Political Research in Special Collections

The political season is upon us, and Chicago, which holds the record for hosting the most political conventions, is preparing to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention. There have been over 30 conventions in Chicago since 1860, primarily for the Democratic and Republican Parties, but also for the Communist, Green, Greenback, Libertarian and Progressive Parties.

Special Collections has a wide range of historical book and manuscript collections on political topics dating back to the 1860 campaign of Abraham Lincoln and the Republican National Convention held here that same year. The collections include a range of candidate campaign buttons, flyers and posters along with convention programs and proceedings, district maps, party literature, photographs, political directories, political strategies, sample ballots, speeches and voting instructions.

Curious to know more about politics in history? Following are some links to get you started:

  • American Civil War Documents, Manuscripts, Letters and Diaries and Grand Army of the Republic Collections: Material in this collection predominantly relates to the American Civil War, but also contains materials related to Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.
  • Democratic National Convention Records: The collection details the events and messages of the 1968 Democratic National Convention through the officially produced material that was distributed to delegates and press. The protests surrounding the convention and the ensuing police crackdown are covered through a series of national alternative newspapers. Protest scenes can be seen on this 50th Anniversary blog post.
  • Martin Deppe Papers: Known for his social justice work with Operation Breadbasket and Clergy and Laity Concerned (CALC), Rev. Martin L. Deppe’s interest in other political and community issues can be seen in his collection of buttons.
  • Harold Washington Archives & Collections: Harold Washington was Mayor of Chicago between 1983 and 1987. Prior to this, he served in the U.S. Congress and the Illinois House and Senate. The collections include the official records of his mayoral administration and span his political service. Collections related to Harold Washington can be found here.
    The Digital Collections contain selections of Harold Washington’s mayoral photographs and speeches.
  • Justice Graphics, Inc. Collection: Keep Strong Publishing (later Justice Graphics, Inc.) started in 1975 in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood by progressive community activists Walter “Slim” Coleman, Helen Shiller, and others. The collection consists of files about Harold Washington and other related politicians.
  • George A. Kinnamon Poster Collection: Collection of outdoor advertisements of public entertainment and politics in Chicago and Illinois during the 1950s and 1960s.
  • John T. McCutcheon Cartoons: John T. McCutcheon worked as a political and satirical cartoonist on the staff of several Chicago newspapers between 1889 and 1946. He spent the bulk of his career at the Chicago Tribune where his cartoons offered commentary on a range of topics spanning economics, politics, social change and international affairs. 
  • Political Campaign Ephemera Collection: Collection contains assorted campaign literature and political materials primarily for Chicago, Cook County and Illinois Democratic and Republican Parties from 1902 on. The materials include bumper stickers, campaign pamphlets, flyers, mailers, newsletters, political party materials, posters, sample ballots and voting instructions.
  • Republication National Convention Records: These records document the events of the 1960 Republican National Convention held in Chicago that determined that Richard M. Nixon would be the party’s presidential candidate.
  • Eugene Sawyer Mayoral Records: Following Harold Washington's death in November 1987, Sawyer was elected by his fellow City Council members to serve as mayor. Sawyer lost the special election in 1989 to Richard J. Daley. The records cover his mayoral activities as well as include photographs that document the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta
  • Official reports of political conventions were often published and can be found by in the library’s catalog: Democratic National Convention proceedings and Republican National Convention

Ready to research? Contact Special Collections to schedule a Reading Room appointment.