Inaugural Address of Mayor John Wentworth
March 10, 1857
The speech below is from the files of the Municipal Reference Collection and is reproduced as first published.
Gentlemen of the Common Council:
It is with a deep sense of my responsibility to the Creator of the Universe that I have just taken my official oath. By endowing us with a proverbial healthiness of climate and accumulating upon us each year new commercial advantages, Divine Providence has quickened a city into existence with a rapidity unparallelled in the history of the world. During a residence in this city of a little over twenty years, I have witnessed over one hundred thousand added to its population, and over one hundred millions to its wealth. I have seen other places, once considered our rivals, become our tributaries and dependencies. I look back to the settlers of 1836, and find them now living to an extent that incontestibly proves that, for a period of twenty years, the inhabitants of no other city have been blessed with such general good health, notwithstanding the inability of our accommodations and improvements to keep pace with the wants of an increasing emigration.
RESPONSIBILITY TO THE PEOPLE.
I am also deeply sensible of my responsibility to the people who, after the bitterest contest ever known in the city, elected me by a majority larger than was ever before given to any candidate for the same office. During this, the only year I shall hold the office, I shall devote my entire attention to the interests of the city. But never having, in any way, been connected with our municipal government, I shall labor under the disadvantage of lacking experience. This may have been, however, one of the causes of my election; as, whilst all agree that abuses have crept into our municipal affairs, there is a dispute as to when they commenced, and in what years they have increased the most. In this respect, the Mayoralty has been committed to an impartial hand; and I shall always receive with pleasure from my fellow-citizens any communications, confidential or otherwise, designed to assist me in reforming abuses, retrenching expenses, or in any other way requiting the people for the honor which they have conferred upon me.
Amid so many matters of local importance demanding the immediate attention of our municipal government, I should decline to follow the example of my worthy predecessor by alluding to questions of national importance, even did not my undeviating record for ten years in Congress and over twenty years as conductor of a public newspaper, render it an act of supererogation. My consistent sympathy, all this while, for the predominance of free labor in our infant Territories, could give me no other political position, after the test was made, than with that organization which finds its platform in the Declaration of American Independence, the Ordinance of 1787, the Constitution of the United States, and the Democratic Republican writings of Jefferson and Jackson.
TWO PRECEDING ADMINISTRATIONS.
Consequently, with the two immediately preceding administrations I could have had no political sympathy. The doctrines of the former would proscribe a man for the unavoidable accident of his birth place, whilst those of the latter would proscribe him for his sympathies in favor of free labor. As foreign labor constitutes the great bulk of free labor, those who would enfranchise our new territories favor liberal laws towards foreign emigration. Hence, at our recent election, we saw the ultra “Know Nothing” who professes a desire to proscribe foreign labor as the competitor of slave labor, and the ultra pro-slavery foreigner who professes a desire to proscribe everything in the shape of “Know Nothingism” voting the same ticket. Much as they professed to be opposed to each other, the friends of the last two administrations combined against the great democratic republican reform movement of this year. In another respect do I differ from both these administrations, of which the last seems to have inherited its master spirits from the first. They were both inaugurated after the manner of coronations in the old world. Whole days were given up to drawing about the successful candidates in triumphal processions, and all their supporters were annoyingly jubilant. When the polls closed on Tuesday night last, and my election being probable, I at once sought retirement and have preserved it ever since. I had no taste for the triumphal processions of my predecessors. I had no ear for the shouts of the victorious. I felt as if my friends had done their duty and that they now expected me to do mine. This thought has haunted me ever since. My friends expect me to do my duty! I invoke the aid of Omnipotence, and ask the co-operation of all good men in the invocation, that He point out to me the right and give me strength to pursue it. And thus, although I have not been installed with the triumphal eclat of my predecessors, I hope to retire at the end of the year self-satisfied at least that neither the interests of our city nor the cause of constitutional liberty, which are the sub-stratum of the political stratum of the political organization that elected me, have received a single wound at my hands.
PURITY OF THE BALLOT.
In the construction of our Government, our fathers made our offices of limited tenure, and then provided for a freedom of suffrage that would enable us peaceably to reject or confirm all men in authority. In most other Governments, revolutions can only be accomplished by an appeal to arms, and, then oftentimes not until after a profuse expenditure of blood. The continuance of ruling dynasties in most nations depends upon the power of a mercenary soldiery to stifle the struggles of the oppressed. Here the success of dynasties depends upon the purity of the ballot box. Not only are the rights of men to vote defined and protected by liberal laws, but the secret ballot system has been adopted to prevent even a knowledge of the unbiased judgment of the citizen from reaching men who might be disposed to call in question the manner of his exercising his right of suffrage. Upon election day, all qualified voters are supposed to stand upon an equality. The poor man has an equal voice at the polls with the rich man; the strong with the weak; the adopted with the native citizen. He, then, who deprives one of his fellow-citizens of a free access to the ballot box, deprives him of one of his inalienable rights, and acts the part of tyrant and an oppressor. And he who votes, having no right to vote, or is accessory to the voting of others who have no such rights, perpetrates a fraud upon his countrymen, and strikes a blow at the only safe-guard of our Republican institutions—the purity of the ballot box. Without this purity, our right to chose our own rulers, to a trial by jury, and to the writ of habeas corpus, and all our other boasted rights would exist only in name. In order to prevent abuses at the places of holding elections, it has been customary in most instances to give the minority one of three Inspectors and one of the two Clerks, and also to allow challengers of each party to stand, under the protection of the police, at the polls. It has also been customary to erect the barricades, which are used to keep off the crowd from the polls, in such a manner that all persons outside can see who votes, and have an opportunity to challenge, if they desire to do so, and then for the voters to take their places in a line and await their regular turn for voting. This custom, properly adhered to, will make access to the polls as free as the right to vote. And it has been adhered to in most of the wards of our city. But, in a few, it has not been; and, as might have been expected, serious disturbances have occurred, one citizen has been killed and several others severely wounded. An assault was make upon one of our polls by a mob of men laboring under the stimulating effects of ardent spirits, and the Inspectors were twice driven away.
All this exhibits not only a spirit incompatible with our republican institutions, but should warn us of the necessity of employing a more energetic police, so as to guard against such outrages in future. If the death of this citizen and the injuries to the others were caused through legitimate efforts to exercise the right of voting, there is no doubt but the city will be held responsible by our Courts for the consequences; whilst the guilty persons will, in all probability, escape through the difficulty of identifying individual men amid such large numbers.
These disturbances, at the polls, generally originate with these classes who have the greatest possible interest in preserving the purity of the ballot box; and it is not probable that they would thus be made the victims of others’ schemes to destroy the poor man’s safe-guard against corrupt and oppressive rulers were it not the too general custom of candidates to distribute ardent spirits freely on such occasions; and the wrongs complained of were undoubtedly perpetrated by men in a state of intoxication, who would be the last to perpetrate them in their right mind. It is greatly to be regretted that the law, like public opinion, does not hold the instigators of these wrongs responsible, instead of the intoxicated perpetrators thereof.
It will be a source of great regret to me if, under my administration, any legal voter, whether native or foreign born, shall be deprived by superior force of his right to deposit his own ballot, or to challenge the right of another to do so whom he believes not entitled to it. It is one of the glories of the great Democratic Republican mission that its labors are not circumscribed by the boundaries of this Republic. It crosses both oceans, visits every clime, seeks out the oppressed, brings them here, and crowns them co-sovereigns with us who are descended from the patriots of the Revolution. Mortified, indeed, shall I be if any adopted citizen, during my official term, shall have occasion to write his friends in the old world that all the wrongs perpetrated upon the right of free suffrage by the despots there, are perpetrated by a despotic mob here.
Our city has been a great sufferer from the too free use of the pardoning power by State Executives. The most dangerous culprits are those that go in gangs, and they are those who are most frequently pardoned. As soon as one is convicted, the numerous confederates proceed to manufacture public sympathy for his pardon, and not unfrequently abandoned women go from house to house representing themselves to be wives of convicts, begging for assistance in procuring Executive clemency, and sometimes claiming to have a large family of children dependent upon them for support. By offering large sums of money contingent upon the pardon, they obtain it through the aid of persons of apparent respectability, and yet engaged in the disreputable employment of lobby agents about our Legislature. Indeed, this abuse of the pardoning power has encouraged all convicts to hope for its exercise, and none leave here for the penitentiary who have friends or relatives, or money to secure attorneys, without putting in play some machinery to restore them to their original associations. If our present Executive will keep all our Chicago convicts in the penitentiary that are now there or may be sent there during the single year of my administration, he will oblige me at least, and I have no doubt will confer a lasting favor upon our fellow citizens. In connection with this subject, I will allude to an equally faulty practice that has been gradually increasing with our Council. Nearly every evening there is some application for release from our Bridewell, thereby making the Council a sort of Court of Appeals from our Police Justices. We cannot expect our courts to deal with criminals with due severity so long as we are continually pardoning them from their meritorious sentences. Our Police Courts are attended with no small expense; and if their decisions are to be thus rendered void by our Council, it might be better to abolish them at once. The frequent disturbances and violations of our ordinances in the night and on the Sabbath, call aloud for severe sentences from our Police Justices; and it is the duty of the Council to see that these sentences are rendered effective rather than nugatory. I can now foresee no contingency that should make me sign an order to render nugatory the decrees of our courts. Men should keep out of the Bridewell, unless they wish to serve out the full term of their sentences. Properly managed, I have no doubt that our Bridewell would be a source of revenue instead of expense to our city. Breaking stone, with which to Macadamize our streets, would be a healthy employment for the convicts, as well as a lucrative source of income to the city. As at present organized, the Bridewell is a very expensive establishment. I would recommend to the Council to take into consideration the question of hiring out the labor of the convicts, as is now done in our and other state institutions of this character, unless the city shall conclude to furnish material itself for the convict labor.
APPOINTMENTS TO OFFICE.
Our Legislature, at its late session, made material alterations in our city charter. One of these requires that the Mayor shall nominate nearly all the city officers. This change of the appointing power from a small body of men to one man is not in accordance with the spirit of the age. I know of no similar change for many years past. The custom has been to take appointments from a small body and refer them to a larger one, the people. I have endeavored to ascertain the reason of this remarkable change; and I find that it was caused by a general dissatisfaction with the appointees of the Council and more especially with the extortionate salaries received by them. The election being by ballot, no responsibility could be fixed upon any one for an improper choice and the extortionate salaries were supposed to be used to buy off rival candidates or otherwise to secure an election. The late amendment now fixes this responsibility upon the Mayor. He cannot avoid it if he would, and will thus be held responsible for all the acts of his appointees. It cannot be possible that it was the design of the originators of this change in conferring this power upon the Mayor to enable him to restore old dynasties, to reward his kindred, friends or partisans. At least, I do not so interpret it, and as I cannot give the recommendations and petitions of others as an excuse for any unfortunate appointments I may make, I have thus far declined to converse with others in relation to them and I shall continue to do so. I shall first make known my intentions to you and I beg of you to scrutinize all my appointees in the strictest manner possible and to confirm no man unfit for the position or who does not sympathize with the movement to reform our city abuses and economize her expenditures. Whilst I am willing to take all the responsibility of nominations, you must take all the responsibility of the confirmations. No man is qualified to attend to the business of the city who could not earn the amount of his salary in some of the other avocations of life; and, as spring is about opening, I recommend the great mass of applicants for office under our city government to be looking out situations in the various private enterprises now seeking employees, as not only best for themselves, but also the best recommendation of their fitness for employment in a public capacity. For he, who cannot attend to his own business, has been rightly said to be unfit for that of the public. I shall labor to bring into the service of the city a new order of men-men who can get a living without office-men who will labor for reform and economy-men who will not be afraid to do their duty lest it may make them unpopular. I feel as if I had the whole city to select from and that I am indebted to "principles and not men" for my election. I publicly told our citizens before election that, if any man supported me with an expectation of getting office, he would be disappointed, as no man whilst in office who followed office seeking as a means of livelihood was ever known to recommend, much less to carry out, a reform. Being amply provided for himself, he is satisfied with things as they are and asks to have them let alone. I shall send to you in a few days nominations for all the offices. Meanwhile, I hope no one will embarrass me with applications for himself or others. I look upon all my fellow-citizens as candidates and have no doubt but I can find as good men as we ever had who will be willing to accept our offices at much reduced salaries.
Immediately after my name had been mentioned as a candidate for Mayor, men in different banking interests began to consult me as to where I should use my influence to have our city funds deposited; and I could have silenced the main battery used to defeat my election had I been willing to have followed the example of my predecessor. But the doctrine of the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian school in which I was educated and to which all experience makes me the more devoted, taught me that the place for the people’s money is in the people’s Treasury. Whatever money comes into my hands by loans, fees or otherwise will be promptly paid by me to the City Treasurer, and I shall not undertake to evade the letter or the spirit of any law or ordinance which regulates the place of his keeping the money of the city or strive to influence him as to what funds he shall receive or disburse. The use of public monies, however safely, for private purposes, whether as loans to individuals or as a basis for banking, cannot be too severely censured. And through this channel I have no doubt our city has suffered more than through all other channels put together. Money is collected or borrowed for specific purposes, and then deposited at, occasionally, merely nominal rates of interest, but generally without any. This money is worth from two to five per cent. a month. Hence the delay in many of our works. Last season, for example, was one of the very best for improvements ever known. Private improvements had all been finished and all our citizens had banked up their houses for winter, when, all of a sudden, our city officials dashed out and commenced working upon our streets as if it were the month of May instead of December. As might be expected in winter, these works were stopped by snow and frost, and some of our principal thoroughfares have been rendered almost impassable ever since. Now either all these multifarious improvements thus undertaken in winter were commenced without the means to complete them or else there were means and these means have been lying idle or else drawing merely nominal rates of interest, while our city has been paying very high rates for funds to defray its ordinary expenses.
I would particularly call your attention to the great abuses which have crept into the Street Commissioners’ Offices, which are now considered the most lucrative offices in the city and are far more sought after than any others. Chapter 51st, of Ordinances, requires three days labor upon the streets upon the notice of the Street Commissioner, but this can be commuted for fifty cents a day if paid before the expiration of the first of the three days. In default, three dollars and costs are required. A faithful collection and honest expenditure of such a tax would have made a material improvement in our streets, and ought to cover the entire cost of such improvements. But an inspection of the three divisions of the city satisfies me that the Commissioners are either grossly negligent in causing the money to be collected where the labor was not performed, or else grossly dishonest in expending it. And, as their salaries consist in part of a commission upon all they collect, the presumption is that a good portion of it was collected. Whilst I shall recommend that their cases be brought before the Grand Jury unless they can show where the money was expended, or else why they did not report the defaults to the City Attorney for suits, I also urgently recommend the revision of the ordinance touching the duties of Street Commissioners, so as to prevent such abuses for the future. The Commissioners, instead of receiving fees, should be allowed salaries for overseeing the work under the direction of the Committee on Streets and Alleys for each division. Thus, when people wish repairs made or ask where their taxes have been expended, they can be referred to the member of the Committee of Streets and Alleys for their own Ward. With a vigilant City Attorney, perhaps the present ordinance would be sufficient. Yet the present condition of our streets shows the necessity of not leaving so important a matter to any contingency. The ordinance should be made more stringent.
I wish to call your attention to the too frequent custom of tearing up the planks in our streets, and alleys, sidewalks &c., and not restoring them to their original positions. Not only has this been done in distant parts of our city, but within one block of the place in which I am now addressing you, planks are thrown up from their positions in the streets and have been so for months, and that without any excuse, save that it is cheaper to leave them where they are than to restore them, Instance after instance of this kind must come under the daily observation of our City Marshal and City Attorney, who must know that the city is liable for any injuries that may be sustained in consequence of such culpable neglect. Suits against the city for damages arising out of such neglect have been too frequent the past year.
I have frequently noticed attacks, in distant papers, upon the whole of our Chicago hackmen. All vocations have their good and bad men. I know our city has as good hackmen as any other; but it would be strange if it had not some bad ones. From the cursory examination that I have been enabled to give the subject I think our present ordinances with slight alterations, if properly enforced, are sufficient to remedy all real abuses. I would suggest the propriety, however, of giving to every hackman the advantages of a good name and disadvantages of a bad one. The owner of every hack should have his name upon it. A good name is capital in trade. Merchants, in buying out respectable mercantile houses, frequently pay a bonus for the use of the old sign until their character is established. Some of the most honorable men in this and other countries have commenced life as hack-drivers; and there is nothing in the business which should make any honest man hesitate to place his own name on his hack. It will be capital to him with every man whom he pleases in the course of his business. The rates of fare should be conspicuously posted in every hack, and no hackman who designs doing an honest business will object to this.
By a recent amendment of the city charter all doubts of the legality of a commitment to the Reform School are removed, and the city is clothed with power to erect and establish a school either within or without the city limits. The necessity of providing some method of rescuing from a life of crime and infamy the thousands of lads growing up in ignorance and vice in our midst is generally conceded. This institution can no doubt be made an effective means of reform, and should be placed upon a permanent foundation. I hope that the charge of this institution hereafter will be transferred from the committee on police to that of schools, thereby elevating it into an institution for mental cultivation and moral improvement, rather than for the punishment of crime.
As Congress has adjourned without making an appropriation for our harbor, it may be necessary for the Council to make a small appropriation to keep it in necessary repairs. The Chicago Harbor was commenced in 1833 under the administration of General Jackson, and five bills appropriating money to it were made laws under the signature of that distinguished statesman and soldier, amounting in the aggregate to the sum of $162,000. An appropriation was also made under Mr. Van Buren's administration, two under Mr. Tyler’s and one under Mr. Fillmore’s. Presidents Polk and Pierce vetoed all bills in its favor. Whether the Statesman recently inaugurated President will follow the example of a Jackson or a Pierce upon this matter I have no means of judging save from his course when in Congress. In the 28th Congress I recognized him as one of the ablest and most cordial supporters of Harbor Improvements. How far it may have been necessary for him to have given pledges inconsistent with his former votes in order [to] gain the support of the Anti-Jackson school of politicians, I can form no opinion, as his Inaugural Message is entirely silent upon this important subject. Hoping for the best from him, I can advise only such an appropriation as may be absolutely necessary to keep the harbor in repair until the next session of Congress.
The necessities of Railroad Companies should command the promptest liberality. But their mere conveniences should be weighed well when contrasted with the conveniences of the public; and never should they be allowed to override the necessities of the people or the rights of individuals. To compete with companies that have already secured their entrance into our city, it is a necessity that companies desiring an entrance hereafter be allowed a near approach to the centre of business. But it is not a necessity that they be allowed to make up trains or keep cars standing in our streets, or that the streets over which the cars run be in the least out of repair. Past contracts with railroad companies are beyond our reach. But future ones should stipulate that cars should occupy no streets save when in motion, and that these streets be always kept in the best Macadamized condition. Railroad companies have added immensely to the wealth and population of our city, and our liberality to them has been amply remunerated. Our wealth and population will be still more increased by the entrance of the numerous other roads which the increasing wants of the various tributaries to this great commercial metropolis will require.
I consider it one of the strongest proofs of the permanently commanding position of Chicago that every one of the numerous enterprises to divert trade from it, by constructing roads to the south of it, to intersect roads in Indiana from Chicago to the East, have proved ever memorable failures, demonstrating the impotence of man to vacate the decrees of Providence. A late Executive of our State, who used the entire influence of his official position to bring into Indiana, on a line south of our city, a series of railroads from all the prominent points naturally tributary to us, has recently applied to our city for power to enter it with his own road although he has a full outlet to the East without coming here. This application, which amply demonstrates that no road, which avoids this great emporium can prosper, should be granted upon the same terms as the most favored ones; provided that in selling through tickets to the East he shall give passengers the privilege of visiting Chicago at the same rate of fare as if they took the more southerly route. But also I would recommend in negotiations with all companies whose roads enter our city, to have them give their passengers their through tickets at such a rate that it would cost no more to visit our city than it would to stop at any depot outside of us. With these eminently just arrangements perfected, Chicago and her railroad companies could never have adverse interests.
Our school system is based upon those universal principles of right that control Omnipotence in the government of the world and that prompted our fathers to declare all men created free and equal. Every image of his Creator, without distinction of wealth, birth-place, color or doctrine, can have an education here as free as life itself. The adoption of important changes in the manner of conducting our schools by the law of our last legislature will render unnecessary any suggestion upon desired reforms in the details of that system, as those most versed in the knowledge of it think these changes will effect every desired improvement. Two new school houses of the largest size should be erected this year, and three if there are funds enough. The construction of our school houses has been altogether too expensive. Those better acquainted with this subject than myself assure me that private individuals could have had the same buildings constructed for much less sums. This season it is to be hoped that, if there are any architects or contractors capable of wronging so sacred a trust as our School Fund, our Inspectors will see that the building of our school houses is entrusted to others.
The selection of Corporation Newspaper has always been attended with considerable excitement. So desirable have proprietors of different newspapers in our city considered this selection that, for many years, they performed the duty gratuitously. For two years, money was paid for the privilege. One year $100 and another year $350 was paid. But recently the excitement has run into the opposite extreme; and last year the enormous and extortionate sum of $3000 was paid, thereby taxing our citizens to support the partisan press. I recommend that, before the designation of Corporation Newspaper is made, the Council fix the compensation at the mere first cost of setting the type, taking the list of prices established by the Typographical Society as the standard. This will furnish the readers of the corporation newspaper in advance of all other papers the full official proceedings of the Council without cost to the publisher. The expense to the city will be about $2.50 per column.
I also recommend that an ordinance be passed allowing to every proprietor of a daily newspaper who shall copy in full the proceedings of the Common Council as they shall appear in the corporation newspaper, whether English or German newspapers, a sum equal to one-half of that paid the proprietor of the corporation newspaper. To prevent imposition, no paper should receive the advantages of this last provision unless commencing the publication the next week after the designation of the corporation newspaper and continuing through the year. Should all the publishers avail themselves of this advantage, as I have no doubt they will, the cost would be less than it now is, and our proceedings be much more generally read.
The license question I look upon as satisfactorily adjusted. But I cannot resist the impression that too much lenity and partiality have been exhibited in collecting the license fees in our city. Indeed, the belief is very general that many persons, obligated by law to pay licenses, through the negligence or complicity of officers, are not doing so. I shall make it my duty to see, not only that all those delinquents pay for the future, but that they are prosecuted for arrearages. The important requirement that all licenses shall be posted in some conspicuous position is too generally unobserved.
Our police system has been gradually falling into disrepute; and it is a lamentable fact that, whilst our citizens are heavily taxed to support a large police force, a highly respectable private police is doing a lucrative business. Our citizens have ceased to look to the public police for protection, for the detection of culprits or the recovery of stolen property. It cannot be relied upon for the preservation of order, as was evinced on the day of our recent election. I am not prepared to state any specific plan now which will give efficiency to our police and regain it the public confidence. But I will, in a few days, nominate to you some person for Chief of the Police, and then I hope he will, be rigidly scrutinized as to his qualifications and rejected if not thought to reach the necessary standard. Applications for the situation of policeman should be made directly to the chairman of the Committee on Police. Applicants should state how long they have resided in the city, where they now reside, and whether they are men of family; and also give the names of at least two respectable businessmen in our city as references. It is important that our policemen be bona fide residents of our city and have permanent homes; also that their homes are so distributed about our city that every family will know that there is, within a convenient distance, a house of respectable occupants, where ladies and children, in the absence of husbands and fathers, can leave complaints with confidence that they will meet with prompt attention.
It should be made the duty of the policemen to report to the proper officer the existence of all nuisances, all defects in the streets, sewers, sidewalks, lamps, &c, in their beats; also the existence of all other abuses whatever in the power of the city authorities to remedy.
PAVING AND MACADAMIZING STREETS.
I recommend the paving of all our first class business streets and macadamizing the others, as soon as the Water and Sewerage commissioners have finished their works in them. The material should be provided and the contracts ready to let, so as to have the paving or Macadamizing follow closely upon the abandonment of the streets by the Commissioners above referred to. The system of planking our streets should be abandoned.
The same change is necessary in our side walks so far as relates to the more thickly settled portions of our city. And so confident am I that plank side walks must eventually give way every where to those of stone that I would suggest to all persons who are building residences or stores that they adopt side walks of stone at once.
OPENING OF BRIDGES.
The opening of bridges is a source of great loss of time and money to our citizens. The grade of our new bridges which allow steam tugs to pass beneath them without opening will remedy this evil somewhat. But, if no vessel would attempt to pass through our bridges unless towed by steam, our loss would be insignificant. This is a matter that our city cannot control, but it is one that it can influence to a great extent. Our Harbor Master should let it be known that neither he nor our city authorities, nor our citizens generally, have even a courtesy to extend to the owners or officers who insist upon keeping our bridges open until their vessels can go through them at the slow rate of hand towing.
The salaries of our city officers are far too high. An average reduction of one-third is the least possible sum I would recommend. The holding of office is a great public duty, in which all good citizens should bear their part at a moderate compensation, as in serving upon the jury, performing military duty, or uniting with a fire company. Salaries should never be so high as to induce men to seek office merely as a source of profit. The measure of the salary for any office should be the amount that would be required in private life to secure the same quality of service. I mean no disrespect to the present incumbents when I express a doubt whether any one of them can realize one-half his salary in any of the business pursuits of life.
Wherever the Water or Sewerage Commissioners have their works in progress, we should be careful to make no improvement which would necessarily be disturbed by them. With a due regard to this precaution, I would urge immediate attention to every needed improvement, the expense of which is paid out of money raised by assessment on the property benefitted.
Because the cost of such improvements is assessed upon the property and does not come out of the City Treasury, our authorities have been too negligent in insisting upon prudence and economy in expenditures. I am satisfied that our citizens have been greatly wronged at least by negligence, if not by dishonesty, in this respect. I shall deem it my duty to use my influence to have money raised by such assessments as economically expended as if it came directly from the City Treasury. I notice there are now connected with the City Superintendent’s Office, three surveyors, a clerk and porter. I doubt the necessity of all these officers, and, especially, as we have a City Surveyor who has a claim to do all the surveying for the city. But if these officers are necessary, they should be responsible to the city rather than to the Superintendent of Public Works. Their relation to the Council ought to be such that, if they discovered any errors in the Superintendent, they would not be afraid to make the same public lest they might lose their offices.
Upon the most important of all subjects, viz: our city finances, I am enabled to say the least, because I have found it impossible to get that full statement of their condition, which a proper respect for the people of this city demands at my hands. Our citizens complained greatly, and very justly, of the heavy city taxes necessary to meet the expenses of the administration ending March, 1856. The taxes to meet the expenditures of the administration ending March, 1857, which are to be collected in 1858, will have to be higher still. Thus any advantages arising from measures of reform this year will not be experienced until the taxes are collected in 1859.
By reference to our city charter it will be seen that the Council is restricted in borrowing to an amount not exceeding $100,000, in any one year. It cannot pledge the revenue of the city for the payment of, nor, issue bonds for, a larger sum than this. This restriction has been looked upon by preceding Councils as an injunction; and, as far back as I have been enabled to trace, I find that in addition to the annual taxes, the Council of each year has borrowed and used up this $100,000. It has been some consolation to our citizens, while paying their high taxes, that they were paying for the necessary expenses of the city government. Very few have known that $100,000 each year has been borrowed, in addition to the proceeds of our enormous assessments for taxes, and this without reference to our water and sewerage debts. It may be said that this $100,000 has been annually expended for improvements. Yet it is very difficult to ascertain where the improvements are, which have not been paid for by assessments or by special taxes on the property benefited.
I have examined what purports to be an annual statement of the city finances. From it I am unable to ascertain the amount of our city indebtedness, or how much the Council of the past has anticipated the revenue of the present year. Whether the administration of this year shall be able to get along without borrowing the $100,000 in addition to the taxes, as has been customary, I have no facts from which to form an opinion. One of the Committee on Finance has informed me that he refused to sign the annual financial statement for the past year, and I learn that it was made up by the City Clerk. I would recommend that a thorough examination of our financial condition be immediately set on foot, not only as a matter of justice to our fellow citizens, but that the indebtedness chargeable to preceding administrations be not confounded with that chargeable to this.
We should raise revenue by annual taxation to meet our interest and pay our annual expenses; and we should not borrow any money unless for some permanent improvement, which will carry down to posterity visible and tangible proofs of the justness of the debt we have saddled upon it.
I would dislike to be called upon to point out to posterity the improvements in our city which have created our present indebtedness and especially in view of the heavy taxes which we have been annually paying ostensibly for them.
CLEANING THE CITY.
Notwithstanding last season was a very healthy one, I would recommend that we take all due precaution at this early day, to anticipate a sickly one, on the principle of “in time of peace preparing for war.” No city has ever been visited by the cholera with such impunity, so far as human life is concerned, as our own. Its proverbial good health has a tendency to make us negligent, in thoroughly cleansing our city in warm weather. A single death from the summer complaint is often magnified here into a case of cholera; and in the country this single death becomes the foundation of exaggerated rumors detrimental to the healthful character of our city. The evil consequences of a general report, that the cholera prevails here, are felt in every branch of our business and in every ramification of society. Our railroad companies fail to bring their ordinary number of passengers, and both male and female operatives are frightened into country locations. I would therefore recommend that our city supply itself with at least a thousand barrels of lime for each division of the city. I deem this suggestion the more important, as there is to be a large demand for lime in the various public and private improvements which are in contemplation the coming season, and we may not be able to procure the article when we most need it. Should the city find no use for the lime there is no doubt it can be sold again in the fall, at a comparatively small loss, or perhaps at an advance on its first cost.
There are many improvements of a general character required by the best interests of our city, the cost of which should come from the General Fund. But not knowing the state of our Treasury, and being unable to classify them in their general importance, I have thought it best to make no recommendation concerning them until I can ascertain more particularly the state of our finances. Among the most important of these improvements I consider the disposition of the Market in the South Division.
The effectiveness of our Fire Department and the highly respectable class of young men who have ever constituted its members, have stifled the demand here for the steam apparatus which has been so much clamored for in other cities. As long as our Fire Department shall maintain its present popularity, nothing but a difference in expense can be urged as a reason for changing it. Proper expenditures for good engine houses and perfect machines are measures of economy. I shall labor to have our firemen proud of their houses and proud of their machinery; and whilst I would be liberal in this respect I would ask the cooperation of all our firemen in retrenching all expenditures which go to the aggrandizement of individuals, and are not necessary to the efficiency of the Department itself. As it is necessary for some one to be in Engine Houses the greater portion of the time, I would recommend an appropriation for a library in each House, to embrace a few standard books used in our schools and colleges, the constitution and laws of this State and the United States, and a few standard works upon American and other history. Such libraries cannot be without a healthy influence upon our firemen.
PRESENT CONDITION OF STREETS AND SIDEWALKS.
Our streets and sidewalks are in a very unnecessarily bad condition, caused by the neglect and violation of our city ordinances on the part of individuals in some instances; in all of which I expect the Marshal and Attorney to do their duty summarily. In other instances, their condition arises from causes incident to the season of the year. To better that condition, I recommend an appropriation of the sum of five hundred dollars for each Ward, if so much be required, to be expended by the Street Commissioner, under the direction of the Committee on Streets and Alleys for each Ward, and to be assessed upon the roll of the coming year; the account for each Ward to be kept separate, to be verified by the oath of the Street Commissioner and approved by the appropriate Alderman upon the Committee. No money to be drawn until properly vouched for. The money should not be expended in making new improvements, but in repairing old ones to an extent that there will be some safe avenues through our entire city in all weather, and so that all our school houses, our churches, our markets, our post office, &c., &c., can be reached by ladies and children from all parts of our city, without wetting their feet. This sum of five thousand dollars properly expended would add greatly to our immediate conveniences, and would be less than twenty cents to each inhabitant of our city. Should the embarrassed condition of our Treasury be an objection to this immediate appropriation, so great is my personal mortification at the present condition of our streets, that I will advance the amount to the city without interest, until provision can be made to raise it. I am satisfied that strangers are becoming prejudiced against our city in consequence of the great neglect of our streets, they believing their present condition is past all remedy, when this comparatively small sum would place them in as good condition at this season of the year as those of any city of our youth and enterprise. Section 11 of the 51st Chapter of Ordinances, requires the Street Commissioner forthwith to mend all breaks, or places requiring repairs in any street which may be planked, and also to cause all streets and alleys in the spring to be thoroughly cleaned.
This Ordinance must be promptly enforced.
I would suggest the propriety of authorizing the appointment of a new Committee to be called the Committee upon County Relations. Whilst our City Government is amply sufficient for us, we are paying largely for a county government, which would be entirely unnecessary, save for our relations to certain territory outside our city limits which cannot be conveniently attached to any other county. And this territory is so scattered around our city that it cannot be erected into a single county. From their location, the inhabitants of the country towns affiliate more with our citizens than they do with each other. They thus naturally throw the responsibility of the county government upon us, whilst we are almost entirely indifferent to it, as will be shown by the small number of votes cast at the elections for ward Supervisors. Any man of ordinary sagacity, who may have a scheme to get money out of our county Treasury, in the indifference of our citizens, can carry the election of his favorites in every Ward. We have a city Assessor and county Assessor. We have a city Treasurer and county Treasurer; a city Physician and county Physician; a city Attorney and county Attorney. And so on duplicating almost every city officer. In many instances no doubt there is an understanding between these duplicates to divide work with each other, and thus make our tax-payers pay twice for work that need be done but once.
Our county taxes have increased without good cause. Our Supervisors meet too often, and pay themselves too much for their services. There is also a greater chance for corruption in our county than in our city government. No Alderman can be interested in any city contract, nor hold any office, the salary for which comes out of the city Treasury. The reverse is the case with the Supervisors, and they are not at all modest in appointing one another to office. Indeed, it is very seldom that they go out of their own Board in their selections. Our city Supervisors are very naturally and very properly liberal to the country towns, in appropriations for bridges and roads. Improvements like these assist in the settlement of the country, increase the taxable property and enlarge the tributaries to our city. The only question that interests our citizens is, are these appropriations properly expended. These Supervisors appoint themselves disbursing officers for their own towns. They generally take the money as soon as appropriated, and then account to each other for its expenditure. There is no responsibility beyond themselves, while each has a personal interest in not questioning the account of his fellow Supervisor. Either our city charter is wrong in its prohibition to Aldermen, or the custom of the Supervisors in appointing themselves disbursing agents and to the offices is. I know of no particular instance of wrong doing among our Supervisors; but such practices have never failed in the end to lead to the greatest abuse and corruption. No harm, if no good, can arise from the appointment of a committee to investigate thoroughly our relations with the county.
There is now in our county Treasury nearly one hundred thousand dollars of surplus money. The taxes of this year will greatly increase this amount. And yet our county has bonds outstanding upon which it is paying ten per cent interest. Thus in our county, as often in our city, money has been borrowed at high rates of interest to lie idle in the hands of officials, or to be loaned out at their pleasure from two to five per cent per month. This is another instance of the evil effects of departing from the democratic republican doctrine that public monies should never be allowed to be used for private purposes.
I congratulate you on the creation of the much needed office of Comptroller. No man should fill that office who is not qualified to discharge the duties of a first class cashier in a bank, and who has not untiring industry and immoveable firmness. His duties are such that they cannot be deputed to a clerk, and I can nominate no man who will not give his sole attention to the duties of the office. I want him to keep his own books. I hope also to find one who has never been identified with our city affairs. He should at least commence disinterestedly, as he may have to review accounts from the origin of our city government. His duties will so reduce the labors of the City Clerk that I have no doubt but the heavy expenses of that office can be so lessened as to give him a first class salary without additional charge upon our city.
There are several ordinances of the repeal of which I can find no record, that are now dead letters. My oath requires the enforcement of every provision of the charter, and of every existing ordinance. The law itself, and not the sworn instrument of its enforcement, must take the responsibility thereof. But I recommend a repeal of every ordinance not absolutely necessary. There is no political evil so great as that of too much government.
RULES OF THE COUNCIL.
From reports of debates among Aldermen in former Boards, I was of the opinion that your rules were not sufficient to preserve order in the Council. Upon an examination, I find they are amply sufficient, where Aldermen are actuated by the public good and a desire to maintain the relations of gentlemen to each other. As presiding officer, I hope never to hear an Alderman reflect upon the motives or character of another; and, whilst freedom of debate should ever be encouraged, I also hope to always find it confined to the subject immediately before the Council. It would save time if all petitions were referred by the Clerk, and a notice of the reference made in the corporation newspaper as a part of the proceedings of the next morning, no action being had in the Council until after the publication.
Gentlemen of the Council: I cannot close without hoping that our relations, both personal and official, may always be of the most amicable nature; that we may all prove true to our professions of regard for retrenchment and reform; and that when we part, at the end of the year, we may congratulate ourselves upon the agreeableness of our intercourse, and the permanent advantages we have conferred upon our highly favored city.
- Chicago Democrat, March 10, 1857.
- Chicago Tribune, March 11, 1857.
- Newspaper and General Periodical Division files.