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

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January 11, 1896

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Mayor Carter Harrison was shot and killed on October 28, 1893, the last day of the World's Columbian Exposition. The assassin Patrick Prendergast had acted after being denied the position of corporation counsel. The subsequent fall election of 1894 was particularly brutal. An election judge was shot, over a hundred voters were beaten badly, and countless fraudulent ballots were cast as politically motivated policemen declined to enforce order. In reaction to these events the state legislature passed reform legislation in 1895. Chicago was required to establish a Civil Service Commission to oversee the city's hiring practices. Although the early commission was never truly effective, it did curb some of the system's worst abuses.

"Bathhouse John" Coughlin was an alderman from the First Ward. He was a leading boodler in that he routinely sold his vote to companies seeking city franchises. This resolution was vetoed by the mayor and the council failed to override.

Thomas B. Reed (Republican, Maine) was elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives on December 2, 1889. Two years later he pushed through a change in house rules which streamlined procedures and at the same time increased his own powers greatly. For this achievement Reed was labeled "Czar." Webster Flanagan was a leader of the Republican Party in Texas. At his party's 1880 national convention he took center stage and proclaimed, "What are we here for, except the offices?" This frankness caused the Nation to describe him as the convention's most honest delegate.

Points to Consider

Why was John Coughlin objecting to the civil service law?

Describe John Coughlin.

Explain the state law of 1895 which introduced civil service regulations to Chicago.

Were Andrew Jackson, Webster Flanagan, Thomas Reed and John Coughlin correct in their defense of the patronage system? Why?

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