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The University and the City
A Centennial View of the
University of Chicago
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Paul H. Douglas aldermanic campaign platform, 1939.

Paul H. Douglas aldermanic campaign platform, 1939. In his platform, Douglas called for efficient city administration, relief for the poor, and a city board of mediation and arbitration to reduce labor disputes.

The Political Arena

Expertise and Reform
Later Merriam turned his attention to national politics. In 1931, he helped found the Public Administration Clearing House through which he continued to advocate the role of technical expertise in public service. From 1933 to 1943, Merriam commuted between Chicago and Washington after Harold Ickes, then Secretary of the Interior, enlisted him in the New Deal. With an appointment to the Advisory Committee of the National Planning Board, Merriam helped shape the federal government's first peacetime experiment in national planning.

Thomas Vernor Smith joined the philosophy faculty immediately after receiving his PhD from the University in 1922. He was a founder and a favorite guest of the University of Chicago "Round Table" radio program. Smith spoke frequently about the promise of democracy and advanced his ideas in popular books, articles, and media appearances. Smith's eloquence appealed to voters, who elected him in 1934 to the state senate as a Democrat from the fifth district, which surrounded the University. While in the Illinois Senate, he advocated reforms of the legislative process and founded the Illinois Legislative Council, an association through which legislators could exchange views on legislative and administrative reforms.

In 1939 Smith was elected to the U.S. Congress as an at-large representative from Illinois, overcoming vigorous opposition from the Kelly-Nash Democratic political machine in Chicago. In Congress, Smith refused an appointment to the powerful Foreign Affairs Committee, saying "I know nothing about foreign affairs." He accused other representatives of "out-talking their information," and pledged to be a "noiseless congressman." Smith chose to sit on the low-profile Civil Service Committee, where he urged that government agencies be run by trained experts familiar with quantitative methods. In his call for a corps of dedicated and efficient public servants, Smith the Democrat echoed many of the long-held positions of his Republican colleague Merriam.

An Independent Tradition
Political figures with University associations have shared a common commitment to honest and effective government. They have also frequently maintained independent postures within one of the two major political parties and received support from nonpartisan citizens' groups.

One of the most important of these independent-minded politicians was Paul Douglas, professor of economics at the University, who like Charles Merriam began his political career as a Hyde Park alderman. Douglas's studies of wages, particularly his book, Real Wages in the United States (1930), had given him some renown as an economist. Most Chicagoans, however, came to know him in 1929 when Douglas headed an investigation of Samuel Insull, Chicago's powerful utilities boss, which resulted in Insull's indictment over improper bond financing schemes. Throughout the 1930s, Douglas served on a variety of local, state, and federal commissions which related more directly to his academic work on wages. More importantly, Douglas helped draft the national Social Security Act of 1935.


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