend of the family, recalls that she complained to her son: "You're going to have to put people to death." Earl Bush, Daley's longtime press secretary, suspects Mrs. Daley had an entirely different career path in mind for her only child. "I don't think [Mrs. Daley] naturally thought of her son as being a politician," says Bush. "I think she would have preferred him to become a priest."
Daley attended parochial school at Nativity, where he became an altar boy and stayed through graduation. In that era, the Catholic Church expected its parishioners to send their children to parochial school, and most complied. By one estimate, as many as 90 percent of Bridgeport's Catholic children attended church schools. The Daleys, like many Catholic parents, probably feared the non-Catholic world around them. The Catholic press of this era was filled with cautionary tales of Catholic parents who had entrusted their children to Protestant-dominated public schools. An article in the Irish World and American Industrial Liberator, extreme but not entirely atypical, told the tale of a ten-year-old child whipped "black and blue" in a Boston public school "for refusing to read the King James Version" of the Bible. The story all but omitted the fact that the incident had occurred fifty years earlier, but it reflected the deep mistrust many Irish-Catholic parents held for the public school system.
Daley's parochial school education emphasized the basics: reading, writing, arithmetic, and the catechism. But as much as anything he learned in the formal curriculum, his eight years there helped instill in him many of the Irish-Catholic values he would carry with him throughout his life. Parochial school education was a prolonged education in submission to authority. Daley's patronage coordinator, Matt Danaher, who grew up in Bridgeport, once told of serving as an altar boy for a monsignor at Nativity of Our Lord Church. "I said to him one morning, ?We're all set, Father,' " Danaher recalled. "He walked over, looked at the clock and said, ?It's one minute to 6.' And then he said, ?How would you like to hang for one minute.' He was always a perfectionist." And the nuns were, as countless Catholic memoirs have attested, often tyrants in habits. One chronicler of a parochial school in a parish not far from Bridgeport wrote that "children were sometimes asked to kneel on marbles, or eat soap, or scrape gum from the hallway stairs." The curriculum at Nativity emphasized memorization, penmanship, and rote learning. The Catholic catechism drilled into Daley in religion class was, of course, the ultimate form of rote learning, reducing almost every question students could have about God or man to a memorized short answer. It was the ideal education for a young man who might find his way to a career in machine politics, where success lay in unquestioningly performing the tasks set out by powers above. But it was less helpful as training for a leader who would need to think independently and adapt himself to changing times.
In school and out, Daley absorbed his neighborhood's conservative values and flinty self-reliance. Bridgeport, with its legions of slaughterhouse workers marching off to their bloody and dangerous jobs each day, was a community dedicated to the virtues of industry. No Bridgeporter with any pride would rely on others for his daily bread: success came through constant toil and pulling oneself up by one's own bootstraps. The Catholic Church had its charities, but the overwhelming ethic in neighborhoods like Bridgeport was that except in the most dire cases of family death or illness it was an embarrassment to accept alms. "Poor people didn't look to anybody for help or assistance," observed the superintendent of Bridgeport's parochial schools in the 1930s. Mr. Dooley tells of the down-on-his-luck laborer Callaghan who nevertheless musters the strength of character to tell the Saint Vincent de Paul almsgivers to "Take ye'er charity, an' shove it down ye'er throats." If the Callaghans had things tough, it was because this earthly life was a hard one.
The pre?Vatican II Catholicism in which Daley was raised impressed on him a keen sense of man's fallen state, and of the inevitability of sin. Man had to struggle hard against the influence of evil, which could be warded off only "if one chose the path of dutifulness and care, if one made sure by doing this twice over and respecting authority, if one closed off the energies of rebellion inside oneself." It was an education that bred a wary, even skeptical view of one's fellowman -- a character trait Daley would carry with him through life. "He's like a fellow who peeks in the bag to make sure the lady gave him a dozen buns," a profile of Daley in the Chicago Daily News once observed. And it was an environment that left Daley with a lifelong skepticism of idealists of all kinds -- whether they were reformers working to clean up machine politics or civil rights activists hoping to change hearts and minds on the question of race.
These utopians all proceeded from an unduly optimistic vision of man's perfectibility. "Look at the Lord's Disciples," Daley would later say in response to a charge of corruption in City Hall. "One denied Him, one doubted Him, one betrayed Him. If our Lord couldn't have perfection, how are you going to have it in city government?"
Daley was an obedient student, but not a particularly gifted one. He was "a very serious boy," his teacher Sister Gabriel recalled. "A very studious boy. He played when he played. He worked when he worked. And he prayed when he prayed." In 1916, after graduating from Nativity, Daley enrolled at De La Salle Institute, a three-year Catholic commercial high school known as "the Poor Boy's College." De La Salle was located at 3455 South Wabash, in a poor black neighborhood on the "wrong" side of the racial dividing line separating Bridgeport from the black neighborhoods to the east. Daley's commute brought him into closer physical proximity with the blacks who lived across the railroad tracks, but it did nothing to break down the psychological barriers that still separated him and his classmates from their black neighbors. De La Salle regarded its location in a black neighborhood as an unfortunate trick of fate, and it made no effort to introduce its young charges to their neighbors. "The school was surrounded by tenements and by low life," De La Salle's Centennial Book says in a blunt entry that captures the prevailing attitude. "It was a white school as an island surrounded by a black sea." Daley traveled to De La Salle in a pack of his fellow Bridgeporters, and quickly made his way out of the neighborhood when school let out.
De La Salle, founded by an Irish immigrant from the Christian Brothers Order named Brother Adjutor of Mary, had a highly practical approach to educating the children of the Catholic working class.
Brother Adjutor believed the best training for a young man with few advantages was intensive instruction in business. De La Salle's curriculum combined Catholic religious studies with commercial courses, including typing, bookkeeping, and business law. The school had actual "counting rooms," and other lifelike replicas of business settings, for students to begin acting out the financial jobs they would one day hold. Daley continued to be a diligent but unremarkable student.
One classmate remembered him as "a hard worker . . . maybe a little above average." Brother Adjutor's educational philosophy worked well for Daley: the business skills he acquired at De La Salle were of considerable help later in life, when his financial skills proved to be a critical factor in his rise up the ranks of the machine. Like Nativity, De La Salle instilled the importance of unquestioning obedience.
The Christian Brothers, imposing figures in long black robes and stiff white collars, instructed with a strictness that at times crossed the line to brutal. "They were good teachers," one of Daley's classmates recalled, "but if you got out of line, they wouldn't hesitate to punch you in the head."
De La Salle's real strength was its extensive efforts to get jobs for its graduates. Most young Irish-Catholic boys coming of age in places like Bridgeport in the early 1900s never made it out of the working class. But De La Salle opened up another world, a white-collar alternative, for its students. As graduation neared, its faculty operated as a kind of Irish-Catholic educational machine -- mirroring the Irish-Catholic political machine -- in which Brother Adjutor and other instructors drew on their contacts in the business world to find jobs for the "Brother's Boys." Brother Adjutor's reference letters were similar to the ones precinct captains were writing in clubhouses across the city. Because of "the necessity of giving our students a good start in life," went one, "I have for many years past strenuously exerted myself to secure for them good positions in the leading mercantile houses of this and other cities." The school's combination of commercial training and methodical Irish-Catholic networking was a powerful engine for thrusting working-class boys into the upper echelons of the city's power structure. When Daley was elected mayor, he would be the third consecutive mayor educated at De La Salle. The school also produced numerous aldermen, including two from Daley's own graduating class, and many prominent businessmen.
A commemorative book boasted, with only some hyperbole, that "The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton" but "the business leaders of Chicago were trained in the Counting Rooms of De La Salle." As an adult, Daley would remember De La Salle warmly as a place that "taught us to wear a clean shirt and tie and put a shine on your shoes and be confident to face the world."
Daley worked after school and on weekends. When classes let out at 3:30 every day, he traveled to the Loop to wrap packages and act as a department store messenger until the early evening. He also worked on bakery wagons and joined the drivers' union.
When Daley was not at school or working, he spent much of his free time at the Hamburg Athletic Club, which met in a nondescript clubhouse at 37th and Emerald, just a few blocks from his home. Hamburg was one of many such clubs in Chicago at the time -- others had names like "Ragen's Colts," "the Aylwards," and "Our Flag" -- that were part social circle, part political organization, and part street gang. The athletic clubs placed a premium on toughness and loyalty. The Ragen's Colts' motto could have belonged to any of them: "Hit me and you hit two thousand." Young men like Daley often ended up on the wrong end of the local policeman's billy club.
"All they wanted to do was just beat you over the head," Daley would later say, revealingly, about the policemen of his youth. When they were not testing the limits of the law, Hamburg Athletic Club members actually engaged in a few athletic activities. The clubs organized their own competitive sports leagues, sponsored outings to professional sporting events, and even held picnics and dances. Daley excelled in the Hamburg Athletic Club's sports program -- not as a participant but as a manager of others. "Dick often came to practice carrying his books," recalled a union official who was once the mascot of the Hamburg Athletic Club baseball team. "He was a very busy guy, but he took his job as a manager seriously. He made line-ups, booked the games, and ran the team on the field during games."
Clubs like Hamburg also served as the first rung of the Democratic machine. Most were sponsored by machine politicians, who contributed to their treasuries and took a personal interest in their members. The clubs, for their part, did political work in the neighborhood during election season. The "Ragen" of Ragen's Colts was Cook County commissioner Frank Ragen, who paid the rent on the clubhouse and underwrote many of the club's other expenses. Hamburg's patron was Alderman Joseph McDonough, a rising star in the Democratic machine. Hamburg had a long history as a training ground for machine politicians. Among its alumni was Tommy Doyle, president of the club in 1914, who challenged Bridgeport's twenty-year-incumbent alderman and won. The club had served as a powerful political base for Doyle, providing him with an army of 350 campaign workers. Four years later, when Doyle moved on to higher office, McDonough inherited his aldermanic seat. Clubs like Hamburg were also valuable because their members were willing and able to apply force on behalf of their sponsors. It was a useful service, since Chicago political campaigns had a way of getting rough. A fierce battle for ward committeeman in the "Bloody 20th" Ward in 1928 ended with one candidate killed gangland-style and his opponent put on trial for the killing. It was common for election judges to be beaten up on election day, or kidnapped and not released until the voting -- and the vote stealing -- was completed. "Politics ain't bean-bag," Mr. Dooley said in one of his most famous pronouncements.
"'Tis a man's game, an' women, childer, cripples an' prohybitionists 'd do well to keep out iv it." For a young man in Bridgeport with political ambitions, the Hamburg Athletic Club was a good place to start out. Daley was elected president of the club in 1924, at age twenty-two, a post he held for the next fifteen years.
Another prime function of the athletic clubs was defending their narrow stretch of turf from outsiders. Before World War II, Chicago was divided into ethnic enclaves that were bitterly mistrustful of their neighbors on all sides. When an Irish neighborhood adjoined a Slavic one, or a Polish neighborhood adjoined a Scandinavian one, the fault lines were clear and the animosities barely restrained. For Bridgeport, the great dividing line was Wentworth Avenue, which separated it from the black neighborhoods to the east. Bridgeport's fears were exacerbated by the fact that the population in the black ghetto was expanding rapidly as a result of migration from the South. At any moment, it seemed, the black neighborhoods to the east might expand and grow large enough to overrun Bridgeport. The intensity of Bridgeport's racial feelings would be laid bare decades later by a small but brutally revealing incident. It was June 1961, just weeks after busloads of Freedom Riders had been beaten up in the segregated bus stations of the South. The old Douglas Hotel on the black South Side had caught fire, and eighty residents had suddenly been made homeless. Red Cross volunteers had arrived on the scene and -- unaware of Bridgeport's racial sensitivities -- evacuated the refugees to temporary quarters in Bridgeport's Holy Cross Lutheran Church, a few blocks from Daley's home. Word spread quickly, and almost immediately a crowd of jeering whites was standing outside the church demanding the removal of the black fire victims. "They threatened to break windows in the church and screamed obscenities I can't repeat," Helen Constien, the pastor's wife, said afterward. "They threatened to destroy the church if we didn't get the Negroes out of the building." The Red Cross quickly took the black fire victims out of Bridgeport.
The work of patrolling the South Side's racial borders was often taken care of by gangs like Daley's Hamburg Athletic Club. Because of these gangs' propensity for violence, blacks who walked through neighborhoods like Bridgeport did so at their peril. It was a lesson that black children growing up on the South Side absorbed with their ABC's, but newly arrived blacks who wandered into the area from outside could be caught unaware, often with dire results. In 1918, the poet Langston Hughes made the mistake of walking across Wentworth Avenue into the heart of the white South Side. It was Hughes's first Sunday in Chicago -- he was a high school student at the time -- and he "went out walking alone to see what the city looked like." Hughes returned to the black side of Wentworth with black eyes and a swollen jaw, having been beaten up by an unidentified Irish street gang -- it is lost to history whether it was the Hamburg Athletic Club -- "who said they didn't allow niggers in that neighborhood."
Blacks have lived in the Chicago area longer than any group but Native Americans. "Chicago's first white man," the old Chicago saying has it, "was a Negro." The man in question was Jean Baptiste du Sable, a Haitian black who built a trading post at the mouth of the Chicago River in 1779 to trade with the Potawatomi Indians. The city's black population grew slowly at first: black migration into Illinois was limited until the Civil War by laws that barred blacks, both slave and free, from settling in the state. Despite the legal prohibitions, enough fugitive slaves followed the Underground Railroad to Chicago in the 1840s and 1850s that it came to be known among pro-slavery polemicists as a "sink hole of abolition." By the 1870s, Illinois blacks had the franchise, and in 1876 Chicago sent a black representative to the Illinois legislature. Chicago had 3,700 black residents -- 1.2 percent of the total population -- when, as legend had it, Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over the lantern that started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. By the turn of the century, blacks still numbered only 30,000. Although they were starting to concentrate in a small "Black Belt" on the South Side, even as late as 1915 blacks were still living in virtually every part of Chicago.
Daley's childhood coincided with one of the nation's most far-reaching social transformations: the Great Migration of blacks from the rural South to the urban North. With the start of World War I, the booming wartime economy in the North faced a severe labor shortage, as the war cut off the flow of European immigrants. Realizing that there was a ready supply of workers in the rural South, where agricultural automation was fast reducing the need for black farm laborers, northern recruiters spread out across the Deep South.
Many northern cities were competing for these black workers, but Chicago had a unique advantage. The Chicago Defender the nation's leading black newspaper, was widely read throughout the South, and it painted an especially rosy picture of the high-paying jobs and good life that awaited black migrants in Chicago's factories and slaughterhouses. "MILLIONS TO LEAVE SOUTH," a banner headline in the January 6, 1917, Chicago Defender declared. "Northern Invasion Will Start in Spring -- Bound for the Promised Land." To many southern blacks living in conditions of extreme poverty and chafing under the oppression of Jim Crow, Chicago and the other large northern cities became a "glorious symbol of hope." Even blues singers from the era got caught up in the spirit:
I used to have a woman that lived up on a hill
I used to have a woman that lived up on a hill
She was crazy 'bout me, ooh well, well, cause
I worked at the Chicago Mill.
The trip itself was not difficult. The Illinois Central Railroad, dubbed the "Fried Chicken Special" for the homemade lunches carried by the migrants, provided easy passage from New Orleans through the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta and on up to Chicago. A half-million southern blacks made the journey north between 1916 and 1919 alone, and another million followed in the 1920s. Large numbers of blacks headed to New York, Detroit, and Cleveland, but as one Mississippi migrant recalled, "the mecca was Chicago."
As the city's black population soared, blacks were increasingly concentrated in a distinct ghetto -- the South Side's Black Belt. Many of the southern migrants pouring into the Illinois Central Railroad Station clutched the addresses of friends and family who lived in the Black Belt, and those who arrived with no plans were generally steered in that direction. By 1920, the Black Belt -- an area roughly bounded by 26th Street to the north, 55th Street to the south, State Street to the west, and Lake Michigan to the east -- was home to about 85 percent of the city's blacks. "[S]egregation has been increasing," Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal wrote of Chicago in An American Dilemma, his classic survey of American race relations.
"[E]ven the upper class Negroes whose ancestors lived in Chicago on terms of almost complete social equality with their white neighbors are now forced into Negro ghettos and are hardly differentiated from the impoverished Negro just arrived from the South." The upside of this racial segregation was that a remarkable African-American world began to take shape on the South Side. The stone-front houses and apartment buildings along once-white avenues like South Parkway and Michigan Boulevard now housed black teachers, lawyers, and other pillars of the black middle class. And the Black Belt's business districts were filled with black-owned stores and black doctors' and lawyers' offices. "Why should Negro doctors and dentists give a damn that most white folks would rather die than let skilled black fingers repair their vital organs?" St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton wrote in Black Metropolis, their 1945 study of Chicago's "Bronzeville." "The Negro masses were gradually learning to trust their own professional men and would some day scorn to enrich white physicians at the expense of their own. Why beg white stores and offices to rescue educated colored girls from service in the white folks' kitchens and factories? Negroes were learning to support their own businesses, and some day colored entrepreneurs would own all the stores and offices in the Black Belt; cash registers and comptometers and typewriters would click merrily under lithe brown fingers." The Black Belt provided Chicago's blacks with a measure of control over their own lives, and some refuge against the unfriendly white city outside its borders. But the sad reality was that it remained badly overcrowded and desperately poor, with high illness and mortality rates; a high percentage of residents on relief; a high crime rate; inadequate recreational facilities; lack of building repairs; accumulated garbage and dirty streets; overcrowded schools; and high rates of police brutality.
In white Chicago, the Great Migration produced a response that ranged from wariness to undisguised panic. The Chicago newspapers ran inflammatory headlines such as "Half a Million Darkies from Dixie Swarm to the North to Better Themselves" and "Negroes Arrive by Thousands -- Peril to Health." Articles in the city's three leading papers -- the Tribune, the Daily News, and the Herald Examiner -- generally overstated the size of the migration, and focused on the new arrivals' purported sickness, criminality, and vice. White Chicagoans worked to prevent the migrants from moving into white neighborhoods. One South Side neighborhood association captured the exclusionary spirit sweeping white Chicago when it declared that "there is nothing in the make-up of a Negro, physically or mentally, which should induce anyone to welcome him as a neighbor." In April 1917, the Chicago Real Estate Board met and -- concerned about what officials described as the "invasion of white residence districts by the Negroes" -- appointed a Special Committee on
Negro Housing to make recommendations. On this committee's recommendation, the board adopted a policy of block-by-block racial segregation, carefully controlled so that "each block shall be filled solidly and . . . further expansion shall be confined to contiguous blocks." Three years later, the board took the further step of voting unanimously to punish by "immediate expulsion" any member who sold property to a black on a block where there were only white owners.
If white Chicago as a whole turned a cold shoulder to the new black arrivals, Daley's Irish kinsmen were particularly unwelcoming.
The Irish and blacks had much in common. Ireland's many years of domination at the hands of the British resembled, if not slavery, then certainly southern sharecropping -- with Irish farmers working the land and sending rent to absentee landlords in England. The Irish were dominated, like southern blacks, through violence, and lost many of the same civil rights: to vote, to serve on juries, and to marry outside their group. Indeed, after Cromwell's bloody invasion in the mid-1600s, not only were Irish-Catholics massacred in large numbers, but several thousand were sent in chains to the West Indies, where they were sold into slavery. But these similar histories of oppression did not bring Chicago's Irish and blacks together. Much of the early difficulty stemmed from rivalry between two groups relegated to the lowest levels of the social order. As early as 1864, a mob of four hundred Irish dockworkers went on a bloody rampage against a dozen blacks they regarded as taking jobs from unemployed Irishmen. The Chicago Tribune -- whose WASP management had little affection for Irish-Catholics -- argued that this kind of anti-black violence was particularly the province of Irish-Americans. "The Germans never mob colored men from working for whoever may employ them," the Tribune declared. "The English, the Scotch, the French, the Scandinavians, never molest peaceable black people. Americans never think of doing such a thing. No other nationality consider themselves ?degraded' by seeing blacks earning their own living by labor."
Nor was the Catholic Church a force for racial tolerance during these tense times. The Church had more reason to fear the black in-flux than other white institutions. Unlike some faiths, Catholicism is firmly rooted in geography: Catholics' relationship to their Church is determined by the parish in which they reside. Catholics "ascribe sacramental qualities to the neighborhood," one historian has explained, "with the cross on top of the church and the bells ringing each day before Mass as visual and aural reminders of the sacred."
Protestants and Jews who saw blacks moving into their neighborhoods could move to the suburbs, taking their houses of worship with them or joining new ones when they settled in. But for Catholics, the ties to the land were greater, and the threat of losing their parish more deeply felt. "[E]verything they have been taught to value, as Catholics and Americans, is perceived as at risk," wrote a reporter in Cicero, describing the racial siege felt by a parish there.
"The churches and schools they built would become empty, the neighborhood priests, if any were left, would become missionaries. . . ." In 1917, the same year the Chicago Real Estate Board endorsed new steps to preserve racial segregation, Chicago's Archbishop George Mundelein declared that Saint Monica's Parish would henceforth be reserved for the city's black Catholics. Since Mundelein had in the past opposed "national" parishes on principle, it seemed clear that his intention was to keep the races separate within the Church.
The demographic pressures kept mounting as trainload after trainload of blacks arrived from the South -- and it was not clear how much longer these new migrants could be squeezed into the borders of the overcrowded Black Belt. The end of World War I had brought the return of black soldiers, many of whom were less willing to accept racial discrimination back home after they had risked their lives for their country. And Chicago had just reelected William Thompson, a mayor many whites felt they could not trust to keep blacks from moving into their neighborhoods. Republican Thompson's close ties to the black community, and his record number of black appointees, had led resentful whites to dub his City Hall "Uncle Tom's Cabin." The racial backlash growing in white neighborhoods was palpable, and word began to spread in the black community that whites were plotting some kind of bloody attack to re-assert their control of the city -- perhaps even an invasion of the Black Belt designed to drive blacks out of Chicago.
On July 27, 1919, these tensions exploded when six black teenagers went swimming in the wrong part of Lake Michigan. Young Eugene Williams drifted too close to a "white" beach on the South Side, and drowned after being hit by a rock thrown by a white man standing on the shore. False rumors spread rapidly through both the white and black communities. Blacks reported that a policeman had held a gun on a black crowd while whites threw stones; whites spread word that it was a white swimmer who had drowned after being hit by a rock thrown by a black. Five days of bloody riots ensued, from July 27 to July 31, followed by another week of intermittent violence. White gangs roamed the South Side, attacking blacks indiscriminately, and whites drove through the Black Belt shooting at blacks out of car windows.
Black gangs wandered through black neighborhoods, beating up white merchants. In the end, it took the state militia and a driving rainstorm to bring about a tense peace. But before the hostilities had died down, 23 blacks and 15 whites had been killed, and another 537 injured, two-thirds of them black.
The seventeen-year-old Daley was, at the very least, extremely close to the violence. Bridgeport was a major center of riot activity: by one estimate, 41 percent of all the encounters occurred in and around Daley's neighborhood. South Side youth gangs, including the Hamburg Athletic Club, were later found to have been among the primary instigators of the racial violence. "For weeks, in the spring and summer of 1919, they had been anticipating, even eagerly awaiting, a race riot," one study found. "On several occasions, they themselves had endeavored to precipitate one, and now that racial violence threatened to become generalized and unrestrained throughout Chicago, they were set to exploit the chaos." The Chicago Commission on Human Relations eventually concluded that without these gangs "it is doubtful if the riot would have gone beyond the first clash." It is also clear that Joseph McDonough, patron of the
Hamburg Athletic Club and later Daley's political mentor, actively incited the white community at the time of the riots. McDonough was quoted in the press saying that blacks had "enough ammunition . . . to last for years of guerrilla warfare," and that he had seen police captains warning white South Side residents: "For God's sake, arm. They are coming; we cannot hold them." At the City Council, McDonough told police chief John J. Garrity that "unless something is done at once I am going to advise my people to arm themselves for protection."
Was Daley himself involved in the bloody work of the 1919 race riots? His defenders have always insisted he was not, arguing that it would have been more in character for him to be attending to "his studies" or "family affairs" while much of the Irish-Catholic youth of Bridgeport were out bashing heads. But Daley's critics have long "pictur[ed] him in the pose of a brick-throwing thug." It strains credulity, they say, for Daley to have played no part in the riots when the Hamburg Athletic Club was so heavily involved -- particularly when he was only a few years away from being chosen as the group's president. Daley's close ties to McDonough, who played an inflammatory role, also argue for involvement. Adding to the suspicions, Daley always remained secretive about the riots, and declined to respond to direct questions on the subject. It was a convenient political response that allowed Daley to play both sides of the city's racial divide: whites from the ethnic neighborhoods could believe that Daley was a youthful defender of the South Side color line, while blacks could choose to believe the opposite. Daley's role, or lack of role, is likely lost to history, in part because the police and prosecutors never pursued the white gang members who instigated the violence. At the least, it can be said that Daley was an integral member of a youth gang that played an active role in one of the bloodiest antiblack riots in the nation's history -- and that within a few years' time, this same gang would think enough of Daley to select him as its leader.
After graduating from De La Salle in 1919, Daley took a job with Dolan, Ludeman, and Company, a stockyards commission house. Daley once said that as children he and his friends were always drawn to the slaughterhouses, "being city kids fascinated with farm animals." Daley woke at 4:00 a.m. each day to walk from his parents' house to the yards. In the mornings, he moved cattle off trucks and weighed them. In the afternoons, he put his De La Salle skills to work in the firm's offices, writing letters, taking dictation, and handling the books. Later in his career, Daley would regale political with tales of his days as a stockyards "cowboy." He presented himself as something of a South Side John Wayne, probably overstating the amount of derring-do his job required, and certainly omitting the grim brutality of the work.
Bridgeport's traditional employment trinity consisted of the stockyards, government work, and politics -- with a select few going off to the priesthood. Daley once said that his ambition early in life had been to become "another P. D. Armour," but it must soon have become clear to him that a career in the stockyards would likely have been low-paying and unsatisfying. Daley could have joined the many Bridgeporters who took patronage jobs with government bodies like the Park District or signed on as police officers. But that route also held little promise and fell far short of the accomplishments his mother had been grooming him for. Politics was another matter entirely. A young man with political ambitions could hardly have started out better than being born in Bridgeport. Bridgeport lay in the heart of the Irish South Side, in the powerful 11th Ward. The 11th was one of Chicago's famous "river wards," the bloc of working-class and slum wards along the Chicago River that were the mainstay of Chicago's Democratic machine. These wards -- which were at odds with Chicago's Protestant Republican establishment -- regularly produced the machine's margins of victory, and their leaders controlled the Cook County Democratic Organization's Central Committee. Of all the river ward neighborhoods, Bridgeport was in a class of its own: it would soon come to be known as the "mother of mayors."
Starting in 1933, this small South Side neighborhood would send three successive residents to City Hall -- Edward Kelly, Martin Kennelly, and Daley -- who would rule the city for forty-three years. Daley was coming of age just as Bridgeport's machine politicians were rising to new heights of power.
In addition to being lucky in his place of birth, Daley had the right ethnic background for a career in Chicago politics. An old Chicago adage holds that "the Jews own it, the Irish run it, and the blacks live in it." It was an exaggeration on all three counts. But if the Irish did not run Chicago -- most of the businesses, banks, and newspapers were in Protestant hands -- they did dominate the Democratic machine out of all proportion to their numbers. Chicago was far from the only city to fall under the sway of Irish politicians. As early as 1894, Yankees were decrying the "Irish conquest of our cities," and listing the Irish Democratic party bosses who had seized the reins of municipal power from Boston to San Francisco. It is one of the great puzzles of American political life that almost all of the great political bosses -- including New York's William "Boss" Tweed, Kansas City's Tom Pendergast, Boston's James Michael Curley, and, of course, Daley -- have been Irish. The Irish had an advantage of timing: they arrived in the United States in one of the earliest migrations, making them one of the most established ethnic groups. They also spoke English and were familiar with America's British-style political system.
And unlike Central European and Eastern European immigrants who often carried ethnic rivalries with them from the old country, the Irish had no enemies among their fellow immigrants. "A Lithuanian won't vote for a Pole, and a Pole won't vote for a Lithuanian," said one old-time Chicago politician. "A German won't vote for either of them -- but all three will vote for [an Irishman]."
It has also been suggested that the Irish have a particular aptitude for machine politics. Edward Levine, in his classic study The Irish and Irish Politicians, argued that the Irish were naturally "given to politics."
Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out in Beyond the Melting Pot that the structure of the political machine, with its rigid hierarchies and respect for seniority, in many ways paralleled "[t]he Irish village . . . a place of stable, predictable social relations in which almost everyone had a role to play, under the surveillance of a stern oligarchy of elders, and in which, on the whole, a person's position was likely to improve with time. Transferred to Manhattan, these were the essentials of Tammany Hall." The Irish disposition toward political machines may also derive from a traditional need for unofficial forms of government. In eighteenth-century Ireland, the penal laws made Catholicism illegal. In response, the Irish created their own informal mechanisms for taking care of their own. It was an outlook that translated easily to America's Protestant-dominated cities. This new land might be filled with employers whose hiring policies bore the hated words "No Irish Need Apply," charity workers who looked down their noses at the Irish poor, and judges who regarded the Irish as an incorrigible race. But the political machine would provide. Moynihan has also argued that disreputable machine practices like vote theft, patronage hiring, and kickbacks -- he lumps them together under the rubric of "indifference to Yankee proprieties" -- were commonplace in eighteenth-century Ireland. Irish landed aristocrats sold the votes of their tenants and bought seats in Parliament long before the Tweeds and Daleys of the New World.
"The great and the wealthy ran Ireland politically like Tammany Hall in its worst days," noted one scholar. "Had they not sold their own country for money and titles in the Act of Union with England and, as one rogue said, thanked God they had a country to sell?"
By the time of Daley's birth, the Irish political ascendancy was already well under way. As early as the 1830s, complaints were being heard that the city's Irish population wielded too much political power. Irish influence grew over the next few decades, as immigration from Ireland surged. The Irish suffered a setback in the municipal elections of 1855, when Know-Nothing Party candidate Levi D. Boone, grandson of frontiersman Daniel Boone, was elected mayor and his fellow Nativists took control of the City Council. During its brief reign, Boone's regime passed a law barring immigrants from city jobs. But Irish political influence soon resumed its steady rise.
After the City Council elections of 1869, the Irish held 15 of the 40 seats. And Irish politicians had an influence beyond their numbers. In the 1890s, by one estimate, 24 of the 28 most influential aldermen of the decade were Irish. In 1905, when Daley was three, Chicago elected Edward Dunne, its first Irish-Catholic mayor. The first mayoral candidate to break through the WASP stranglehold on city government, Dunne was a populist hero in neighborhoods like Daley's.
"It was taking your life in your hands to campaign against Dunne in Bridgeport or Back of the Yards," a turn-of-the-century mayor once said.
Daley's route into the Democratic machine was through a Hamburg Athletic Club connection: the club's sponsor, Bridgeport alderman Joseph ("Big Joe") McDonough. McDonough was elected alderman in 1917 at the age of twenty-eight, and ward committeeman the following year. With the two most important ward positions his, McDonough was indisputably the most powerful Democrat in the 11th Ward. McDonough, a three-hundred-pound former Villanova University football hero, was a colorful neighborhood institution, known for eating an entire chicken for lunch. McDonough ran a saloon, owned a real estate firm, and served as vice president of an automobile sales company. The clout he held as a result of his political offices contributed to the bottom lines of each business. But he was beloved in the 11th Ward for taking care of his people: one depression-era Christmas, McDonough single-handedly passed out 5,600 baskets of food for the needy. Bridgeport was filled with young men who would have jumped at the chance to apprentice themselves to the powerful McDonough. No doubt some of these men were more intelligent, better educated, and more charismatic than Daley.
But these were not the important qualities for a budding machine politician. Daley was a plain-speaking, Irish-Catholic son of Bridgeport, who had proven through his presidency of the Hamburg Athletic Club that he could earn the respect of his peers. He also benefited from the premium the machine placed on the traditional virtues: discretion, sobriety, plodding hard work, fitting in, and a willingness to follow orders. McDonough selected Daley to be his personal assistant, appointed him to serve as a precinct captain, and invited him to work in the 11th Ward Organization. Daley worked as a precinct captain in the mayoral election of 1919 and the presidential election of 1920.
The Chicago machine that Daley signed on with was a remarkable political organization. It was formally the Cook County Democratic Organization, reflecting its true sphere of influence -- beyond the Chicago city limits and into the surrounding suburban ring, which made up the rest of Cook County. At the top of the machine was the county chairman, or party boss, who was elected by ward committeemen from the city's fifty wards, along with a smaller number of committeemen from the suburban townships. The machine was as rigidly hierarchical as the Catholic Church that most of its members belonged to. The county chairman presided like a secular cardinal, and beneath him were ward committeemen -- the political equivalent of parish priests -- who controlled their own geographical realms. Each of the fifty wards had its own Democratic ward organization, with its own headquarters, budget, slate of candidates, and army of workers. Daley was one of more than three thousand precinct captains, spread out across the fifty city wards, who were responsible for the machine's performance at the block level. Like the Catholic Church, the machine offered its members not just a structure, but a worldview and a moral code. One academic who studied the Chicago machine concluded that it was guided by what he called the "regular ethic." Among the tenets of the regular Democrat's creed: (1) Be faithful to those above you in the hierarchy, and repay those who are faithful to you; (2) Back the whole machine slate, not individual candidates or programs; (3) Be respectful of elected officials and party leaders; (4) Never be ashamed of the party, and defend it proudly; (5) Don't ask questions; (6) Stay on your own turf, and keep out of conflicts that don't concern you; (7) Never be first, since innovation brings with it risk; and (8) Don't get caught. Another scholar of Chicago politics summed up the machine ethic more concisely in a book title: Don't Make No Waves, Don't Back No Losers.
The chairman of the Cook County Central Committee held the ultimate power, but it was ward committeemen like McDonough who did most of the machine's day-to-day work. Ward committeemen slated, or picked, candidates for ward offices from alderman down -- and like McDonough, they not infrequently ended up as both ward committeeman and alderman. They were also in charge of distributing patronage to precinct captains and other ward workers, a difficult, sensitive, and time-consuming task. "A committeeman gets a phone call and is told, ?I've got three crossing guards, one sanitation worker,' " said a committeeman with the Cook County Democratic Organization. "?Do you want them?' ?How soon do you have to know?' he asks. ?I'll call you tomorrow.' You call back and say, ?I want two crossing guards. I can't use three. The sanitation worker -- yes, I want that. Here are the names.' The girl says, ?Send them in to get their yellow slips,' and they go in to get their yellow slips." Being ward committeeman could be lucrative work, particularly for those who had law firms or insurance agencies on the side. Benjamin Lewis, a 24th Ward committeeman who was shot to death in the early 1960s under mysterious circumstances, once boasted that the post was worth $50,000 a year in insurance work alone. In exchange for his power and opportunity for enrichment, a committeeman was responsible for ensuring that his ward met the vote totals that the machine boss expected. Ward committeemen who failed to deliver on election day risked being "vised," as the machine lingo put it, or fired, and replaced by someone who would do better.
Daley's new position of precinct captain made him a soldier in McDonough's 11th Ward army, and put him in charge of a unit of about four hundred to five hundred voters. Precinct captains were the prime practitioners of the retail politics that was the stock in trade of the old urban machines. A precinct captain was expected to form a close personal relationship with every voter in his territory; the machine relied on these personal contacts -- rather than the strength of its candidates in a given year -- to win. "I never take leaflets or mention issues or conduct rallies in my precinct," a Chicago precinct captain once explained. "After all, this is a question of personal friendship between me and my neighbors." To forge these connections, precinct captains were expected to be out in their neighborhoods virtually every night, attending community meetings, putting in hours in the ward office, or visiting voters in their homes. "I found that those who related to people and were sincere in trying to help their neighbors in the community turned out to be the best captains," one ward committeeman once said. Jake Arvey, committeeman from the heavily Jewish 24th Ward, required his precinct captains to belong to a synagogue or church, and to fraternal organizations like the Knights of Columbus or B'Nai Brith. "Sure, I was looking for votes," Arvey says. "But, in the process, I made them charity-minded, civic-minded, culture-minded, and sensitive to the needs of other people." In his last mayoral campaign in 1975, Daley delivered a tribute to the underappreciated precinct captain. He "is as honest as the rest of us and he's a better neighbor than most of us, for partisan reasons," Daley said. "He has solicitude for the welfare of the family on his block, especially if they are a large family with dependable political loyalties. He gets your broken-down uncle into the county hospital. . . . He's always available when you're in trouble."
As a young precinct captain, Daley spent countless hours each week in one of Bridgeport's great institutions: the 11th Ward headquarters. Daley's new world had the feel of a Hibernian social club. One non-Irish Bridgeport native recalled how he felt when he stopped by for a political event. "In a short time the office was packed with precinct captains and workers -- all Irish," he says. "Outside of one Italian and myself, I saw nothing but red hair, freckles, and green eyes. I met an old high school chum who is now a helper in a precinct and who works at City Hall. I asked him how one can get into the organization. He smiled and said, ?The first thing you have to do is be Irish!' " During election season, the 11th Ward was a campaign war room, where strategy was mapped out, precinct canvasses were analyzed, and campaign literature was handed out for distribution throughout the ward. The rest of the year, it functioned as a combination of constituent-service office and community center.
In the 11th Ward offices, and every other ward office across the city, the machine dispensed favors systematically in exchange for political support. Priority treatment went to political and financial backers of the machine, and to those who came with a referral from their precinct captain -- the kind of solid citizen that ward workers referred to as "one of our people." But since the granting of favors was a form of outreach to the community, any ward resident not known to be actively hostile to the machine was eligible for help. Complaints about city services, like missing stop signs or irregular garbage pickups, were easily handled. If a constituent had his water cut off, a single phone call from the ward office to the water department could get it restored. The ward organization had volunteer lawyers available in the evenings to provide free legal advice on everything from immigration paperwork to criminal law problems. Precinct captains like Daley could find summer jobs for neighborhood youth, arrange scholarships to the University of Illinois, and even get constituents hospital care or glass eyes. "Everybody needs a favor sometimes, but some people are too dumb to ask for it," a saloonkeeper-alderman from the 43rd Ward once reflected. "So I say to my captains, ?If you notice a hole on the sidewalk in front of a fellow's house, call him a week before election and ask him if he would like it fixed. It could never do any harm to find out.' "
Machine politicians were adept at taking credit for every favor they dispensed -- so voters would remember on election day. When machine aldermen contacted city agencies for their constituents, they requested written responses. Letters agreeing to take the requested action were sent to the alderman, so he could in turn pass the good news on to the voter. Letters of refusal went directly from the agency to the constituent. Machine officials often took more than their share of credit. When one alderman got a stop sign installed at a dangerous intersection, he sent a letter to every registered voter in his ward claiming that it was the machine's doing -- even though it began with local block associations, who had conducted a petition drive for the sign. Sometimes the machine took credit less formally. If the organization succeeded in intervening with the water department and getting a voter's water restored, one machine operative says, "on election day the precinct captain would ask you about your water."
Working as a precinct captain in the 11th Ward organization, Daley got an ideal introduction to the craft of machine politics. In the weeks before an election, the precinct captains were expected to canvass each home in their precinct at least twice to find out which way every voter was leaning -- an early forerunner of the opinion poll. A captain was expected to be able to predict his vote almost exactly; missing by more than ten or so votes could result in a reprimand.
A few days before the election, the precinct captain reported the results of the canvass to his ward committeeman. The committeeman, in turn, delivered the aggregated numbers for his ward to the machine boss. In addition to giving the machine a preview of how things looked for the election, the precinct-by-precinct canvass allowed captains to familiarize themselves with the individual circumstances of every voter. A captain could find out which of his voters were wavering and needed further persuasion, which needed transportation to the polls, and which would need to be reminded to vote. He could also learn which voters were determined to vote Republican, and therefore should not be encouraged to vote. A captain's machinations to maximize the Democratic vote in his precinct could be quite elaborate. Just before the 1939 mayoral election, an Italian family with six voting-age members moved into Arvey's 24th Ward.
The precinct captain paid them regular visits, discussing over red wine how they planned to vote. "Six votes is an awful lot," noted Arvey. But the captain soon realized that the head of the household was related to a leading Chicago Republican. When the captain asked him to vote in the Democratic primary, he refused. "I can't do that!" he said. "My cousin is a Republican committeeman. How would it be if I voted in the Democratic primary?" After the captain pursued the family for a month, a compromise was arrived at. The man and his wife, who shared a last name with the cousin, could vote Republican. The man's two daughters and sons-in-law, who had different names, would vote the straight Democratic ticket.
On election day, precinct workers often turned to more blatant forms of persuasion. Precinct captains handed out turkeys, nylons, and cash in exchange for votes. A captain from the poor West Side 27th Ward was once convicted of buying votes for one dollar a head.
In the South Side 4th Ward, a newspaper reporter observing the voting caught a precinct worker handing out bags of groceries. "We gotta get these voters out any way we can," the worker explained. On skid row, precinct captains often lured winos with free liquor. The fact that bars were legally closed on election day worked in the machine's favor: many alcoholics considered the few minutes it took to vote a small price to pay to make the shakes go away. Clory Bryant, who ran for alderman in the early 1960s against the machine's candidate, saw the effect of the machine's generosity toward voters first-hand.
"I had asked a neighbor of mine was she going to vote for me," Bryant says. "As a matter of fact, I says, ?I know you'll vote for me.' And she said, ?No, I'm afraid I can't, because my alderman always gives me a Christmas tree for my vote. And I know you can't afford to go around buying these many trees.' " Bryant did not get her neighbor's vote. The machine also did favors for neighborhood organizations that could help it win votes. The West Side 25th Ward Organization used to give regular donations to the thirty-five churches in the ward. One election day, the ward boss arrived at a polling place located in the basement of St. Roman's Church. The priest was handing out coffee and doughnuts. Asked what he was doing, the priest responded, "What the hell do you think I'm doing? I'm trying to get some Democratic votes." Ward organizations also wielded the stick in order to round up votes. Captains in black precincts frequently told voters they would lose their government benefits if they failed to vote a straight Democratic ticket. "Every welfare recipient is afraid to oppose the wishes of the precinct captain," the pastor of a Mennonite church once complained. "Everyone living in public housing is afraid. They have been told that the machine alderman is the one who ensures them living quarters." It was not an idle threat.
Welfare programs were so rule-bound at the time, and enforcement was so arbitrary, that a determined precinct captain often could get a voter's benefits cut off if he really wanted to. Saying hello to the precinct captain at the polls every year also came in handy when a public-housing recipient's refrigerator or stove broke down.
In addition to his position as precinct captain, Daley was now working for McDonough in his City Council office. The job of "secretary" to an alderman was not glamorous. Daley was one of a corps of glorified gofers. But McDonough was a garrulous, old-style politician who liked to spend most of the workday at the saloon or the racetrack.
He was more than willing to have the hardworking and detail-oriented Daley plow through the draft bills and proposed budgets that regularly crossed his desk. Working at the City Council, particularly for such a lackadaisical alderman, gave Daley a chance to observe city government up close. It also put Daley in the political mix, letting him make personal connections with machine politicians from across the city. Daley's work for McDonough fit a pattern he followed throughout his career: he apprenticed himself to powerful men and made himself indispensable by taking on dull but necessary jobs. "I'll tell you how he made it," Daley's friend-turned-rival Benjamin Adamowski once said. "He made it through sheer luck and by attaching himself to one guy after another and then stepping over them."
In 1923, Daley began taking pre-law ad law school classes four nights a week at DePaul University. Getting a law degree while juggling work and political responsibilities would ultimately take Daley more than a decade. "Daley was a nice fellow, very quiet, a hard worker, and always neatly dressed," a fellow student, who would later be appointed a judge by Daley, recalled. "He never missed a class and always got there on time. But there was nothing about him that would make him stand out, as far as becoming something special in life.
Even then, he misused the language so that you noticed it. He had trouble expressing himself and his grammar wasn't good." But Daley succeeded in law school by the same plodding persistence he brought to every task he undertook. "I always went out dancing every night, but Dick went home to study his law books," recalled a friend from youth who later went on to head the plumbers' union. "He would never stop in the saloon and have a drink."
Daley's career progressed as his patron, McDonough, moved up through the political ranks. In 1930, the machine slated McDonough for county treasurer, and when he was elected he brought Daley along as his deputy. As county treasurer, McDonough was even less conscientious than he had been as an alderman. The dry financial work of the county treasurer's office offered McDonough even less remain at his desk. While his boss frequented racetracks and speakeasies, Daley applied the skills he had acquired in the De La Salle counting rooms to the county treasury.
In his new job, Daley learned the intricacies of local government law and municipal finance, and how to work a budget. And he saw firsthand how a government office operates when it is inextricably tied to a political machine. He learned how the machine larded the county treasurer's office with patronage appointees who were hired for their political work. And he saw how it ensured that county funds were deposited with bankers who contributed to the campaigns of machine candidates.
While Daley was toiling away at night law school, he met Eleanor Guilfoyle at a neighborhood ball game. Her brother Lloyd, a friend of Daley's, made the introduction. "Sis," as she would always be known, came from a large Irish-Catholic family in the neighboring Southwest Side community of Canaryville. She had graduated from Saint Mary High School and was working as a secretary at a paint company and caring for an invalid mother when Daley asked her out on their first date, to a White Sox game. "We had a very happy courtship," Sis once recalled. "I used to meet him after law school and go to the opera." "Of course I knew Dick was bound to succeed -- even when I first met him," she would say later. "Anyone who would work in the stockyards all day long, then go to school at night was determined to get ahead." Daley pursued marriage as he pursued everything else in his life -- carefully, even ploddingly. Their courtship lasted for six years, until he had finished law school and had begun to establish himself professionally. The couple married on June 17, 1936, when Daley was thirty-four and Eleanor was twenty-eight. It was three years after his graduation, and the same year that he entered into a law partnership with an old friend, William Lynch, the politically minded son of a Bridgeport precinct captain.
Copyright © 2000 Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor. All rights reserved.