Henry Horner

Thirtieth Governor of Illinois (January 9, 1933 - October 6, 1940)

Born November 30, 1878 - Died October 6, 1940

Born into a wealthy family in Chicago, Henry Horner would defy Chicago political tradition by actually doing his best to follow through on "good government" rhetoric. While the machine in Chicago tried to make him one of theirs, his seven plus years as Illinois Governor saw him be his own man. Horner was among the first two Jewish governors in U.S. history.

Early Beginnings

From his youth on, Horner was seen as an ambitious man of action. By the time he was 14, he was already editor and publisher of a newspaper, which he printed in his basement.1 Henry became fascinated with politics, and after graduating from Kent College of Law, became a precinct captain to advance Carter Harrison II. It was at this point that he learned how politics really operated by doing favors for Michael Hinky Dink Kenna.2

Entering Law and the Governorship

Specializing in real estate and probate law, Horner ran for probate judge of Cook County in 1914. He won the race, becoming loosely associated with the anti-prohibition crowd and Anton Cermak.3 A truly honest man, he used the bench to help widows, orphans, and war veterans, all of which endeared him to the people of the city.

Horner was continually reelected to this seat until Mayor Cermak chose him to run as the Democrats choice for Governor in 1932.4 Unable to argue that he was corrupt, his enemies instead tried to make him appear weak, while also playing up the fact that he was Jewish. Horner took this in stride, using friendship to woo the downstate voters who were unfamiliar with him. The election saw him face Republican Len Small, who was backed by Bill Thompson and his organization. With a margin of victory of 566,000 votes, Horner took the office and the Democrats controlled the state.5

Among the new governor's first proposals were a sales tax as an emergency measure, and appeals against prohibition. His relationship with Mayor Cermak quickly turned sour as Horner showed independence, especially with his choices for appointments. True to form, however, Horner was able to use his people skills to heal the rift.6 When Cermak was assassinated in 1933, the Democrats looked to Horner, who signed a bill allowing the Chicago City Council to select the new mayor.

Turning Bitter - The Race for Reelection

Henry wanted to know everything about his State, and would routinely show up unannounced at public and private facilities, just to see what was going on.7 A life-long bachelor, his work was his life, and in it he never rested. Horner did not believe in patronage and the spoils system, which would lead to the great displeasure of Mayor Ed Kelly. This, along with a beating by the press, began to turn the Governor's good nature bitter. FDR would also try to oust Horner, offering him a federal judgeship. Horner declined, deciding to focus all his attention on bringing down Kelly and his corrupt machine at all cost.8

Taking all of the dirty tricks he had learned from Kelly, Horner would try to defeat them at their own game in the 1936 race for governor. The primary saw Kelly put up Dr. Herman Bundeson, the Health Commissioner of Cook County, as the machine candidate. With downstate under his control, Horner concentrated on Chicago, leading it to really be a contest of Horner vs. Kelly. Bundeson won Cook County by 156,013 votes, but Horner took the rest of the state by 317,105.9 The general election saw Horner easily defeat C. Wayland Brooks by 384,000 to hold onto his seat.

No rest for the Governor

Horner began his second term by punishing the Kelly Machine. He removed Kelly men whom he had previously appointed, and worked hard to push through the Permanent Voter Registration Act, which fought voter fraud.10 There would be no reconciliation this time around, as war between the Mayor and Governor raged on.

This term also saw Horner deal with downstate flooding, union protests, and Party reconciliation. His relentless workload and unhealthy habits led to a blood clot in his brain in 1938.11 This led him bedridden, and he went to Miami to recover. Never content to leave others to do his work, he announced he would still run for reelection in 1940. However, due to his ill health, and not allowing himself time to recover, Horner died October 6, 1940

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License