James Michael Curley


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Harry S. Truman (1884—1972) American Democratic statesman, 33rd President of the US 1945–53


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(b. Boston, 20 Nov. 1874; d. Boston, 12 Nov. 1958)

US; Governor of Massachusetts 1934–8 The son of poor Irish immigrants, Curley's access to formal education was limited by the need to help support his family. His organizational ability and shrewd understanding of the needs of his local community combined to make politics a natural career for him. During his long period in Boston's political life, he built up a formidable Democratic Party machine based on the twin pillars of the welfare support and voter loyalty.

Curley's first electoral effort to secure a place on the Boston Common Council was frustrated by the Democratic regulars causing him to attack the boss system as corrupt. However in 1899 he succeeded in getting onto the Council and was also elected as a ward boss. Politics in Boston (as in many big cities at the time) were largely dominated by the Irish and in 1902 Curley established the Roxbury Tammany Club modelled on the New York Democratic machine. In 1902 Curley was elected to the state legislature and from 1904 to 1909 he served as an alderman. When Boston restructured its city government in 1909 Curley was elected to the new city council.

Although municipal politics was Curley's first love, in 1912 he was elected to Congress from the Massachusetts 12th District. There he became a supporter of Champ Clark and helped his presidential bid of 1912. Curley became House minority whip in 1913 and was re-elected to Congress in 1914. However, he did not serve the full second term since in 1914 he mounted a successful bid to become mayor of Boston.

Despite campaigning against the corruption inherent in the boss system, Curley on becoming mayor moved to mobilize the city's resources behind a highly centralized personal machine distributing jobs and welfare on a partisan basis.

Curley's career as mayor was not continuous. After re-election on a reform ticket in 1921, his grip on the office was broken by a law which prevented mayors enjoying consecutive periods in the job. After his second term (1922–6) (which saw massive public works programmes and an enlarged city payroll) Curley unsuccessfully sought the governorship but was re-elected for a third mayoral term in 1929.

In 1934 Curley was elected as Governor of Massachusetts and extended to the state some of the policies he had applied in Boston. In 1936 Curley ran for the Senate but was defeated by Henry Cabot Lodge. In 1938 he was defeated as governor. He was reelected to Congress in 1942 and again in 1944, a term which he did not complete in order to enter the mayoral race again. Curley failed and between 1945 and 1949 lost three mayoral bids. His last public appointment was as a member of the State Labor Commission in 1957.

Inevitably Curley's use of patronage made him vulnerable to accusations of corruption. In 1947 he spent a term of five months in prison but was pardoned by Truman in 1950. His colourful career and the system he established (‘Curleyism’) formed the basis for Edwin O'Connor's The Last Hurrah, which prompted Curley's I'd Do it Again, published in 1957.


Subjects: Politics.

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