Inaugural address of Mayor Carter H. Harrison, Sr.
April 17, 1893
This speech is recorded as it first appeared in print. Archaic spelling and misspellings in the original document have not been corrected.
Aldermen of Chicago:
Foully slandered and shamelessly abused by a reckless press, but sustained and honored by 115,000 of the free and independent voters of Chicago; 115,000 composed of all democrats except a few sore-heads, and composed besides of the best elements of the republican party; men who believed in fair play and honest endeavor; men who believed in business interests being protected—I stand before you again, for the fifth time, chosen to be the mayor of Chicago.
When years ago I stood before you, aldermen, of Chicago, and took the oath which fitted me for this high office, Chicago had less than half a million population; to-day it is the sixth city on the face of the globe, the second in America in population, and the first city on earth in pluck, energy, and determination. Standing thus, I feel deep anxiety lest I may not fulfill the expectation of the vast majority of my fellow citizens who have honored me.
All I have to say to you, aldermen of Chicago, and through you to its citizens, is that my endeavor will be always to further the interests of this city of which I am so proud, of this city which I entered when it was but an overgrown village, but of which I now enter into the management as the great and successful giant of the west. It will be my endeavor to justify the wishes of the suffragists who placed me here, and I earnestly ask your co-operation in helping to wipe out the slander thrown upon our good name by a venal and corrupt press.
It has been spread broadcast over this land, and has even crossed the briny deep, that the electorate that has chosen your Chief Magistrate was an electorate of thieves , thugs, gamblers, and disreputables. We stand before the world with a black mark upon our character. Let it be your and my endeavor to wipe this slander out and prove to the world that Chicago is a city governed by its best people, and that its Mayor and its Common Council govern it on principles of business and respectability.
Under the charter I am a part of the City Council of Chicago. It will be my endeavor to co-operate with you, and I earnestly ask you to co-operate with me in proving to the world that the city that has been honored by having placed in its midst the Columbian Exposition is a city which deserved to have that Exposition placed in it.
I earnestly ask you to co-operate with the Mayor, as he pledges himself to co-operate with you, in showing and proving to the world that Chicago is not only the second city of America in population, the first city of America in pluck and energy, but a city of good government, of honest and fair dealing, and that the world can come here and feel that its pocketbook and its health are safe while it stays in our midst.
Our first duty, gentlemen of the City Council of Chicago, is to keep the city in a healthy condition, so that when the world comes here it will not enter upon a charnel house. I pledge my honor to you and to my fellow-citizens to do all that lies in my power to protect the health of the city. It is a part of our duty to present Chicago to the world in a gala dress, with a clean front to it. It will be my earnest endeavor to keep the city clean, not only in its heart, but throughout its entire dimensions, so that the people of the world can come here and say to us: “The young city is not only vigorous, but she laves her beautiful limbs daily in Lake Michigan and comes out clean and pure every morning.”
I need not make recommendations to you. The Mayor who has just retired has expressed to me and to you his heartfelt wishes for our success. I thank him most earnestly for his kindness, and pledge to him that I shall endeavor to carry out all of his good wishes and to give the people of Chicago the right, at least, to say that he did not falsely prophecy about us.
I will not attempt to detain you tonight by laying down to you a policy. As occasion arises during the next two years I shall present to you curtly such matters as I think ought to be laid before you.
It will be my endeavor, as a member of the city council, to sit with you in your sessions, and to be a part of this body. I only hope that you will be satisfied with the regular weekly meetings, for, although I am somewhat past the age of youth, and though there be wheels in my head, my fellow citizens have shown me that the wheels are composed of flowers, and that my old eagle sits perched upon the wheel.
I shall ask your co-operation; I shall endeavor to preside over you fairly. I shall listen to you with great pleasure when you bring into the body of which I am now a member measures for the good of the city, and I promise you that if you bring in any that I do not consider right I will be very sure to send in the next week a veto. If I do, I hope that you will not consider it an act of unkindness on my part. You, as members of the City Council, have to act much more on your own responsibility than does the Mayor. You have not a paid body of men behind you to direct you in your deliberations. The Mayor will have at his side an able corps of men, well paid, to give him counsel, and therefore if he should claim sometime to know a little better than you it is because these paid men have aided him in arriving at just conclusions.
Therefore, I earnestly ask of you that you will not consider it a return to you without the Mayor’s signature of any measure that you may pass a discourtesy, for the Mayor will simply say to you, and I now say to you, he returns it to you because you have hastily considered it, and that he has considered it more maturely.
I ask, too that you will bear with me in presiding over you. If I make mistakes in parliamentary rules, it will be mistakes of the head and not of the heart; and being a somewhat positive man, I expect to be tolerably positive in my rulings. I will ask you not too often to appeal from the Mayor’s decision.
Gentlemen, we are now entered upon our work for the next two years. It will be—certainly a part of it, the next six month—the most trying period of Chicago’s history, except when the besom of destruction passed over it at its mighty conflagration. The eyes of the world are upon us; visitors by the million will be here in our midst. Let us prove to the world that Jefferson’s theory that “men are capable of self-government,” was no utopian theory, and let us prove to the denizens of Europe that Chicago, the offspring of freedom and of constitutional government, is able to govern itself, and that its City Council and Mayor will be capable of administering the affairs of this great city.
We are now ready for business, and as your Mayor I shall proceed at once to present to Council the names of those whom I have chosen to be a part of my official family for the next two years.
- Chicago City Council. Journal of the Proceedings, April 17, 1893, p. 40–41.