San José State University
Department of Economics
Thayer Watkins
Silicon Valley
& Tornado Alley

Richard J. Daley of Chicago

Richard J. Daley became an arch-villain of American liberals in the late 1960's and early 1970's but that characterization was largely undeserved. Richard Daley was a masterful politician and superb administrator; AND he was an American liberal. But he had a temper, and an Irish temperament at that, which the media could exploit for their own needs for dramatic sensational news. Also Daley cultivated a reputation for being all powerful in Chicago which worked to his benefit in governing Chicago but hurt him when people believed that anything done wrong by anyone in government in Chicago must have been at Daley's direction. Temperamentally Daley could not apologize, particularly to the media, for things having gone wrong in Chicago. As a consequence he unfairly was blamed for things he was not responsible for and did not get credit, outside of Chicago, for outstanding accomplishments. His campaign photo (shown on the left below), obviously chosen by him, represents him as the Boss re-enforced his negative image in the media whereas other pictures, such as the one on the right below, would have given a fairer image of him as a tough but humane man.


The story of Daley's political machine starts long before Richard J. Daley in a different political world. Chicago was not always so solidly behind the Democratic Party as it has been the last seventy years. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Chicago elections were won in about equal measure by Republicans and Democrats. In that era Black voters almost universally supported the Republican Party.

Richard Joseph Daley was born May 15, 1902 in the Bridgeport section of south Chicago. He came from a devout Irish Catholic family and this remained his primary identification all of his life. When he finished high school he went to work in the stockyards of Chicago, but he attended law school four nights a week. As a student he was thorough and conscientious. He never missed class. He did not drink.

It was not easy pursuing a law degree at night while working at a full time, physically demanding job during the day. He did complete the degree and was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1933 at an age of about thirty.

Richard Daley participated in local Democratic Party organizations and in 1936 was given the opportunity to run for the Illinois House of Representatives. With the support of the party organization he won. Daley had educated himself in the detail of governmental accounting and budgeting and in the Illinois House of Representatives he was acknowledged from the very beginning of his term as an expert in budgeting matters. When County Controller for Cook County died in 1936 Richard Daley was appointed deputy county controller for Cook County while continuing his term as state representative.

In 1938 the Republican state senator for the district of Chicago in which Daley lived died just before the election. It was too late to reprint the election ballots so Daley had to conduct a write-in vote campaign. Due to a technicality in the election procedure Daley was elected to the Illinois state senate as a member of the Republican Party. Initially in the state senate he had to sit with the Republicans, but a resolution was approved to allow him to move to the Democrats. He did such a good job that in 1941 he was elected minority leader for the Democrats.

In 1946 the Democratic machine of Cook County wanted Richard Daley to run for a four-year term as Sheriff. The job of Sheriff was politically dangerous for an aspiring politician because the temptation for taking payoffs was almost irresistible. If the Sheriff allowed gambling and prostitution to operate he would receive large amounts of money and if he did not he put his life and those of his family members at risk. Richard Daley might have been able to resist the temptations of the payoffs but it would have been harder for him to put the welfare of his family at risk. His friends and his mother advised him not to run for the office. But, being a loyal party, he accepted the nomination and campaigned hard for the job. Fortunately, for the sake of his soul, he lost, along with many, many Democrat candidates around the nation in the Republican Party resurgence of 1946.

One of the surprising victors for Democrats in the election of 1948 was Adlai Stevenson for governor of Illinois. Stevenson, upon inauguration selected Richard Daley to be State Director of Revenue. Daley operated out of Chicago as the State Director of Revenue rather than in Springfield.

The state position lasted only two years. In 1950 Daley became the Cook County Clerk and he held that office until1955 when he ran for and was elected Mayor of Chicago. Richard J. Daley held the office of Mayor of Chicago until he died on December 20, 1976.

(To be continued.)

*-(It was in the 1960's that the left wing of the Democrats began using subscription to the latest of their panaceas at the litmus test of being a liberal. These panaceas were to be judged on the basis of their intended purpose rather than their likely result.)

(To be continued.)


For the story of other political bosses and their machines click on Bosses

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