A political organization that ran the city of Chicago, and all public sector jobs therein. Chicago has been run by several different machine organizations since the city founding, but the most powerful and well known was the so-called Daley machine that lasted from 1931 until the late 1970s. Formally known as the Cook County Democratic Organization, the Daley machine was a hierarchy of elected officials who had two main jobs: to make as much money as possible for themselves and other members of the machine, and to make sure that all machine-backed candidates get elected. There were 8 main tenets for working in the machine:
- Be faithful to those above you and repay those who are faithful to you
- Back the whole machine slate, not individual candidates or programs
- Be respectful of elected officials and party leaders
- Never be ashamed of the party, and defend it proudly
- Don’t ask questions
- Stay on your own turf, and keep out of conflicts that don’t concern you
- Never be first, since innovation brings with it risk
- Most important of all, DON’T GET CAUGHT
The origins of the Daly machine began in 1931 with the election of Anton Cermak. Cermak, a Czech immigrant, had realized that while Chicago’s many different ethnic groups all hated each other, they could all agree that they liked alcohol. William “Big Bill” Thompson, Chicago’s incumbent mayor, was a prohibitionist because it helped out many of his friends in organized crime. Cermak put together a coalition of immigrant groups based around an anti-prohibition platform that became known as the “house for all peoples.” One group that chose not to be included in Cermak’s “house” was the urban blacks, most of which were staunch Republicans (the party of Abraham Lincoln). In order to punish those who chose not to join, Cermak fired 3,000 temporary government workers, most of whom were blacks that had done work for Big Bill Thompson. Cermak had also declared war on South Side gambling and prostitution rackets, which turned the city’s Black Belt upside down as police stations were filled every night with blacks who had been swept up in the police raids. The blacks were told by one Cermak worker “The minute you people find out there’s something besides the Republican Party, come back and talk to us.”
Cermak was shot and killed by an assassin in 1933 because of his organized crime crackdown. Cermak’s successor was Edward Kelly, a 5th-grade dropout who was a chief engineer with the Chicago Sanitation Department. Kelly was a heavy backer of FDR’s New Deal programs because they brought an influx of new federal jobs into Chicago, adding to the supply of jobs that Kelly could control. Ed Kelly was also able to integrate black Chicagoans into the machine. Kelly integrated the public schools, set up a city civil rights unit, and banned the film Birth of a Nation. This, combined with nationwide black support for the New Deal, pushed many blacks into the Democratic Party.
The next major leader in the machine was Richard Joseph Daley. Daley was the mayor of Chicago from 1956 until his death in 1976. Visit his node for more information.
The main action of the machine was to turn out votes for Democratic candidates. The main “soldiers” in the machine were the precinct captains. These more than 3,000 men were spread around the city and put in charge of about 400 to 500 voters. It was their job to make sure that all of their voters went out on election day and voted for the machine-backed candidates. The best way of doing this was to form a close relationship with all of the voters in their district by dispensing government “favors.” If you’re garbage wasn’t getting picked up or your water got shut off just tell the precinct captain, he’ll fix it for you. He’s your best friend. Just be sure to vote for the right people when the election rolled around. It sometimes seemed like the captains had omnipotent power within the government. Does your kid need a summer job? How about a scholarship to the University of Illinois? Some extra medical care? If you talk to the right people and maybe donate a little money to a re-election campaign, you could get your wish.
Because their jobs were based on how many Democrat votes there were, the precinct captains would resort to anything to turn out the vote. They would hand out turkeys, Christmas trees, or even cash just to get people to vote. In one poor area, a captain was convicted of buying votes for one dollar a head. Many captains offered winos free liquor if they went and voted. The captains could also threaten, too. In many poor areas the people were told that their welfare checks would stop and they would lose their housing if they didn’t vote. If all of these tactics failed, there were always the local cemeteries, filled with registered voters who people had “forgotten” to take of the voting lists. In exchange for this tireless work, a precinct captain was given a cushy government job that most of the time they didn’t even have to show up for.
All of these illegal dealings spawned their own language and slang, one excellent example is:
Somebody beefed that I was kinky and I almost got viced, but I saw my Chinaman and he clouted for me at the hall.
A citizen complained that I did something dishonest and I was almost fired, but I contacted my personal sponsor and he interceded on my behalf at City Hall.
The machine was effectively killed with the death of Mayor Daley and with federal election and government hiring reforms enacted in the late 1970s. But even today a shadow of the machine still exists in Chicago. Getting things done in the city is a matter of who you know, rather than what you know.