The Kelly and Nash Political Machine

June 1, 2010
By , norridge, IL
Thesis and Intro:
Edward J. Kelly was mayor of Chicago for fourteen years 1933-1947. He along with Patrick A. Nash ran a complicated yet beneficial political system that some might call a political machine. This urban political machine was built by controlling federal and local jobs, gaining votes from diverse groups of people and by managing the wealth of a state and placing it on different investments. Kelly is considered one of the best political figures in Chicago. He was very influential to many political figures around the nation including Franklin D. Roosevelt. He wouldn't have been able to put one of the country’s most powerful machines without Nash. Patrick Nash was considered the mastermind behind this machine; while Kelly was a face with the power to get people to agree with him. Kelly's machine was not only one of the most powerful ones on the country, but it was an innovation; because it made Chicago one of the best governed cities on a time of crisis. Kelly gained power by Working through the depression and WWII, mobilizing voters, and maintaining a strong relationship with the federal government.

Becoming a Mayor:
Edward Joseph Kelly was born in May 1, 1876, and lived on Archer Ave. of Bridgeport an Irish neighborhood located on the Southwest side of Chicago.
He was one out of nine children, and he dropped out school to work full time. As a young adult he went through several jobs, newspaper carrier, cash boy, and messenger (Biles 7). It wasn’t until 1894 when he reached eighteen that he started working at the Sanitary District. As time progressed he became the Chief Engineer of the Sanitary District. He was also became a well-known icon among Chicagoans. Having served thirty-nine years in here gave him the understanding of how politics work around Chicago. This would later help him in the challenge he was about to take (Green 112). Chicago was in the search of a new mayor when Anton Cermak took a shot intended for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Cermak died on March 6, 1933 (Kendall). Patrick A. Nash, 28th Ward committeeman and part of the Chicago Democratic Party was the next favorite candidate to take office but he argued that he was too old for the pressures of the job (Gosnell15). Nash appointed Kelly to be the new mayor. The democratic committee got together and drew names of well positioned men with knowledge of politics and voted. By unanimous vote on April 14, 1933 Chicago had a new mayor, “Ed. Kelly a democrat, outside of politics, who was familiar with politics” (Biles 18).

Kelly and the Depression:
When Kelly started his position as Chicago's new mayor he was faced with “the Great Depression” that struck in the United States at the time. Chicago was faced with forty percent unemployment, a bad banking system, and housing market problems. People were in the streets, workers went months without pay, and the city’s trading was very low. When the depression came, Chicago was already at the edge of bankruptcy (Green112). Faced with this problem Kelly did not hesitate to act. He paid teachers on strike and other people that hadn’t received a paycheck in more than five months. He also along with President Roosevelt created the National Recovery Administration, which purpose was to study civic problems and recommend solutions (Biles 27). Kelly agreed with state politicians to collect rent and income tax from delinquent properties that were producing income. He also cut the city’s spending budget by manipulating the Chicago public school system. In his plan he was set to cut the school’s budget to be equivalent to that of if they closed schools altogether. This means that he cut programs like special education, physical education and after school activities. This created criticism on behalf of the educational community, but was later seen as a necessary action in harsh times by most citizens. The Kelly-Nash machine created a window of opportunity for the city’s recovery, he was able meet municipal payrolls, establish a good relationship with the state legislature, and kept schools open (Green 113). The New York Times wrote an article about Kelly’s first term in office where they said, “He turned one of the worst-governed cities into one of the best-governed. . . . The floating debt has been greatly reduced and in consequence the cost of borrowed money has declined to something like a normal rate of interest. These are memorable achievements. . . . He is a good model of mayors and even offices of loftier to follow” (Biles 41). The Kelly-Nash did a flawless job by keeping the city together but their biggest challenge was yet to come.

Kelly and the War:
In the 1940’s the U.S. officially became engaged in WWII, President Roosevelt was very secretive about the status of our country. He wasn’t very clear when he spoke, and people were confused about if we were in war at the time. Kelly, being Roosevelt’s favorite made it very clear that we were not playing, that this was war (Biles 115). Kelly created the Chicago Commission on National Defense, which created military supplies and saved raw materials. The most noticeable problem that Chicago had regarding the war was the shortage of men, there was no war-manpower (Green 115). Kelly then set out on rallies trying to get anyone to help the cause. Another problem was small business were failing, because war demanded mass production of products which only benefited big business’s. Although Kelly Wasn’t able to handle these problems very well, he made Chicago stand out as one of the exemplary cities during the time of war. No Strikes broke out during this period, Chicago led in war bond sales, and the Kelly-Nash machine raised half a million dollars for the American Red Cross. The Kelly-Nash proved why they were still in power after one decade, because they were efficient on time of crisis (Biles118-119).

Kelly and diversity:
Kelly was successful because of his ability to persuade people. Kelly knew that in order to have a strong government, union was a essential factor. He quite some effort in trying to get diversity into his machine. He gained the votes of African American by appointing them into municipal positions, giving aid to the black community, and banning racist books. Later the democrats picked Arthur W. Mitchell as the first Democratic U.S. Congressman (Green116). They also chose Jewish Jacob Arvey as the chairperson of the financial committee (Green114). The diversity gave the Kelly-Nash machine more power on different wards.

Kelly and the New Deal:
Diversity also tied into good a relationship with the president. Roosevelt liked Kelly, they used go on dinners, events, and shows together. They used to socialize quite often. Along with the friendship came the business. Roosevelt provided Chicago with relief money when we needed it, and even when we didn’t. Kelly was so obsessed with Roosevelt that he himself adopted the New Deal, in which he benefited every time the federal government made money (Green 119).

Kelly’s projects
The New Deal was drawing so much profit for Chicago had to invest the money on different assets. Kelly did not want the “whoopee era” to happen again, in which sanitary district employees made more money than reported from side business. All of the people involved in the case served time in jail, except Kelly (Gosnell 16). Kelly was called “the father of the lake front” because of his structural accomplishments. He conducted the construction of Grant Park, Buckingham Fountain, Alder Planetarium, Soldier Field, and The Museum of Science and Industry.

The Monster:
Kelly devoted a lot of time to the transportation system of Chicago that he put little effort into the elections. He was able to create the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), a great accomplishment in account to the fact that Chicago’s transportation system was among the worst of the nation. The machine didn’t need any more maintenance. The Kelly-Nash association had Created such an efficient system that its creators were no longer needed. At the time, another key element to machine’s turmoil was the death of Patrick A. Nash. It has been told that Nash was the brain while Kelly was the self-controlled puppet. Once the Machine had trouble it always came through. This was the work of Nash, acting behind the curtain to keep the machine alive. With this in mind a year after Nash’s death Kelly lost the election, which put a permanent end to the “Great Kelly-Nash Political Machine” (Green123-124).

The Kelly-Nash machine controlled Chicago by gaining its voters trust, controlling the economy and surviving trough difficult times. Although it had some difficulties along the way the machine was able to put Chicago on the map as one of the most powerful cities. Kelly was a exemplary public figure while Nash was the sole brain of the machine, and that combination build one of the powerful machines that was an innovation the Chicago and future governments.

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