Inaugural Address of Mayor Thomas Dyer
March 11, 1856
This speech is recorded as it first appeared in print. Archaic spelling and misspellings in the original document have not been corrected.
In assuming the duties of Mayor of Chicago, custom as well as propriety has made it necessary that the person chosen to that office should present some general remarks, indicating the course of policy marked out by himself for the administration of municipal affairs during his term of office. In performing this duty, fellow citizens, my remarks shall be brief. To enter into details cannot be expected, and I shall leave them to time, which develops all things. Nor is it required that in general observations I should extend my remarks, because it is well known that I was nominated as a candidate for Mayor as a member of a political party; that I was supported and opposed as the nominee of that party against the combination of all other parties, and while I am free to declare, that in all that pertains to the welfare and prosperity of our magnificent city, I shall conduct my office with no view other than that of the general weal and common benefit of all citizens of all parties, candor compels me to declare freely and fully, that my political course, my public policy, my patronage and power shall be devoted to and shaped so as to render Chicago the beneficiary of a successful application to her wants and necessities, of the great cardinal and conservative principles of the National Democratic party. I shall be Mayor of Chicago—of all Chicago—knowing no distinction of party or sect; but I should be false to the friends who elected me, were I to forget for one moment that I am a Democrat, and that I owe my election to the confidence reposed in my fidelity to the political principles of my party.
It is not likely that political friends or political opponents will forget, that in the recent election, party politics were made the issue upon which turned the choice of officers. My opponent was my personal friend, and nothing, I suppose, but the very wide difference in our political sentiments, could have placed us in a position of antagonism. I was the candidate of one political party; against the long established and well known principles of that party were arrayed all the hostile parties and fragments of parties, which, it was supposed, when united, held a large political preponderance in this city. Every issue that could be supposed would draw from me even a single vote, was boldly presented and urged. Renegade Democrats, and men personably respectable and individually estimable, but whose political opinions had received their last modification, while writhing under the mortification of failing to receive office from our party, came forth from the oblivion into which they had shrunk, and at public meetings talked flippantly of “digging out,” and stooping to reach Democrats. They lent their names to “calls,” and to public meetings, invoking the people not to allow a triumph to that party from which they had withdrawn when they discovered that public offices could be filled without requiring their services. Men rejected by the Democratic party as applicants for office, are the natural allies of those who fuse in order to obtain the handling of the public money. The victory of the 4th of March is the most expressive response that could be made to their ill-mannered, ill-tempered and ridiculous appeals. Not only was every anti-Democratic element combined against us, and every feature and principle of the Democratic creed, which might be supposed to be unpopular, presented; not only were all the deeds of violence attributed to persons in Kansas brought to bear upon us, but all the political and personal sins of every individual belonging to our party in Chicago, were heaped upon our backs. I was a Know Nothing one day, and the next was said to have been black-balled. I was represented as the candidate of the saloons on the one hand, and as having voted for prohibition and the quart law on the other. I was accused of being a Douglas man, and a Democrat approving the Nebraska act, and as this was almost the only accusation made against me that was true, it was the only one that I never denied. I refer to these things in order to remind you upon what political grounds I was chosen Mayor, and that it may be known that in the discharge of my duties, I intend to maintain inviolate the principles involved in the contest just terminated.
In regard to that branch of my duties, the appointing power, I wish it to be distinctly understood, that I intend to appoint no man to office who is not, in my opinion, fitted for the place. While I shall have due regard for political friends, I intend, so far as I can, to demonstrate that good, and faithful and competent officers can be obtained, even when political associates are preferred. While I shall make no difference against naturalized citizens on account of their birth, I shall equally respect the native citizen. Birth place shall not influence me for or against applicants for office. It is needless for me, perhaps, to say that I entertain no sentiment or feeling in sympathy with those who would make birth place or creed a test for office, or for the exercise of political right.
Fellow citizens, the grand geographical position of Chicago has long since marked her out as the metropolis of the Mississippi Valley. Her name and her fame is as wide-spread as the commerce of the Union. Grain from Chicago finds its way to every port open to American vessels. Against her growing wealth, her extending prosperity and commercial greatness, rival cities and rival States attempt to raise obstacles and impediments calculated to deter settlement here. One of the most dangerous of these representations against Chicago, is that it is naturally unhealthy, and that she must be scourged annually by some prevailing epidemic. That this has prevailed to some extent to our injury, is quite probable; and the fact that the cholera has visited us one or two seasons has afforded some show of justification for the allegation of unhealthiness in our city. It will, I trust, be the pleasure of the Common Council, to unite with me in taking early steps to do whatever may be in our power, not only to preserve the general health of Chicago, but also to prevent the introduction here of disease in any of its alarming forms. Much can be done to prevent the introduction of those alarming epidemics which have carried off so many of our population in other seasons, and the name of which carries terror to the hearts of all. In everything tending to this end, the City Council shall have my earnest and hearty co-operation. Intimately connected with the preservation of the health of the city, is the subject of a proper and efficacious system of sewerage. A plan of sewerage has lately been accepted by the City Government, and steps have been taken to put it into operation. That the plan of sewerage which has been adopted will be carried out without change or modification before it is completed, is not expected, I suppose, by any one. No work of such magnitude could be planned in a manner which the experience gained in putting it into operation would not modify and change to a very great extent. That this plan will meet, in some of its practical details, obstacles and impossibilities not easily forseen,[sic] is beyond a doubt. It is even possible that it may fail altogether. The City of Chicago will, I have no doubt, cheerfully contribute any fair sum to secure the great blessing of a good system of sewerage; yet it becomes the Government of the City, those whose especial duty it is to guard her interests and protect her treasury, to see that no extravagant expenditures be made, and no great burden of taxation imposed, until practical results will have demonstrated that a wise and beneficial and effective system has been devised and put into operation. I wish not to be understood as professing a want of faith in the wisdom or efficacy of the plan of sewerage adopted by our predecessors. I am not sufficiently acquainted with that plan to be able to express an opinion upon it. I only wish to say, that out of regard to the public interest we shall not rush heedlessly into expenditures upon what must to a great extent be mere experiment. When that experiment shall give practical proof of its value, then we will only be consulting the public good by giving it a liberal and a profitable support. Before making any further large appropriations for this work, I would earnestly recommend as a matter of strict economy, that the subject be thoroughly examined and tested, and for that purpose that the best scientific talent that can be procured in the Union, be employed. This work will cost a very large amount of money, and before embarking upon it we should, at least, have the assurance that if it fail, the very wisest and most experienced, have with us been disappointed in the result.
It is my intention to endeavor to awaken a greater interest in the City Government, and also among all our citizens, real estate owners particularly, to the necessity which exists, and the justice which demands, a more liberal policy than has been pursued towards the great marine interests of Chicago. The greatest obstruction to our marine commerce, and to the whole navigating interest which seeks a market at Chicago, is the ever badly conditioned entrance to our harbor. It is a work which has and ever will require an annual outlay to keep it even in tolerable order. I think it would be a wise economy to have that entrance at once put in a condition suitable to the wants of our city and its rapidly increasing trade. While I am one of those who think that the General Government has expended during many years on harbor improvements, large amounts at points not having a tithe of the national importance or commercial trade of Chicago; and while I am one of those who would now ask of Congress an appropriation to put our harbor in a proper condition, still, I am one of those who know the fact, that the General Government will turn a deaf ear to our wants and our application, and know also that in the meantime, our harbor is daily becoming worse, and our commercial marine, experiencing disaster after disaster, within gunshot of our houses.
Under these circumstances, the City of Chicago must submit to one of three alternatives: She must stand idly by and see her vessels wrecked, or lying off unable to enter our port; or she must leave to shippers and ship owners the heavy burden of cutting a passage for their vessels to our wharves; or she must, with that liberal spirit which would foster all pursuits and callings which pour into her lap the wealth of the North-west, take upon herself the duty of opening her harbor, and keeping it open at her own expense. She is willing to incur a heavy expense, and to impose a heavy tax upon all real estate, and the personal property of her citizens, to secure a good system of sewerage. She is willing to erect hospitals, and keep them in operation at the general expense; for the general welfare. She deals liberally at the general expense for the Fire Department. These are all highly meritorious objects, and the public yield a willing support to them. Real Estate is the grand object of property in Chicago: for all things that render that valuable, that gives it a value unequalled in the annals of any other city, real estate ought to yield a most liberal allowance. The marine commerce of Chicago, has kept even pace with the railroads. Our shippers by vessels have not decreased in number because of the establishment of railroads. The lake commerce of Chicago, and that commerce by way of the canal, which is fed by the trade on the lakes, has kept even with all the other elements of Chicago’s prosperity. It has brought wealth to Chicago. It daily pours into our river its countless tons of freight. Its value to the real estate of Chicago is more than equal to that of our railroads, for the value of our railroads is considerably enhanced by the advantages they enjoy in a connection with the navigation of the lakes. I invoke then, from the real estate of Chicago, a small annual tax in behalf of the navigation interests which are obstructed at the mouth of our harbor. If the General Government will not aid us; those engaged in shipping, cannot, and ought not to be made to bear the whole burden of keeping that harbor open; and will not Chicago extend her liberal fostering care—to this important interest, and contribute to its relief. I will therefore do what is in my power, and I ask a support from the Council to appropriate a reasonable sum at an early day, to aid in opening and keeping open the entrance to our river. The amount necessary for that object will not be a large one, but if applied promptly, and if kept up regularly every season, will do much to augment the business of our shippers, and lessen the burdens they now labor under. The tax necessary to raise the amount required, will be so inconsiderable upon each property holder, that I feel sure no citizen having the welfare of the city at heart, will object to it for a moment.
It is unnecessary for me to refer to the wonderful effects produced upon our city, her trade, her commerce, her real estate, her capital and her population by the introduction of those great highways of fortune-railroads. No city in the Union has been more benefitted by the introduction of railroads than Chicago; no city in the Union has been so fortunate in having so many successful and profitable roads centering in her bounds. But still more remarkable, no city in the Union has been able to secure one-tenth of our railroad facilities without the outlay of large sums in subscription to stock, or loans of her credit. Chicago, as a city, has not invested one dollar in railroads. She stands at present, the recipient of all their immense trade, wealth and business, and yet does not hold one dollar’s worth of stock in them. They have been built without her aid, and in building themselves, they have spread wide and firm the foundations of our prosperity. Inasmuch, as these railroads have made no demands upon the city as a condition precedent to their establishment here, and as they have made Chicago the grand centre of the trade and commerce of the North-west and the Mississippi Valley, as they have voluntarily come hither and made this the starting point of that other great national highway, which is to connect us with our brethren over and beyond the Rocky Mountains, and upon the shores of the Pacific; I think the city which owes so much to railroads, should deal with them with a generous-indeed, a most liberal hand. I am not nor have I ever been a friend of large corporations. In common with my Democratic brethren, I have always regarded large corporations with no very friendly feelings, yet, I think that Chicago, so far as it can be done with a strict regard for private interests and public convenience, should extend to these railroads all those facilities which the enlargement and extension of their business may require. I would treat them with a generous confidence. While I would interpose the shield of the city between the rights of a citizen and either of these corporations, I would extend to them all such facilities that can be extended to them without any loss or injury to any private individual. There is no higher duty in government than to carefully protect the citizen against itself, and against any combination or corporation having wealth and power at its command. Hence in all communities, and among all classes of society, distrust and dread of the overshadowing influence of corporations has been universally felt. It is a natural feeling, and in no breast has it been stronger than in my own. I can never surrender it. I respect it in others, and I do it so much the more readily, because I have seen the power of such corporations, wielded to the wrong and injury of private individuals, and interests and rights which had no other defence than their native justice. That corporations have no souls, has become a proverb. Still I would encourage all such corporations as our railroads, in all that enables them to add wealth to our city, to increase the value of our taxable property, and give facility to the extension of our trade and commerce. I would deal with them as I would with all others, never yield to them the right and power to injure the rights of a private citizen in any manner; but beyond that, I would treat them as I would any citizen engaged in any branch of industry tending to expand our business.
It shall be my endeavor to so conduct the affairs of Chicago, that every possible aid shall be given to the support and encouragement of the common schools. The public schools of the United States are proud monuments of the liberality of our people. They are free to all, and yet supported by the voluntary taxation of the people. I trust that the jealous care which has hitherto marked our protection of the public schools will continue unabated. Let us protect them, foster them, enlarge them, multiply them, until the city of Chicago can boast, that while her population is increasing at an unexampled rate, her free schools have increased at a corresponding rate. To know that there was school accommodation in this city furnished at the public cost, for every child in the city, would be a nobler monument to our beloved city than the stateliest edifice that in other lands yet exists to point out where pomp and grandeur once ruled, and have passed away.
Chicago has just reason to be proud of her Fire Department. Who, that has ever attended a fire in this city, even at mid-winter, that has not witnessed scenes of persevering labor, undaunted courage, skill, activity, energy and all those characteristics of men risking health, and even life, to save and protect the property of their fellow citizens. Conscious that money expended in making that department as complete as possible, in furnishing it with apparatus and all the other requisites of a thorough establishment, would be but true economy, and would lessen the hardships of the gallant men who voluntarily render their services to the public good; I shall be prepared, on all occasions, to approve and sanction the most liberal legislation in behalf of the Fire Department. In this, I shall ask and expect, a willing co-operaton on the part of the Board of Aldermen.
There is one other branch of voluntary organization for the public protection, which, so far as the city government can do so, I would be rejoiced to encourage. I refer to our volunteer military companies. Chicago has citizen soldiery of which she may well feel proud. These organizations are expensive to the individuals comprising them, and yet their main object is to have in readiness an effective arm to be used only as the last resort by the government, in maintaining law and order, and preserving the property and lives of our citizens. While I trust that we may never see the day, that the law will require the aid of a bayonet to enforce the public will, I cannot but feel that the very fact that there is a large organization of citizen soldiers ready at any moment to support the constituted authorities, must act as a preventive of violence on the one hand, and is a sure guaranty to all, that the laws must be executed. I shall be in favor of dealing liberally to this branch of our protective force.
One great source of annoyance and vexation to our citizens, has been the uncertain policy with respect to rates of license. While I intend to recall none of the evils of the past, I think we can remember them with profit. I am in favor of the establishment of a good and effective ordinance respecting the sale of liquor. In framing it, I would so provide, that while excesses should be prevented on the one hand, there shall be no proscription nor prohibition on the other. I will therefore, at an early day, invite the City Council to unite with me in fixing the rate of license at a just and reasonable rate—a rate affording the city a proper revenue, and yet not too high to afford any excuse for its non-payment. This rate, I trust, shall be established permanently, and at once, and that then the subject will be dismissed for the balance of the year.
Licenses for the sale of liquors will not be the only ones requiring our attention. Those issued to persons running vehicles for hire, are surrounded with difficulties and vexatious provisions, which I hope soon to see erased from the Statute Book. Much of the oppression connected with this class of licenses, are the many and onerous fees allowed to city officers. I am in favor of a general abolition of all such fees, commencing, if you please, with those allowed to the Mayor. I am in favor of fixing specific salaries for all offices, and the abolition of all fees. In this way all men may know the fixed rate of each license, and not be compelled to seek it by an examination of the fee bills of two or three officials.
The Police Department will be examined, and active steps taken to remove all license for abuse.
The grade of the city called the high grade, which is now in full force in this city, meets my cordial approval. I hope within the present official year to see it extended with as much despatch as possible, avoiding however, any unnecessary injury to any individual. Intimately connected with the subject of the high grade, is that of paving. Of all these matters, however, I shall have occasion hereafter to communicate with the Council more in detail.
In conclusion, fellow citizens, I shall endeavor to administer the city government upon principles of strict economy. It shall be my endeavor to deal liberally in all our undertakings, and to pay a fair price for all work performed for the city. But in awarding contracts, and making improvements, favoritism, I trust, shall be utterly excluded. I think there is wide room for economy in the support of our municipal government, and so far as that economy can be practised, I shall do it.
In all things pertaining to my duty as Mayor of Chicago, I shall endeavor, to the best of my judgment, to so conduct myself, that the whole city shall be benefitted, and wishing that in this determination I may have the support of my fellow citizens; I now proceed to the business of the office to which I have been chosen.
- Daily Democrat, 1856.
- Illinois State Archives. Chicago City Council Proceedings Files, March 11, 1856.