Inaugural Address of Mayor Levi D. Boone
March 13, 1855
This speech is recorded as it first appeared in print. Archaic spelling and misspellings in the original document have not been corrected.
Gentlemen of the Common Council:
Having been, by the partiality of my fellow citizens, elevated to the honorable and responsible position of Mayor of this city, the future metropolis of the West, it becomes my duty, in compliance with universal custom, to present to you my views, in relation to the policy and principles by which we should be governed by our administration.
First, however, indulge me gentlemen, in an expression of the gratitude which I feel, for so flattering a token of the favor of my fellow citizens towards me, and their confidence in my humble abilities to serve them in this high position: a result the more grateful to me from the fact that it has been voluntary on the part of my fellow citizens, without even an announcement by me or by my authority, of my name as a candidate for that office; and still more so, from the fact that it was secured without any of those demoralizing and disgraceful appliances and influences so generally resorted to in political contests.
I am before you, gentlemen of the Common Council, untrammelled by embarrassing pledges to any individual, free to pursue just such a course of policy as my sense of duty and the best interests of our city may dictate; and with your co-operation, that liberty and that conviction of duty shall be, to the utmost of my ability, consecrated with singleness of purpose, to the greatest good of our constituents and our city.
Allow me in general terms to say, that my desire is that the strictest economy may be exercised in the expenditure of the public treasure, that no funds should be drawn from the treasury for trifling and unimportant objects, nor for purposes not clearly contemplated and authorized by the City Charter.—By this I do not simply mean the purchase of “silver headed canes,” or “Aldermanic Suppers;” these are unimportant, except as they may be regarded and referred to, as precedents for much more magnificent abuses. In this connection I would recommend the passage of an ordinance, providing that no moneys be drawn from the City Treasury until ordered by a vote of the Common Council, as I am persuaded that the practice which has heretofore prevailed is liable to great abuses. And for the purpose of a greater security against the allowance of improper claims, I would advise the creation of an additional Standing Committee, to be called the “Auditing Committee,” whose duty it shall be carefully to examine all bills referred to it before they are acted upon by the Council.
Secondly, I desire that whatever expenditures may be made for city improvements, be for such as are permanent and enduring.—Quite enough has been unwisely expended in those of a temporary character. I would not by this by this remark be understood as reflecting upon the wisdom or prudence of former Councils, or undervaluing all our city improvements. Many of them I consider highly creditable. The building in which we are assembled, our Public School, Market and Engine houses, may be compared with those for similar purposes, in any city of our age and magnitude.
I allude more particularly to the improvement, or attempted improvement of our streets, to which I desire now more definitely to call your attention. I trust the time has gone by for expenditures for unsystematic and inefficient drainage. What has been done I do not question is much better than nothing. It is undoubtedly worth all it has cost; but that it is ample in extent, or sufficiently permanent in character, no one will pretend.
The obvious necessity for a more efficient and permanent system has recently attracted and received the attention of our citizens, and as a result, the passage of a law has been secured at the recent session of our Legislature providing for a thorough and systematic drainage of the entire city. I cannot say that in all respects this law meets my approval. It is liable to entail upon us a very expensive organization, and consequently should receive your careful consideration and supervision, so far as that power is left in your hands. With it I hope abuses may be guarded against, and great good result for our city.
By that law the Common Council is required, as soon as practicable, and within thirty days after the next election for city officers, to elect three persons to serve as Drainage Commissioners, said election to be first duly ordered by the Common Council, at a previous meeting. I would therefore recommend that said election be ordered at an early day, in order that the intention of the act may be fully carried out; and I trust you will realize the importance of exercising great care in the selection of this Board; that it be composed of gentlemen of sterling integrity, and business qualifications and habits.
Next in importance to thorough drainage is the adoption of some more permanent system of paving than that hitherto practiced. Upon this subject much variety of opinion exists. Stone, iron, McAdamizing, and planking, each have their advocates. With reference to the first, other things being equal, experience in other cities demonstrates it to be the best; but in our city there are supposed to exist very serious objections to its adoption. The alluvial and quick-sand character of our soil, the difficulty of procuring a supply of clay and gravel for a suitable foundation or bed, and the want of a sufficient supply of stone of proper shape and consistency, and of convenient access, unquestionably constitute serious objections. As to iron, so far as it has been tested it seems to have given a measure of satisfaction, and but for it expensiveness, it might be deserving of our attention. With reference to McAdamizing, I do not myself think it deserving of consideration. The same difficulties before mentioned in relation to the character of our soil, would operate with more force against it than against paving, in addition to which the filling of the air with dust, destructive alike to eyes and lungs, would constitute a serious objection to it.
To the method of planking it is alleged as an objection that it is not sufficiently durable, and that it may eventually become a source of disease, by the decomposition of so large an amount of wood as would be necessary if it were generally adopted. I am, however, strongly inclined to the opinion that, all things considered, it may be the best adapted to our circumstances. I am wholly opposed, however, to any more planking of the character heretofore laid. It is altogether too thin, and the streets not at all properly prepared to receive it. I will, however, suggest a plan which in my opinion would make a very durable and beautiful street.
It is this: First grade the street carefully and upon as high a level as practicable; then place upon it at proper distances from each other suitable stringers, not less than six inches in thickness, and fill up between them, to a level with their top surface, with coarse sand and gravel from our lake shore, and then cover the whole with oak plank not less than five inches thick and thoroughly spiked. This, I think, would make a street that would last for twenty years without repairs. And when our sewers are constructed, (as they should be in every street before they are either planked or paved,) into which the surface water could readily filter through the bed of gravel under the planking, thus preventing such an accumulation of water as to produce decay of the plank, there could be no possible danger of the generation of such an amount of miasma as to produce disease. To these considerations add the facts, that such a street is vastly more pleasant to drive over, less rough and noisy, and that wheel carriages of every description, as well as horses, will last much longer upon such a street than upon stone; and I think the preponderance of reasons is clearly in favor of this mode of improvement. Whether correct in this opinion or not, I feel assured that the importance of adopting some more permanent system than we have heretofore practiced upon, will be duly appreciated by you; and I trust that immediate measures will be taken before any more work is done upon our streets to decide the question: Perhaps it would be wise to call a public meeting at an early day, in order to consider the subject and call out the views of our fellow citizens upon it. I submit this suggestion to you, gentlemen of the Common Council, and leave it for your consideration and action.
While upon the subject of streets and alleys, I wish to refer to another matter in connection therewith. The fifth section of the 49th chapter of City Ordinances, provides that, “No wagon, sled, sleigh, carriage or vehicle of any kind or description, or any part of the same, without horses or other beasts of burden, shall be permitted to remain or stand in any street or alley of this city, for more than one hour, for purpose of being repaired or for any other purpose under a penalty of two dollars,” &c. The 13th section of the same chapter provides that, “No person shall throw or deposit any straw, dirt, filth, chips, shells or other rubbish, in any street, alley or other public place in this city, under a penalty of two dollars, for each offence, and a like penalty for every hour the same shall be suffered to remain after notice to remove is given by any member of the Police department.” These important and salutary provisions of the Ordinance regulating streets and alleys, have been grossly and with impunity violated every day probably since the time of their enactment. My determination is to enforce them strictly, and I trust I may rely upon your co operation. I am aware that in the execution of this purpose I shall conflict with the convenience and feelings of many of our citizens, but I am determined to do it, without partiality, from the merchant on Lake street to the humblest cartman in the city.
And this leads me to mention another topic of vital bearing upon the welfare of our city. The impression has gone abroad that there exists in the location of our city permanent causes of unhealthiness. The impression is perhaps a natural one from the character of our city—flat. Nevertheless an ex[peri]ence of nearly twenty years in the practice of the medical profession in your midst has convinced me—as an examination of our bills of mortality may convince any one—it has no foundation in fact.
Still, it cannot be doubted that a criminal inattention to the removal of sources of disease and the preservation of cleanliness in our streets and alleys, have contributed greatly to actual unhealthiness and mortality and to the exaggerated impression which strangers have received and circulated concerning us. I shall, therefore, ask your co-operation with me in the effort, early and before a summer sun has filled our atmosphere with the reeking vapors from heaps of filth, clogged gutters and poisonous cess pools, to put our city in a condition of cleanliness which shall work no detriment to the public health.
Our Public Schools, the pride of our city and the hope of our future generations, are now in a flourishing condition. Under the management of our talented and efficient Superintendent, and an active Board of Inspectors, much improvement has been effected during the past year; and I doubt not you will extend to them every necessary facility for future success and increasing usefulness.
An Ordinance was recently passed by the former Council providing for the establishment of a High School, in which pupils should be taught the higher branches usually taught in our seminaries of learning. In order to the accomplishment of this desirable object, it will be necessary that you cause to be erected a suitable building for the purpose—a subject to which I hope you will give your early attention.
I desire to call your attention to the urgent necessity of some suitable provision for the punishment and reclamation of Juvenile offenders. It was hoped that something would be done by our Legislature for the accomplishment of this object at its late session, but I regret to say that there was not; and that the amendments to our City Charter, containing a provision upon this subject, with several others of much importance, were purloined, as I am informed, from the Legislative files, by some vile person, after they had passed both branches of the Assembly. I am inclined to the opinion, however, that there is sufficient power in the present Charter to enable you to make some adequate provision for this purpose.
In relation to this important and useful department, I desire to say in general terms that it is worthy of your special consideration. Its wants should be carefully considered and promptly provided for. Immediate steps should be taken for the erection of suitable houses for the accommodation of Engine Companies Nos. 4 and 5; and in connection with a building for No. 4, provision should be made for the accommodation of the Hook and Ladder Company, and also for a commodious and properly constructed Hose depot.
In a report which I had the honor to submit to the late Council, I urged the propriety of making a thorough examination into the comparative advantages of steam and manual labor fire engines, before any more manual labor machines should be purchased; and I would respectfully urge upon the present Council the same suggestion. From all the information I have been able to acquire upon the subject, I am quite inclined to the opinion that the steam machines are decidedly preferable for our city. My reasons I will cheerfully communicate to a Committee or the Council at a proper time.
The department has grown to such magnitude, and so great an amount of time has become necessary to oversee the repairs required to keep the apparatus in effective working order, and to examine and settle the great number and diversity of accounts that nearly if not quite the entire time of one person will, for the time to come, be demanded for this class of duties. The salary heretofore paid to the Chief Engineer is not sufficient to justify him in giving the time necessary for a proper attention to these matters.—In a communication to the late Council by Mr. Jno. T. Edwards, accompanying his resignation of the office of 1st Assistant Engineer, he suggested the propriety of appointing a competent superintendent specially charged with this important department of service.—I deem the suggestion a good one, and doubt not if an individual competent to the place, and not a working member of the department, should be selected, that the duties would be better performed, and the expenses much curtailed. Another advantage also would be that the Chief Engineer would not be embarrassed by complaints from some companies, that their wants were not as well attended to as those of other companies, and if jealousies should exist they would not reach him. Should the Council, however, not think best to create this office, I suggest whether it would not be advisable to increase the salary of the Chief Engineer and require him to devote his entire time to the interests of the department.
The time has come when it is absolutely necessary to make some respectable and adequate arrangements for the accommodation of the sick who are so unfortunate as not to have homes and friends to care for them in their afflictions. During the past year suitable grounds were purchased for Hospital purposes, and a temporary building erected, answering very well the purpose for which it was designed. We should, however, during the early part of the present year, cause to be erected a commodious, and well designed plain brick building, which should hereafter constitute a wing to a more architectural and extensive City Hospital.
Much has been said during the last two or three years up on the subject of a system of quarantine for the protection of our city against the introduction of diseases from our various lines of travel, and I don’t know but the Council will feel it to be its duty to yield to the public demand for such a measure, whether convinced of its propriety and utility or not. I confess, for my own part, that I have very little confidence in either the practicability, or utility of such a measure.—It will, when once commenced, cost a great deal of money, but if our people will have it and are willing to bear the necessary increase of taxation to support this with the many other necessary expenditures, I at least have no objection to it.
This being one of the most important departments of our city government, I desire to suggest, somewhat in detail, my views in relation to an entire change in its organization and management, though I cannot of course give all the reasons which might be urged in favor of the change which I am about to propose. The most important are: First—That as now organized, there is supposed to be some superiority and inferiority between the “Night Watch” and “Day Police,” in consequence of which there is a liability to some unpleasant jealousies between the two. The day police is regarded as the most desirable position, and consequently a constant rivalry for place in that department is kept up. Secondly—There is not that harmonious co-operation between the two organizations that is desirable, but rather a disposition in each to keep its secrets from the other; whereas, in order to the greatest efficiency, there should exist the most perfect confidence and a concert of action; and Thirdly—Under the present arrangement there is an interim, morning and evening, between the going off of the one and the coming on of the other, of from two to three hours, when there is no police on duty. For these and other reasons I would recommend that the night watch and day police be consolidated into one organization, under the name of “Policemen of the City of Chicago,” and to abolish the two offices of Captain of the night watch and Captain of the day police, and appoint one Captain of Police, with at least three Lieutenants, who should act under the direction of the Captain of Police, the Marshal being continued as the acting Chief of Police, under the Mayor. I would require one-half of the police to be on duty every six hours, day and night. I would also require the police to wear a uniform, by which they might be easily recognized as policemen, unless when upon secret service, when it would be desirable that their official character should be concealed. Should the changes suggested meet the views of the Common Council, it would become necessary to make such changes in the ordinances as would make them to conform to the new organization. In the selection of a police, I trust the committee will exercise great care, and recommend none but men of strong physical powers, sober, regular habits, and known moral integrity. I certainly should not, knowingly, appoint any of a different character, as none others would be fit guardians of the lives and property of our fellow citizens, or efficient conservators of the peace.
GROCERY AND TAVERN LICENSES.
Both my supporters and my opponents will expect me to take decided ground upon this important subject; and my own impression is, that neither will be disappointed, either in my opinions or action. It is well known that for many years I have been decidedly opposed to licensing any body to sell intoxicating liquors.
Both parties in the recent contest, came to the ballot box one week ago to-day, with this issue fairly in view. The liquor influence, from the wholesale dealer to the most unfortunate victim of intemperance, was directed in one solid column against me, demonstrating most conclusively that they were not mistaken in my position. The friends of temperance and humanity generally, (I wish I could say universally,) came with as firm, if not as boisterous a front to my support; thus showing that they were equally confident of my position on this great question. The result of that contest placed me where I now stand.
The question whether there is power to prohibit and prevent the sale of intoxicating liquors has never weighed much with me in determining the propriety of lega[lizing] it by granting licenses. If it is wrong to sell it, as I think it is, I can see no reason why I should participate in that wrong by legalizing it. If there is no power given us in the Charter to prohibit the sale, and there are persons who chose to take the responsibility of dealing out to their fellow men a poison alike destructive of health, happiness, reputation, property and life, reducing to beggary, wretchedness and despair, the widow and the helpless orphan, let them do it; to their own master they must give account, and so must I, and I much prefer not to be in any measure responsible for such results. It has also seemed to me very inconsistent for a City Government to license a part of its inhabitants to make men drunkards, and at the same time enact penal Ordinances, establish Courts, and maintain at heavy expense a police to punish the poor drunkard for patronizing those licensed establishments. Certainly, if it were not for such patronage men would not seek a license to pursue such a business.
I do not admit, however, that there is not sufficient power to prohibit the traffic. The Charter authorizes the Common Council to “license,” “regulate” and “restrain” the selling or giving away of intoxicating liquors and in my opinion the prohibition of the sale or giving away, is the most legitimate and effectual restraint that can be exercised in relation to it. I would therefore recommend the Council to refuse to license the sale of intoxicating liquors after the first day of April, (the time when all our present licenses expire,) and also to pass an Ordinance, if necessary, with ample penalties, prohibiting the sale after that date. Such action could not, I think, be counted unwarrantable as it would be but to anticipate by a brief period what will undoubtedly soon become the law of the land, by the final adoption, by the people, of the Prohibitory Law passed by our late Legislature. In conclusion, upon this topic, let me say that I can not but cherish the hope that those of my fellow citizens who hold different opinions from my own on this question, having, as was their undoubted right to do, done their utmost to secure the ascendancy of their views, and having been fairly defeated in the attempt, will now, according to the genius of our institutions, yield to the clearly expressed will of the majority and cheerfully acquiesce in, if not co-operate with the enforcement of the laws against the traffic in intoxicating liquors. I am aware that in urging you, gentlemen, not to grant licenses, I am advocating a policy which will deprive me of some $500 fees to which I would be entitled if the practice of licensing should be continued; but I can only say that it seems to me if the hundreds were multiplied into thousands it could not change my views or influence my actions.
Should the Council differ with me upon the propriety of licensing, I would then advise another alternative, that is, to grant licenses to such persons as desire to take them at the maximum price fixed by the charter, that is $300 per year, for three months from the first day of April next. In this connection, I wish to bespeak your active co-operation, in closing all places where liquor is sold upon the Sabbath day. Our city has too long been disgraced and the holy Sabbath profaned, by the practice which has heretofore prevailed, of keeping those places open, and suffering them to be the resort of those who disregard the sacredness of that day as well as the feelings and rights of those who desire to spend it in the manner designed and commanded by its Author; and I am determined to close them if there is sufficient authority in the laws and power in the police force of the city to accomplish it.
Next of kin to the evil just named, and scarcely second to it either in extent or in its ruinous effects upon the public morals, especially of our youth, are the Gambling Houses with which our city abounds. Large and elegantly furnished rooms are provided and rendered inviting by almost every conceivable appliance, to induce our young men to frequent them, and engage in their fascinating and exciting games, almost inevitably leading to their ruin, and often to serious pecuniary losses to other parties. I would therefore suggest the propriety of increasing the penalty for keeping billiard tables and ball alleys to a sum which, if it shall not operate as an entire prohibition of them, will at least greatly lessen their numbers. It would be just as well to license these houses at once as to continue the present trifling penalty, which indeed has no more effect in restraining the evil than a license at the rate of five dollars per month.
I have said that the temperance issue was fairly before the voters at the recent election; but lest I should be misunderstood, allow me to say that I do not claim that this was the only issue.
My opponents, and almost the entire public press of this city, volunteered to place me and the gentlemen associated with me in an antagonistic position to our fellow citizens of foreign birth. This issue was made not by us, but by our opponents. So far as I was concerned, no paper in the city was authorized to announce my name as a candidate much less to define my position upon any subject. Since, however, it has been done, and I have been publicly denominated and denounced as the “Know Nothing” candidate for the Mayoralty, and as a portion of my fellow citizens on this very account, and on account of my supposed hostility to them, have thought it necessary to engage in a series of measures for my defeat, unprecedented probably, in the annals of this or any other city, I deem it right in this place distinctly to define my position on the questions involved in this issue. First of all, then, let me say, that I should feel it beneath me as a man, much more so as a public officer, to make any distinction either in my personal or official treatment of my fellow-citizens, on the single ground of their nationality. As a man I have only to discover the broad seal of our common humanity, to make him who wears it my brother, and to make me his friend. As an officer, I have only to see one of the great brotherhood seeking a home in our city and the protection of our laws, and I rejoice to bid him welcome and to proffer him the boon of liberty and equal justice, which he here seeks.
When, however, I come to count the true friends of our country, and those to whom our institutions may be safely committed, I am frank to confess, gentlemen, and I know many, both of native and foreign birth, who think with me, I cannot be blind to the existence in our midst of a powerful politico-religious organization, all its members owning, and its chief officers bound under an oath of allegiance to the temporal, as well at the spiritual supremacy of a foreign despot, bolding avowing the purpose of universal dominion over this land, and asserting the monstrous doctrine, that this is an end to be gained, if not by other means, by coercion and at the cost of blood itself. Against such doctrines and such schemes, gentlemen, I wish to be known as taking my stand, and to their defeat I must cheerfully consecrate my talents, my property, and if need be my life.
And, finally, on this subject and in a word, I ask all classes of persons, foreign as well as native, as a general principle of public policy, to whom can the affairs of this country, the administration of its laws, it liberties and its constitution, be so properly committed, in whose hands can it be hoped they will be so safe as in those of the men who were born under their shadows, whose first vital breath was drawn in their atmosphere, whose youth as well as manhood has drank into their spirit, whose fathers planted, and whose fathers blood nourished them into life?
With these suggestions, upon some of the leading topics which will come under your notice, allow me to conclude, gentlemen, by reminding you that responsibilities of no ordinary character are devolved upon us. Our fellow citizens are looking to us for important reforms in the government of our city, and for an efficiency and wisdom in the administration of its affairs suitable to the commanding position to which it has rapidly risen, and to the number and magnitude of the interests it has come to embrace. In the selection of persons to be placed in charge of these interests and to fill the various offices at your disposal, I trust you will lay aside all mere personal considerations and preferences, and that your selections will be made with single reference to the integrity and competency of the parties chosen.
In the discharge of my duties, it will be my purpose, as the presiding officer of the Council, without partiality to hold each member of the Board to a strict observance of the rules of order and decorum, and to treat all with that respect and courtesy which in return I hope to receive from them. At the same time a consciousness of my inexperience and many deficiencies, impels me, gentlemen, to bespeak for myself, thus early, your constant forbearance and kind consideration.—Thus, I trust, we may work together, both harmoniously and successfully for the interests of our beloved city.
Our duties will be arduous, and we shall often feel ourselves oppressed by their weight, as well as by the painful sense of responsibility which they impose upon us. But, on the other hand, gentlemen, we may feel ourselves sustained and cheered by the consideration that if we labor well, we labor not in vain. At the moment we enter upon our duties more than seventy thousand of our fellow men are looking to us, as the guardians of their rights and the conservators of their interests. At this moment, also, our young city which has sprung up like a thing of fancy in the bosom of this garden of the West, is an object of greater attraction and admiration, not only on this continent, but in Europe, than any other city has ever been, and hither are flocking not only representatives of almost all nations, in unprecedented multitudes, but here also are concentrating the capital and the grand commercial enterprises of men of different lands. Those who are charged with the government of such a city, gentlemen, need not despise their work. But, another and still higher class of interests present themselves to our keeping and come to inspire us with a sense of the sacredness of our trust. I have alluded to the youth of our city. Be it remembered by us, that while yet in its youth it waits to receive from the hands of those who govern it the bias which is to grow into its maturity and to determine the character of its age. The germs of physical health or unhealth, physiology teaches us, are laid in infancy. The sapling of a year you may bend to your will, cut away the gnarl from its surface and give symmetry and beauty to its form. But with the old oak you can do no such thing. Crooked, gnarled, jagged, just as you find it you must leave it. Now, gentlemen, this city—and not this city alone, but this wide surrounding country of which it is the acknowledged centre, to which it is linked by a thousand daily interchanges, and into which, as a great reservoir, healthful or poisoned, it is constantly pouring its healthful or its death-giving streams—this city, and to a great extent, this whole country around it, are waiting to receive their moral as well as their physical impress, that which they will wear to their latest age.
I do not say that it is ours alone to stamp that impress. We have many and noble friends and coadjutors in this work—fellow citizens, to whom the interests of morality and religion are dear. Christian churches, always fountains of the highest moral influence; schools and humane and benevolent institutions, the effective auxiliaries of social refinement and elevation—these are our friends and coadjutors. Let them know that they have friends in those to whom they have committed the direction of our municipal affairs, and under our combined efforts our city shall become as eminent for its moral characters as it is for the commercial facilities and material resources with which the lavish hand of a beneficent Providence has crowned it.
- Daily Democratic Press (Chicago), March 14, 1855, p. .