Inaugural Address of Mayor Isaac L. Milliken
March 15, 1854
This speech is recorded as it first appeared in print. Archaic spelling and misspellings in the original document have not been corrected.
Fellow Citizens and Gentlemen of the Common Council:
By the will of the majority of the voters of our city expressed through the Ballot Box, at our late Municipal Election, I have been called to preside over your deliberations for the present municipal year.
It is with pride I am able to state that it is to the laboring classes, principally, I am indebted for the position I now occupy.
I shall enter upon the duties of my office untramelled. I have pledged myself to no party, sect, creed, or interest; except the pledge that I have just made before you, and in presence of Almighty God, to the interest of the city. It will be my ambition to redeem that pledge.
I am aware that I have taken upon myself a heavy responsibility. The unprecedented increase in the population, resources and business of our city, demands the combined wisdom and executive ability of the municipal authorities; and, Gentlemen of the Common Council, I demand and expect your confidence and support in the discharge of the arduous duties devolving upon me. It will give me pleasure, with that confidence and support to co-operate with you in whatever measures your wisdom may desire for the government of the city.
The Legislature of our State has conferred upon you the power to legislate for our city to a limited extent. That power should be used with great discretion, and every act meet with due deliberation.
Our citizens, a large portion of whom are foreigners by birth, coming from different parts of Europe, speak various languages; nevertheless, the masses are law-abiding, peaceable and industrious, cheerfully submitting to good and wholesome laws. This is obvious to any one making the contrast between our city and others of equal importance in the Union. The absence of violent outbreaks and riots is the best evidence of the attachment of the masses to our institutions.
All laws should be made for the general good, and although such laws may sometimes conflict with individual interests, a firmness on the part of the Executive officers, and the patriotism of the citizens, will always triumph over opposition, from whatever quarter.
Gentlemen you have been called upon by your constituents to discharge no ordinary duties. The well-being of our growing city depends in a great measure upon you; for not only will the acts of this Council be felt during the present, but for years to come.
It is hoped that all party and sectional animosities will be kept out of your Councils, and that there will be a united effort on your part to advance the general interests of the city.
Your early attention will be called to the peculiar state of the finances. Although the credit of the city stands fair, and its general resources are ample, yet the immediate demands upon the Treasury, and the limited available resources to meet those demands, require great skill and economy in that department. The late Council has anticipated largely the resources of the city for the present year. The Charter limits the Council to the use of the credit of the city to the extent of one hundred thousand dollars in any one year. The purchase of the Park of the West Division, has drawn upon that credit to the amount of sixty thousand dollars, with the provision that one third of that amount be assessed upon the property deemed benefitted. Proper steps should be taken immediately to make and collect that assessment. The collection of special assessments should also be urged with more vigor. The uncollected assessments for improvements, which are already completed, together with those for others in progress of completion, if collected with promptness, would do much to provide for the wants of the Treasury.
The past year has been one of unexampled health in our young and vigorous metropolis. Whilst this continues, however, we should not forget the past scourges of the cholera. We should recollect, also, that the completion of the Illinois Central Railroad brings us in close proximity with the malarious districts of the South. It is important, therefore, that we employ all means in our power to promote the permanent health of the city. Among the most important is a thorough system of sewerage. Former Councils have given this subject some attention, but comparatively little has yet been done. It is hoped that you will give it due consideration.
I would call your attention to the importance of adopting such measures as you may deem advisable for the purchase of a site for a City Hospital, and the erection thereon of a building suited to our present wants, and that may be enlarged as the wants of the city may demand.
A sufficient supply of pure and wholesome water is indispensable to the health of our city. Although a much larger sum has been expended for that purpose than was at first anticipated, and the time long since past when we had a right to expect the completion of that work so far as to furnish the most densely populated portions of the city with a sufficient supply of water; yet it is evident that more means will be required to render the works available to the extent required. With this view, the Legislature have authorized you to make a loan for that purpose, and there is no doubt that a matter of so much importance will receive from you due consideration, and that there will be nothing on your part to retard the completion of this important work.
Our Common Schools, the bulwark of our free institutions, deserve, from your hands, due consideration and attention. The fund provided by the wisdom of the General Government for their support, of which you are made the guardians, should be held sacred: any attempt to divide it, or divert it from its legitimate use be met with firmness and resisted with determination. It is a fund of the common people for the support of Common Schools. Great care should be taken that those schools are conducted upon the most liberal principles. All matters of a sectarian tendency should be kept out, and nothing that the most fastidious of any religious faith could reasonably object to, should be taught therein. Parents have an undoubted right to the religious training of their children, in their own faith, and there should be no attempt made to interfere with that right by our Common Schools. The Board of Inspectors recommended to the late Council the appointment of a Superintendent; accordingly that office was created; and it is hoped that its operations will be beneficial. It will undoubtedly be found necessary to create new school districts, and build new school houses for the accommodation of the rapid growth of the city, the present year.
Our Fire Department under the management of its late efficient and deservedly popular officers, has prospered, and become, by its activity and promptness in the discharge of its arduous duties and also by its uniform orderly bearing, the just pride of our citizens. There should be no neglect on the part of the Council to supply all the reasonable wants of this department, to the end that it may always be ready for any emergency that may arise. It will be necessary to build one, and perhaps two Engine Houses. With those exceptions, the respective companies are well provided for.
The Police Department, an important branch of our City government, requires from the Council particular attention. Upon the vigilance and integrity of this department depend, in a great measure, the peace, quiet and good order of the city, as well as the safety of the persons and property of the citizens. It has been found necessary during the past year , to increase the force of this department, to meet the wants of the city. Our peculiar location, important commercial position, the termination of numerous railroads in our city, require that this department should be efficient.
It will be found necessary to take some early action to make the city Bridewell more productive. The amendments to the city charter provide for the sentencing of persons convicted in the Recorder’s Court, of petty offences, to labor in the Bridewell. This will undoubtedly increase materially the number of convicts in that institution, and some means should accordingly be devised to make their labor productive.
Our Harbor, the principal source of our commercial importance, should receive at your hands all the consideration that a matter so closely allied to the prosperity of our city merits. The General Government has given to the city the right to excavate a portion of the grounds bordering on the river known as Fort Dearborn, for the purpose of straightening and enlarging the Harbor. This is an important improvement, and will undoubtedly be carried into effect as soon as circumstances will admit.
The late Council have had under consideration, the propriety of constructing a tunnel under the river, upon which subject they have obtained some information which may be of future service. Anything that will facilitate the crossing of the river will prove of great advantage to all portions of the city. The late improvements in the construction of bridges will do much to promote this object.
I would call your attention to the importance of establishing a uniform grade for sidewalks in the business portions of the city, and of requiring that it be strictly adhered to. This subject has been too long neglected for the interest of the public.
In conclusion, Gentlemen, I would express the hope, that whatever may be done by us in our official capacity, may be for the good of our beloved city, and that through the interposition of Divine favor, we may see our city prosper under our administration.
- Illinois State Archives. Chicago City Council Proceedings Files, March 15, 1854.