Fred Busse

Thirty-Third Mayor of the City of Chicago (1907-11)

Fred Busse was born in Chicago in 1866 to immigrant German parents. He would first enter politics in 1891, being elected town clerk of North Chicago.1 Following that he served as a court bailiff, deputy sheriff, two terms in the Illinois House of Representatives (1894, 96), State Senator (1895), State Treasurer (1902), and postmaster of Chicago until his election as Mayor.2 Throughout his career, Busse never did much to draw attention to himself, giving the Republicans a solid candidate with no air of scandal about him.

The 1907 election was especially dirty, as it was the first to have a four-year term for Mayor as its prize. Busse allowed the Republican machine run the election for him, giving no speeches, as he was mostly confined to bed. Going against Ed Dunne’s “socialist” ways, the Republicans argued that the role of the city should be to accommodate private business - including on the traction issue. They would not even acknowledge any other position, simply acting as thought they did not exist.3

With the machine behind him, and promises to solve the issues of the city with a business expertise, Busse defeated Dunne by a little over 13.000 votes.4 He initiated this by quickly acting to remove Dunne’s appointees from office and replacing them with business and professional men. Busse begins with attempts to solve the traction issue held over from Dunne’s administration, but it would not be resolved under his term either.5

Alongside traction, a great dispute at the time was how to run the public schools. Dunne argued against an all-powerful superintendent, promoting the role of the community instead, and allowing teachers more of a say.6 Busse changes the school board, but this issue is also left unresolved when he left office. Another big issue of the time was the possibility of a new municipal charter for Chicago. The Republicans were very hopeful, and Busse campaigned hard for it, but the voters end up rejecting it in October 1907.7 It was revived a second time in 1909, and once again it would fail.

In 1911 Dunne campaigned for the Democrats primary again, but lost to Carter Harrison II. Busse decided he had had enough, and retired from politics. The Republicans put up Charles Merriam, who is soundly defeated by Harrison II.8

  1. Flanagan, Maureen A. “Fred A. Busse: A Silent Mayor in Turbulent Times.“ The Mayors - The Chicago Political Tradition. 3rd ed. Ed. Paul M. Green, Melvin G. Holli. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005. Pg. 50
  2. Flanagan, 51
  3. Flanagan, 54
  4. Flanagan, 56
  5. Flanagan, 54
  6. Flanagan, 57
  7. Flanagan, 59
  8. Flanagan, 60
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License