From the Ashes, 1872-1900
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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October 4, 1880

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Carter Harrison had been elected to his first term as mayor in 1879. He was the first Democratic mayor the city had chosen in sixteen years. His Republican opponent, a commission merchant, had identified with the temperance movement and thus alienated the city's foreign-born population. The spoils system had been ingrained as part of the American political system since the days of Andrew Jackson. Under this system the elected party controlled appointments to government offices and positions. And appointments were made on the basis of party service and loyalty. Although Harrison was keen on governmental efficiency and although he appointed capable men to key administrative positions, he was also a savvy politician and entirely amenable to hiring political candidates to fill lesser jobs.

Patronage employees provided a ready pool of political workers who were willing to donate a percentage of their salaries or wages to their benefactors' campaign funds. It was not uncommon for spoilsmen to do political work exclusively rather than the city jobs for which they supposedly had been hired. Nationally and locally the spoils systems was employed routinely by both the Democrats and the Republicans.

This proposed ordinance was referred to the Committee on Judiciary which reported that under the city's charter the council had no authority to prevent city employees from spending their earnings as they chose.

Points to Consider

Which kind of abuse was this proposed ordinance attempting to remedy?

Under whose mayoral administration was this ordinance introduced?

What might an "aldermanic Star and Horse and Bugey Supscription" have been?

What are arguments for and against the political practice identified in this document?

See Related Document:

22 and 45

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