Inaugural Address of Mayor Carter H. Harrison, Sr.
April 28, 1879
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—
The welfare of nearly 500,000 people depends, to a large extent, upon the manner in which you may, during the next twelve months, discharge your official duties. A city sprung into existence within your own memory, but already the third in America in population, and in commercial importance ranking among the ten leading cities of the world, will have its growth and progress more or less advanced or retarded by your action. Its citizens have, within the past eight years, struggled under difficulties sufficient to paralyze any other people. Those difficulties with them have only called forth unexampled energies. They know not how to despair.
To manage the affairs of such a community is worthy of a proud ambition, and should beget in its representatives a sense of deep and earnest responsibility.
Rising from the ashes of two conflagrations unequaled in the past, Chicago and her people, burdened by an enormous debt, were at once confronted by
A FINANCIAL REVULSION,
which has disturbed the social foundations of nations, Labor has struggled for bread, and has often been forced to go without sufficient food. Real estate, the foundation of wealth, which furnishes four-fifths of the city’s revenues, has been laid under a heavy load of taxation. Rents being low, and sales practically impossible, land has been unable to meet its obligations. Taxation locks up money in the hands of the money dealer, where it escapes the eye of the collector, thus forcing legitimate enterprise to bear an unequal burden. This stifles energy; deters investment, and will, unless checked, dry up the sources of revenue. Chicago expects you to give her relief. She will forgive honest mistakes, but she demands of you worthy and earnest diligence.
On me, gentlemen, devolves the duty and responsibility of carrying out your will, and of enforcing the laws. I accept the responsibilities with diffidence, and shall endeavor to perform the duty with an eye single to the good of the public. I have but one policy to declare. That is, to protect the lives, the property, and health of the city, at all times and in every emergency, and to do it in an honest and economical manner. I recognize but one science in finance. That is, to collect the revenues and live within them. Debts can be wiped out in but one way-by payment. Surplus can be acquired only by saving. Saving can be made only by honest expenditures for wise and legitimate purposes, and by preventing all leakage. The bonded debt of Chicago amounts to about $13,000,000. If you will aid me, gentlemen, in an economical administration of affairs, I believe it will be possible to fund a part of this debt so as to save from one to two per cent. per annum. The people will cheerfully submit to
MANY TEMPORARY INCONVENIENCES
for so permanent a relief.
Life and property in cities are protected by the police. A corrupt police is a gnawing cancer. The citizen lying down at night should not only be protected, but should feel secure. Apprehension of a fancied danger is as disgusting as that of a real one. I shall endeavor, as far as may be possible in my short term, to make the police department brave, honest and efficient. It will be my aim to have the star worn by none but proper men.
Ours is a cosmopolitan people, aggregated from many nationalities within a little more than one generation of man. Each of the several elements has its own ideas of social and religious life, its own civilization. They have one bond of union, devotion to republican institutions and energy in pursuit of fortune. Each should study to accommodate itself as much as possible to the social life and prejudices of each of the others and of the whole. For any one to attempt to make a procrustean bid, to which the others should be forced to fit, would be both ungenerous and unwise. Time alone can make them all homogeneous.
I can not hope to satisfy all. I shall endeavor, however, to irritate none unnecessarily, but shall try to so execute the laws and ordinances as to do the greatest good to the greatest number avoiding doing an injury to any rightly acting man.
A GOOD SANITARY CONDITION
is indispensable to the prosperity of the city. But sweet scents may not be its necessary concomitant; nor is the converse necessarily true. Two[sic] many are alarmed at an unpleasant but innocuous odor, and inhale with pleasure a sweet perfume laden with disease. I shall endeavor to foster healthfulness, and yet not destroy our great commercial interests. Cleanliness is indispensable to health, but the people should remember that Chicago has no money in her treasury, is forbidden to borrow, and is forced to live on revenues not collectable for nearly a year. She will perform wonders, but impossibilities must not be expected.
The constitution of the land guarantees to all citizens the right to peaceably assemble to petition for redress of grievances. This carries the right to free discussion. It also guarantees to the people the right to keep and bear arms. But it does not give to any one the right to use arms to threaten or to resist lawful authority. The genius of our institutions rests on law. To it and its officers, all good citizens should appeal for protection. I will protect all in their lawful rights.
Some persons fear an
ORGANIZED RESISTANCE TO AUTHORITY
in Chicago. I do not. I do not believe that there is in our midst any considerable body of men mad enough to attempt such folly. For they must know they would be but as chaff compared to the solid masses, who love our institutions, and are determined that law and order shall reign. If, however, there be any so ignorant as to think differently, or so rash as to attempt violence, they will quickly find that they have made a fatal blunder. Our honest citizens and brave police can, and will, protect the city.
Gentlemen, in sending to you names for confirmation for positions, I shall be guided first and above all by the interests of the city, secondarily, by the interest of true democracy. I have been chosen to fill this chair by a great political party. But its 25,685 voters expect and demand that I be the Mayor of the whole people.
- Chicago City Council. Journal of the Proceedings, April 28, 1879, p. 4–5.