Richard J. Daley, an only child, was born in 1902 into an Irish catholic neighborhood of south Chicago. He went to Catholic elementary school and a Catholic technical school where he learned secretarial skills. Following his mother's tradition, Daley attended Mass daily through out his life.
Daley's political career began almost immediately out of school. After doing some odd jobs, he landed a position as a personal secretary to an alderman at the City Hall. In the evenings he attended classes at DePaul University School of Law. In 1934, he earned his law degree. He never practiced law, however, as he was soon elected to the Illinois Legislature.
Daley is best remembered as being the last "Big Boss" of Chicago. His long tenure as Mayor began in 1955 and ended with his death in 1976. As a Mayor, he was known for his heavy handed ways and for being unacceptably tolerant of corruption, despite his own personal honesty. Although he opposed the war in Vietnam, he publicly supported President Johnson's actions. His loyalty won him the honor of hosting the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Daley was delighted at the opportunity to be the center of attention. He made it clear to all of the organizers that he did not want people thinking the convention was merely being held in Chicago, but in "Daley's Chicago."
Daley "was not about to let his city host the unraveling of the Democratic party by unruly protesters." To this end, in addition to his 12,000 police officers, whom he put on 12 hour shifts for the convention, he also called in 7.500 US Army troops and 6,000 national guardsmen. For the week of the convention, Daley had a bigger army than had General Washington.
Daley did become the center of attention as a result of the convention, however, not in the way he had hoped. During the convention, Daley's police force clubbed and maced not only "unruly protesters," but also members of the press, clergymen, women, old, young, and anyone else who was within swinging distance. "Police riots" of this type had happened before in Chicago, but they had never been given much press coverage.
The morning after the worst of the police riots had taken place, Daley announced in an interview with Walter Cronkite that he had on his desk secret reports of threatened assassinations of himself and three of the Democratic candidates. He explained that having had this information, it was very appropriate that his officers had behaved as they did. He assassination reports were never substantiated.
Daley was subpoenaed to by the defense to testify in the Chicago Seven Trial. Judge Hoffman denied the defense's motion to classify Daley as a hostile witness, thus narrowing the range of questions he could be asked. "The court finds there is nothing in the testimony of the witness that has indicated his hostility. His manner has been that of a gentleman."
One afternoon during the trial, while Daley was waiting in the courtroom for the judge to return and court to reconvene, he was approached by Abbie Hoffman. Hoffman held out his clenched fist and say, "why don't you and I settle this whole business right now, just the two of us." The mayor just laughed.