Carter Harrison II

Thirty-First Mayor of the City of Chicago (1897-1905, 1911-15)

Before the father-son team of Daley ran the city, there were the Harrisons. The son, Carter H. Harrison II, served out his five terms by attempting a balancing act between city boss and city reformer.1 Like papa Daley, a great deal of Harrison’s success would come from personal charm and charisma.

Harrison II was born in Chicago on April 23, 1860 - leading him to grab the title of Chicago’s first native born mayor.2 After going off to school at Yale, he returned to Chicago, eventually being elected to his first mayoral term in 1897. He has been classified as a “reformer,” but only in regards to civic reform, not moral - which basically meant he was against prohibition. To that end, he declared himself in favor of “personal liberty” (the freedom to drink), and “segregated vice” (restricting vice to certain areas of the city). This secured for him the immigrant vote and, at least for awhile, most of the moral reformers as well - if they did not personally see vice openly practiced, things were okay for the time being.3

Through the use of machine-like politics, he was able to pass reform acts, such as direct primaries and referendum votes on public policy questions, while continuing to reward his friends. He also worked hard to get many small, but important, improvements to the city, such as elevated tracks for railroads.4

In the end, the balance he sought so hard to maintain would begin to crumble. In the 1911 election he barely defeated University of Chicago Professor Charles E. Merriam.5 By this time, the moral reformers had begun to get angry at how openly vice had come to operate. An end to protected vice and a policy of total suppression were called for. Harrison tried to retain the balance by closing down the famed Everleigh Club, while trying to stall for time. Neither side was very happy with him.

The next primary in 1915 saw him physically and mentally worn out. Harrison would be defeated in the primary by Robert A. Sweitzer, who would go on to lose to “Big Bill” Thompson in the general election.6

  1. Kantowicz, Edward R. “Carter H. Harrison II: The Politics of Balance.“ The Mayors - The Chicago Political Tradition. 3rd ed. Ed. Paul M. Green, Melvin G. Holli. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005. Pg. 16
  2. Kantowicz, 19
  3. Kantowicz, 23
  4. Kantowicz, 24
  5. Kantowicz, 29
  6. Kantowicz, 30
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