The acrimony that characterizes modern politics is in part attributable to the “culture wars”. This is characterized by increasing vigor and radicalism on certain social issues surrounding racial and sexual identity as well as stronger support for socialism. As the left becomes more and more aggressive in pushing such issues the right becomes more truculent in their opposition as well as pushing of strong abortion restrictions in some states. Changes in language, writing (such as capitalizing “black” in journalism and academia and sometimes capitalizing “white”), and educational curriculum characterize this conflict. I have some relatively recent experience in higher education, having earned my MPA in 2017, and I can tell you that the teaching of neo-Marxism in higher education is quite real. There was a considerable emphasis on the Frankfurt School, critical theory (of which CRT is part), some on Antonio Gramsci, and one of the books covered was Capitalist Schooling in America (1976), an unabashedly neo-Marxist work. I give this background to tell you where I am coming from on the subject I am writing of today. Today’s subject is an episode of malfeasance in educational curriculum investigation prompted by one of the most corrupt big city mayors in American history.
William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson was Chicago’s Republican mayor from 1915 to 1923 and again from 1927 to 1931. His time in office was characterized by non-enforcement of Prohibition which extended to an overall disregard for the law, gangland bombings including at polling places going unprosecuted, support for Al Capone, and identity-based appeals. For the latter, he campaigned as an arch-foe of Great Britain, much to the delight of ethnic German and Irish voters. Thompson’s anti-British stance and his refusal to do anything about anti-conscription groups and anti-war protests was enough for him to be called “Kaiser Bill” (Hill). He continued pressing against Britain after World War I and while campaigning to return to office in 1927, he promised to ethnic Irish audiences if King George V ever visited Chicago that he’d “crack King George one in the snoot” (Grossman). Another example of “Big Bill” Thompson’s campaigning is the following 1927 flyer, which also employs the slogan “America First”:
His anti-British push went beyond silly promises, however, as after he won, he led a campaign to crack down on subversive books in the Chicago Public Library and in schools. And if you read the fine print on this flyer, one of his promises was to oust Chicago School Superintendent William McAndrew. For cracking down on subversive books in the Chicago Public Library, he appointed Urbine J. Herrmann, who the Chicago Tribune reported, “And if he finds a pro-British book, he declares, he will take it out to the lake front and have it burned by the public hangman” (Grossman). Thompson also appointed former two-time Congressman John J. Gorman (R-Ill., 1921-23, 1925-27) as special assistant corporate counsel, his job being to investigate school curriculum for lies and distortions and to oust McAndrew. Gorman had as a representative headed up the Citizens’ Commission on School Histories, which in 1926 denounced three textbooks as being pro-British and excluding the achievements of people of other nationalities (Herrick, 167).
John J. Gorman
To fulfill Thompson’s promise, Gorman launched a crusade against school curriculum and Superintendent McAndrew, claiming that he had “poisoned” school curriculum at the behest of the British to turn students against America. He most notably accused him of putting in school curriculum a textbook An American History by Dr. David Muzzey. This resulted in hearings before the Chicago Board of Education in which Gorman testified as a witness regarding the “pro-British” content of Muzzey’s work. He was asked the following questions and gave the following answers based on his testimony:
Q: “Now, I ask you whether or not you found in this — found this in the book: ‘The capital of Massachusetts was a center of vulgar sedition, strewn with brickbats and broken glass, where his enemies went about clothed in homespun and his friends in tar and feathers?”
Gorman: “Yes, sir.”
Q: “Did you find there that Muzzey characterized the Continental Congress as ‘a collection of quarrelsome, pettifogging lawyers and mechanics?”
Gorman: “Yes, sir.”
Q: “Did you find language in there to the effect that ‘Washington was a tyrant, a dictator, a despot,’ and he was called a step-father of his country?”
Gorman: “Yes, sir.”
Q: “Before you go into details, Congressman, what was the effect produced on your mind as to the attitude of Muzzey in the treatment of the story of the colonists and the revolution?”
Gorman: “Well, I was amazed to find that the American Revolution was treated in the manner that Muzzey treats it — giving the pro-British view of it. His text books contain numerous distortions, and where it would state facts it would frequently minimize their importance, and the text is filled with deletions. I would rather say from the text that there are omissions of many vital events and vital characters pertaining to the Revolutionary War that were always taught, for a period of over a hundred years, in the schools of our country by the patriotic text writers of previous times.”
(People v. Gorman)
After this testimony, McAndrew was suspended and then found guilty of several charges. Dr. Muzzey filed suit against Gorman for defamation. On October 11, 1929, he retreated with his tail tucked between his legs on these claims, writing an apology letter that his sworn statements against the book were written by someone else, that he was misled, and found upon on his own examination nothing wrong with Muzzey’s textbook (Herrick, 170). Although the lawsuit was withdrawn, the proceedings against Gorman began for perjury and McAndrew was cleared on appeal to the Superior Court of Cook County. I actually took to investigating whether these quotes were in Muzzey’s book, and this is what I found from the 1911 edition of An American History, with the claimed quotes in bold:
“To George III’s eyes the capital of Massachusetts was a center of vulgar sedition, strewn with brickbats and broken glass, where his enemies went about clothed in homespun and his friends in tar and feathers” (Muzzey, 121).
“The more ardent of these Loyalists denounced the Congress in unmeasured terms as a collection of quarrelsome, pettifogging lawyers and mechanics; and when the Declaration of Independence put them in the position of traitors, thousands of them entered the British armies” (Muzzey, 152-153).
“The Republicans opposed the administration at every step. The press on both sides became coarse and abusive. Washington was reviled in language fit to characterize a Nero. “Tyrant,” “dictator,” and “despot” were some of the epithets hurled at him. He was called the “stepfather of his country”, and the day was hailed with joy by the Republican press when this impostor should be “hurled from this throne”” (Muzzey, 199-200).
It is clear that Gorman’s “pro-British” charges against the book were based on quotes that were distorted out of context in service to the anti-British campaign of Mayor Thompson. On December 17, 1931, the Supreme Court of Illinois disbarred Gorman for perjury. Thompson himself I’m sure in the future will have his own post, as he was quite an outrageous character. The message here for culture warriors seeking to challenge curriculum in public schools, assuming you are doing so in good faith, is this: do your homework!
Grossman, R. (2016, February 5). ‘Big Bill’ Thompson: Chicago’s unfiltered mayor. Chicago Tribune.
Herrick, M.J. (1971). The Chicago schools: a social and political history. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.
Hill, R. ‘Big Bill’ Thompson of Chicago. The Knoxville Focus.
Muzzey, D.S. (1911). An American History. Boston, MA: Ginn and Company.
Sawyers, J. (1989, February 5). Campaigning for Mayor with King George as Enemy. Chicago Tribune.
The People v. Gorman. 178 N.E. 880 (Ill. 1931). CaseText.
4 thoughts on “Gorman’s Crusade: A Cautionary Tale for Culture Warriors”
Like This. But The LEFT Is Mainly Responsible For The Culture War Today
AND They Are Winning. Sadly, Dave IN TEXAS
I have a bit more hope on this front, but I fear a lot of damage will be done in the meantime. It makes me think of Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed’s quote, “One, with God, is always a majority, but many a martyr has been burned at the stake while the votes were being counted.”
Interesting That Gorman Was Only Elected To Congress In Presidential Years Seems To Have Lost Midterms!
Gorman also was the last Republican to represent that part of Chicago, which was on the West Side and seems to already have been one of the more Democratic districts. At one time, the district elected William Lorimer. He was another scandalous Republican in Chicago history who was quite apt at getting votes from working class ethnic immigrants who otherwise tended to vote Democratic through exchanging favors for votes. The district was one of those in which white flight occurred in the 1960s and it got renumbered the 7th after the 1970 redistricting. It is now the most Democratic district in Illinois and is represented by former Democratic Socialists of America member Danny K. Davis, who won reelection in 2022 with literally 99.9% of the vote.