Rattling the Cup on Chicago Crime/Chicago: A More Intimate View of Urban Politics

by Edward D. Sullivan. New York:The Vanguard Press. 1929. 214 pp. $2.00. by Charles Edward Merriam, New York: The Maemillan Company. 1929. 305 pp. $3.50.
LAST year’s election should render more cautious the dominance attributed to the big cities. Yet a good measure of the history of civilization always has been a history of the big cities. Applied science will more and more citify our society. And so, however much an Al Smith may challenge the small-town and rural mores of an electorate, controlling forces are powerfully transforming the country into a network of vast metropolitan regions. In essentials, the big city will determine the quality of our civilization. Its conscious ideals and its unconscious preoccupations, its rebellions and its acquiescences, its insensitiveness and its gayety, its sensationalism and its quest, for beauty — these will determine the tone and color, the temper and the texture, of the United States. When Bryce first wrote about us, mindful though he was of the perplexities which the new and tangled forces of American cities presented, contrasted with those of the old world, he found the government of cities the most sordid feature of the American Commonwealth. Twenty-five years ago, Lincoln Steffens could still write without rhetoric about the ‘Shame of the Cities.’ In the interval, our big cities have lost, nothing in luridness. Prohibition has given rise to new problems, and intensified old. But only a total lack of historical-mindedness dates corruption and crime from prohibition. Bryce applied to American cities what Dante said of his own city; ‘They are like the sick man who cannot find rest upon his bed, but seeks to ease his pain by turning from side to side.’
Chicago has never for long been contented in its corruption; it has never allowed its evils to become endemic. Nor are its habits of political virtue as yet endemic —but not less so than those of other cities. There is probably more chiaroscuro in the life of Chicago than in that of any other American community. Thus it may well be that the future historian of Chicago will find Mr. Sullivan’s volume a truthful recital of the nadir thus far reached in the partnership between crime and government, and yet conclude that Mr. Sullivan was an historian of episodes and not of an epoch.
All the stars of recent thugland pass convincingly through Mr. Sullivan’s pages — Dion O’Banion, Johnny Torrio, Bugs Moran, Scarface Al Capone, and their political allies, Small, Crowe, Bill Thompson. The vivid story is a thrice-told tale to anyone who has seen Broadway and Chicago. When this vicious system seemed strongest it began to crumble. Chicago indicted its own lethargy by demonstrating how quickly the voters can stop the miserable alliance between crime and politics. By terminating — at least for a time — the Small-Crowe-Thompson reign, it demonstrated the truth of what a courageous Chicago judge had told it: ‘Organized crime cannot exist a month without police connivance.’
How do such things come to be? Why does a community allow itself to be represented by a Thompson and to be ruled by a Capone? Happily, Mr. Sullivan’s dramatic episodes will find their perspective in the more far-reaching analysis of Professor Merriam. His is the book of an outside-insider in politics. One of the most reflective of our political scientists, his reflections have come from aldermanic association with the Hinky-Dinks and the Bath-House Johns as well as from the ideas of thinkers embodied in books. And now be has given us a mellow and relaxed account of the life of the third-largest city of the world, but a city less than a hundred years old. Add one more factor — racial heterogeneity — to the other two factors — size and youth — and we have the three great clues to the past and the future of Chicago. For these give us the farrago of forces out of which a self-conscious and mature community life is emerging.
One hundred years is short in the life of a great city, but too long for brief summary here. Attempts at pithy diagnosis usually involve the crime of mutilation. Perhaps two vignettes by Professor Merriam will take the reader to his book.
One may paint a picture or catch a mood in which Chicago is crooked politicians, grafting labor laws, predatory rich, slothful middle class, selfish nationalities, jealous worshipers of God, gangsters, killers, thieves: — mocking justice, indifferent to law, regardless of order, reckless of the common weal. And the picture and the mood would be real. . . . At any rate there is another picture and another mood which is also Chicago. . . .
There is a Chicago in which the politicians function by serving the public, rather than by robbing them; in which business assumes responsibility for the commonwealth as well as the class weal; in which labor takes its part in shouldering the common responsibility; in which nationalities compete in presenting vigorous and public-spirited leaders; in which the whole community rises from its indifference and shakes off its sloth; in which law and order and legal and social justice not only exist but grow and develop new forms to meet new conditions.
To which needs to he added the wisdom of William Kent. He was one of Chicago’s most effective reformers because he pierced to the very heart the problem of reform. Addressing that famous Chicago agency for reform, the Municipal Voters League, he said: ‘Fellow Reformers: Our problem is how can we make the other fellow better, without being too damned good ourselves.’
Professor Merriam’s book deserves that much-tarnished accolade ‘realistic.’ Political science suffers much from sterile anatomizing. Here is a stimulating essay in political physiology.
The books selected for review in the Atlantic are chosen from lists furnished through the courteous Coöperation of such trained judges as the following: American Library Association Booklist, Wisconsin Free Library Commission, and the public-library staffs of Boston, Springfield (Massachusetts), Newark, Cleveland, Kansas City, St. Louis, and the Pratt Institute Free Library of Brooklyn. The following hooks hare received definite commendation from members of the Board.
The Innocent Voyage, by Richard Hughes HARPER & BROS. $2.50
A surprisingly original novel illustrating the unconscious cynicism of children
Splendor of God, by Honoré Willsie Morrow WILLIAM MORROW & Co. $2.50
A biographical novel of Ann and Adoniram Judson, first Baptist missionaries in Burma
The Good Estate of Poetry, by Chauncey Brewster Tinker
LITTLE, BROWN & Co. (AN ATLANTIC MONTHLY PRESS PUBLICATION) $2.50 Essays on poetry by the accomplished author of Young Boswell
The Ordeal of This Generation, by Gilbert Murray HARPER A BROS $3.00
The ideal and the problem of peace illuminated in a new and moving way by the disciplined mind of a great classical scholar