Mayor Carter Henry Harrison III Inaugural Address, 1881

Carter Henry Harrison III Biography

Inauguration date: May 9, 1881

This speech is recorded as it first appeared in print. Archaic spelling and misspellings in the original document have not been corrected.

To the City Council of the City of Chicago.

Gentlemen—In passing from my first into a second term of office as mayor of this great city, I wish to express to the citizens of Chicago my deep gratitude for the high honor they have conferred upon me, and to assure them that in re-electing me by so handsome a majority I feel most keenly that they have placed me under increased obligations to do my best to merit their confidence. A public man should seek popularity only by being worthy of it. It shall be my earnest endeavor so to win it. To deserve the applause of the people is my highest ambition, to obtain it my greatest pleasure.

It is with confessed pride, gentlemen, that I congratulate you and the people of Chicago upon the unexampled prosperity she has enjoyed during the past two years, and upon the proud financial position she occupies among the cities of the world; and I felicitate myself that this proud eminence has been attained, to a great extent, during my first term of office. But while saying this, I wish to acknowledge that it has been my good fortune to be at the head of the city’s affairs during a brighter day than was vouchsafed to my immediate predecessors. At the same time I owe to my able assistants the statement that they have been prompt in taking advantage of this brighter day, and that they have not wasted the sunshine.

Permit me to call your attention to the condition in which I found the city affairs two years ago, and to contrast it with its present financial status.

Then, and for several prior years, the city, not having the means to pay her servants and to obtain supplies with cash, was forced to issue scrip or warrants on the Treasurer, to be paid form taxes to be collected many months after such issuance.

In 1878, my predecessor—an economical officer—issued about $2,238,000.00 of this scrip. This entailed upon employes a loss of from five to ten per cent. on the dollar, and upon the city, through its contracts, a loss of from $150,000 to $200,000 per annum.

By a system of most rigid economy I have been enabled to reduce the issuance of scrip to less than $1,500,000 in 1879 and in 1880 to less than $590,000.

In 1881 I hope to escape the blot of scrip entirely. For twenty-one months every employe has been paid in cash.

The city cannot legally borrow a dollar, and yet, not having ready money to meet her semi-annual interest, she was compelled to hypothecate the interest coupons when due, and to pay a heavy commission for carrying them until taxes could be collected. These illegal commissions cost her each year from $50,000 to $70,000.

Since 1879 we have promptly met our interest without borrowing or paying one cent of commissions. Two years ago the city owed $249,000 of what was known as Hayes-Colvin certificates. These the courts had declared illegal. But our good name demanded that they should be paid. We have taken them all up, paying them in full, together with interest, the whole amounting to $275,643.00.

In 1880 we paid off $291,000 of 7 100 water bonds, and refunded $490,000 of 6 and 7 per cent. sewerage bonds, with a like amount of 4 1/2 per cent. bonds, which we sold at over 2 per cent. premium, and on the first of April of this year we refunded $843,500 of 7 per cent. municipal bonds with a like amount of 4 per cent. bonds, which command to-day about 4 per cent. premium.

The annual savings of interest thus effected amounts to $54,215.

In former years the sinking fund had become depleted by the amount of $236,024; this we have restored.

From the appropriations of 1879 and 1880 we saved $1,050,000. This heavy saving, added to taxes of prior years collected, and to cash from various sources, enabled us to contribute to the appropriation for 1881, $550,000, and yet left in the general fund nearly $1,500,000 as a reserve to meet current expenses and to enable us to avoid the issuance of scrip.

This financial showing I make, gentlemen, not boastfully, but to enable you and the people to enjoy with me a feeling of justifiable pride.

From savings of prior years we gave to the appropriation for this year $550,000. We cannot hope to make like savings from the present appropriations. Prices of every material and of wages are on the increase. It will probably take every dollar of the appropriation to run the city. You have allowed only two and a half per cent. for probable deficiency in collection of taxes. Last year you allowed ten per cent. We may find ourselves on this account saddled with a deficiency. We can hope for but little from back taxes. I therefore earnestly recommend that you will look squarely in the face the probable necessity for raising a largely increased amount of revenue from licenses.

There is no reason why a poor peddler or expressman should pay a license to enable him to ply a trade which barely keeps his wife and child from starvation, while hundreds of dealers whose occupations brings them princely incomes should go scot free. There are occupations of a most profitable character requiring no capital which the assessor can find, which could bear a very considerable price for license. There are other occupations which increase the fire hazard of the whole city to a great extent, which wear away our paved streets, many of those pursuing which have accumulated vast fortunes within a few years, which could pay a larger revenue to the city than do its 3,000 saloons, and yet not feel depleted bank accounts.

The city will need something from many of these occupations to enable it to run decently next year.

Why should they go free, while the poor widow has to pay a license for the privilege of furnishing the rich with cooks and chamber-maids, or the cripple for the privilege of earning his living at an apple stand? I earnestly urge you to provide for the collecting for licenses from every character of occupation permitted by the city’s charter.

The Department of Finance

The management of the finance of a great city like Chicago, laboring, as it has under peculiar embarassments, is not an easy task. Few men fully impressed with its duties and responsibilities would undertake it. The choice for this department has proved a fortunate one, and when I say that a more earnest, zealous and efficient Comptroller than its present incumbent has not filled the office, I only re-echo the opinion of leading financial men who have had any dealings with the city. He has ably assisted in the carrying out the line of policy which I deemed the utmost important in a scrip-ridden community. Through his energetic efforts cash payments were resumed and my aim realized.

This change effected a saving to city employes of thousands of dollars per annum, and enabled us to make better bargains for the city’s work.

With the same prudent management we shall continue on the cash basis and place the city in a position where it will never be obliged to go back to a depreciated paper, and stand, as it were, hat in hand, awaiting the pleasure and service of others. I refer you the Comptroller’s report for a detailed statement of the city’s finances up to January 1st, 1881.

The Department of Public Works

Under the immediate eye and control of this department rests all work of a public character. Without a vigilant care and the strictest honesty thousands of dollars would be annually squandered, and rings of a most dangerous character fostered. The record of this department has demonstrated that its present head thoroughly understands the requirements of his position, and has rendered the public signal service by his firm course in awarding contracts upon their merits, and not through favoritism. Strict business principles have prevailed, and every contractor has been fairly and honestly served. In consequence there has been a most free and healthy competition for all public works.

The rings that predominated before have been routed at every turn. Their various attempts to assert themselves in important contracts have been frustrated, and the city has been a gainer thereby by thousands of dollars. More work has been accomplished for less money than the same class of work has cost before, and small appropriations have answered where larger ones would have been required were the old order of things in vogue. Of the improved order of things no better evidence can be furnished than the following comparative statements for the years 1877, 1878, 1879 and 1880:

[Editor’s note: The comparative statement consists of a lengthy statistical table and is omitted here, but it is available in the Municipal Reference Collection.]

Nearly two years ago I earnestly urged the Council to take immediate steps for the erection of two additional pumping engines at the West side pumping works. I again called your attention to it a year ago. I have found no reason to change my mind as to the urgency of this work. Should one or more of the present engines break, and no one can be sure that they will not, then an outraged people, suffering for water, which should be given them as freely as air, will call your supine neglect by the name crime.

I believe the wooden period for street paving should pass away from Chicago. Our central and heavily trafficked streets need something more durable than sappy pine, or cedar blocks cut from burnt-over swamps. Granite and Medina sandstone can be had without stint.

The beauty and health of the city require that such pavements should become the rule and not the exception in the heart of the city. A few nervous gentlemen may object to the noise, but they should remember that the music of the pine covered forests is not compatable with the busy traffic of a mighty commercial city.

Ashland avenue, paved nine years since, and now nearly as smooth as when first improved, and Jackson street, which has stood the test of a severe winters frost, and is to-day crowded by persons testing the metal of their roadsters, prove the great superiority of Macadam over wooden blocks for outside residence streets. It may be objected that they are muddy when wet and dusty when dry, but they are wet only a short period of the year, and properly constructed sprinklers keep down the dust at a comparatively small cost.

I recommended that you will hereafter throw a cold shoulder to the wooden block contractor for such streets, and that you will understand that private contracts for paving streets are less for the interests of the city than of a few who engineer them through. Stone block pavement for the heavily trafficked streets, and good Macadam for outside streets, where rapid locomotion is desirable, and wide tired trucks and wagons, should be your care in the future.

The Police Department

In speaking of this department, I can say that it is upon a most efficient and satisfactory footing. Less crime has been prevalent than heretofore and the morals of the city were never in better condition. The chiefs of this department have rendered me prompt and energetic service, and criminals have found it safer and more comfortable to remain away from the city. What has been done can be best shown by the statement that while the recoveries of stolen property for the years 1877 and 1878 were within $70,207 of the value of property reported stolen, they were only $31,754 below the value of stolen property in 1879 and 1880. Besides the value of stolen property has been less for the past two years by $69,444.

When I came into office two years ago there had existed for years in this city an organized gang of bank robbers, the most successful and daring of any in the whole country. They committed no known crime here, but making this their headquarters, raided banks throughout the union. They defied the police or silenced them, and boasted that they could not be held in jail. In July, 1879, they committed a bold robbery in Galesburg and came here to enjoy their plunder. I determined that Chicago should not harbor outlaws to prey upon our neighbors. By careful working, the Police Department found evidence against these fellows, and sent some of them to the scene of their crime. After long delays of the law and against the machinations of corrupt but able friends, one of the gang is in our penitentiary for eight years; another, escaping to Canada, is incarcerated for several years; a third has been in jail in Galesburgh for many months awaiting his trial, and the remainder are scattered and dare not again to come here.

The destruction of this gang has done much to terrify other such organizations and to keep them from making this their home. There is not to-day a single organized gang of outlaws in Chicago.

In connection with this improved state of affairs I desire to say that the telephone police alarm stations have proved a most valuable adjunct to the department. We began with its introduction in the West Twelfth street district, which was overrun with desperadoes, roughs and footpads, and finding it so useful in summoning police to apprehend this class, that we have so extended the system to other portions of the city that districts hitherto comparatively unprotected are now thoroughly under police surveillance. There have been established already some ninety alarm stations, and had the City Council set a larger appropriation than it did we should cover other still remote and unprotected sections. But for this change the present police force would be entirely inadequate to meet the demands of the city. Our force is the smallest of any large city in the country. The present number composing it is almost the same as it was when we had a little over half of our present population. Increased efficiency and telephonic communications have rendered the force doubly serviceable and aided in a very material and perceptable decrease in crime.

For this telephonic innovation and improvement upon old police methods we are chiefly indebted to Professor John P. Barrett and Mr. Austin J. Doyle, who originated and perfected the system. The system contemplates connections with business houses and private residences, and already several have availed themselves of its benefit to be in a position to receive prompt police assistance in case of an emergency. It has already proved itself of incalculable value to the department, and will be made to cover the city as rapidly as means will permit. I have directed the Superintendents of the Police and Fire Departments to make as large savings as possible in their respective departments, and to apply the same to an extension of the system. I hope in this way to cover to some extent the mistake made by the Council in not making a more liberal appropriation for the complete extension of the system over the city.

The success of our Police Department is the more striking when we contrast its number with that of other cities. The disparity may be shown by the following:


  • Population: 4.619.000
  • Police force: 10.70
  • Officer to inhabitants: 1 to 430


  • Population: 2.000.000
  • Police force: 6.00
  • Officer to inhabitants: 1 to 366

New York

  • Population: 1.200.000
  • Police force: 25.60
  • Officer to inhabitants: 1 to 468


  • Population: 817.000
  • Police force: 12.92
  • Officer to inhabitants: 1 to 630


  • Population: 566.000
  • Police force: 599
  • Officer to inhabitants: 1 to 945


  • Population: 300.000
  • Police force: 594
  • Officer to inhabitants: 1 to 500


  • Population: 503.000
  • Police force: 390
  • Officer to inhabitants: 1 to 1,289

[Editor’s note: Data has been reformatted.]

The Fire Department

In looking over the records of this department for the past four years, I find that it has not only coped more successfully with fires, but kept down the average loss during the past two years at a point below that of the two preceeding years, in spite of the greater number of conflagrations in the latter period. In 1877 and 1878 there were 923 fires, and the amount of loss involved was $1,351,314.00, making the average loss $2,989, while in 1879 and 1880 there were 1606 fires and a loss of $1,707,898, making the average loss only $1,980. It will be accordingly noted from this that while there were 683 more fires during the past two years than during the two preceeding years, the average loss has been $1,009 less for the past two years. This speaks volumes of praise for the effective working of the force as at present constituted.

Health Department

No department of the city has shown more efficiency during my term of office than this. The city as [sic.] grown in population with great rapidity. It has been impossible for the appliances necessary to health to keep pace with this growth. While the population of the city is that of one of centuries growth, the street pavements and sewerage system has been necessarily that of a city of two generations of men.

Many of the manufacturing interests have extended with a rapidity vastly beyond the city’s growth, some of these interests are of a character ordinarily offensive to the senses and supposed to be injurious to the health. A quarter of a century ago there were packed in Chicago 56,000 hogs, during the last year over 6,000,000. The slaughtering of other animals has increased almost as rapidly. Nearly all of this growth has been within the past decades.

The great amount of refuse matter from this vast horde of animals has to be taken care of. The most of it is utilized. This naturally gives out offensive odors and if not promptly attended to, breeds disease.

For years the summer air was offensive, that of autumn and winter often almost intolerable. Some of the finest portions of the city were often times for weeks unfit for delicate people to live in. By a steady perseverance, knowing no favor and fearing no opposition, fighting in the courts, abused and vilified,—the head of the health department has done his duty. While he has fought stenches, he has stood by me in upholding our great manufacturing interests. Consequently it can be said to-day that there has been nothing to offend the nostrils within eighteen months.

People are absolutely forgetting there ever was a Bridgeport stink, and yet the great industries which formerly caused these stenches are growing day by day, until they are become one of the wonders of the world and their proprietors, who formerly cursed us for forcing them at great expense to abate and prevent nuisances, are to-day our warmest supporters.

Our people, easily alarmed by a sensational press, make great outcries when the water happens to be less clear than crystal, and demand that we spend some ten millions to get a new water supply, that they may then growl at the cost which such outlay will entail. In 1877, for a few days, the water supply was somewhat defiled, and lately it has been roily for some ten days. But even during these worst days Chicago’s water was better than that in everyday use in many American cities, and pure compared to that of any of the large European cities. A change from one kind of water to another nearly always effects one unpleasantly and sometimes injuriously. No one from any of our inland countries, where hard limestone water comes from spring or well, can go from Niagara to Montreal by boat without suffering disagreeable effects. The effects are, however, temporary. And yet the water of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence is of crystal clearness.

The flood pouring from an overflowed country lately caused a changed water to come from our crib and affected our people temporarily. It was injurious to very weak people and caused strong ones (to their bodily discomfort) to take to so-called mineral water or to indulge unusually in beer or liquor, and at once reporters seeking items find doctors eager to cry “poison in our water.” A little precaution for a week or so every few years can prevent our people from suffering, and during all the remainder of their lives here they enjoy the coolest and purest water of the inhabitants of any large city on the face of the globe.

Some people who have been to my knowledge horrified during the past ten days at Chicago’s water, are now going with or sending their families to Europe, where they can in no city get a glass of water much purer than can be dipped up inside our breakwater. Over there they will drink mineral water and wine, and will spend thousands of dollars to have the opportunity of doing so in foreign lands.

Their steward’s fees aboard ship would have purchased pure water from Waukesha for the entire time during which the water of the city has been lately roiled.

The following statement will show that no one need flee from Chicago to find a more healthy city:

Mortality Reports for 1880

Cities of over 200,000 population

New York City

  • Population: 1,206,577
  • Total deaths: 32,245
  • Amount death rate per 1,000: 26.7


  • Population: 846,980
  • Total deaths: 17,701
  • Amount death rate per 1,000: 20.9


  • Population: 566,689
  • Total deaths: 13,576
  • Amount death rate per 1,000: 24.0


  • Population: 503,298
  • Total deaths: 10,462
  • Amount death rate per 1,000: 20.8


  • Population: 362,535
  • Total deaths: 8,634
  • Amount death rate per 1,000: 23.5

St. Louis

  • Population: 350,522
  • Total deaths: 6,725
  • Amount death rate per 1,000: 19.2


  • Population: 255,708
  • Total deaths: 5,331
  • Amount death rate per 1,000: 20.9


  • Population: 332,190
  • Total deaths: 8,216
  • Amount death rate per 1,000: 24.7

San Francisco

  • Population: 233,956
  • Total deaths: 4,518
  • Amount death rate per 1,000: 19.3

New Orleans

  • Population: 216,140
  • Total deaths: 5,631
  • Amount death rate per 1,000: 24.2

[Editor’s note: Data has been reformatted.]


One of the questions which has agitated our citizens and the public press recently is that of gambling. On this subject I have been severely criticized in some quarters and in other quarters as eminently respectable I have been endorsed in the position I have assumed. If not openly, it has been very generally tacitly admitted that it is impossible to thoroughly eradicate the evil, but as to the exact course to pursue towards it, a diversity of opinions exists among those whe [sic.] have fully examined this phrase of social life.

We cannot, “some say,” rid the community of gambling, but how can the evil be reduced to its minimum effect? There seems to be the rub. Those who have so rigorously cried out for its extermination have failed to suggest any possible or practicable plan by which the desired end can be accomplished. In their blind zeal they seem to forget the essential results of all attempts, viz: That every effort at its annihilation has been attended with a dismal failure. They are by no means left without practical examples of the results of such efforts. If they would only pause in their frenzy and direct their attention to the time sporting or club houses were presumptively closed, they would easily recall facts that indicated that not only the private precincts of hotels and public buildings, but fashionable resorts were invaded and games of chance indulged in. There, free from and unobserved by the guardians of law, young as well as old were “taken in and fleeced.” A few wealthy gamblers managed to run their places behind locked doors and by means of a liberal feeling, officers intrusted to see that there was no gambling, blinked at violations of the law, passed on and kept the central authorities in ignorance of their existence. When it was finally discovered that one place was in full blast, the police made a descent upon it, an explosion of powder ensued, and the case went into the state courts, where Judge McAllister held substantially that police officers had no authority to break in the doors of places where it was not absolutely certain that gambling was being regularly conducted therein. This decision was looked upon as a victory by the gamblers and gambling shops opened, with various self-imposed restrictions, in different sections of the city. Ropers-in flourished extensively and gambling held undisputed sway behind doubly barred and screened doors. Subsequently the owners of these places put a bold front to their vocation, and in view of former experience, the then existing administration evinced no special inclination to break them up. They were accordingly in a high tide of prosperity long before I entered upon the mayoralty, and the authorities were fully cognizant at all times of their location.

Considering what the results had been, I came to the conclusion on becoming Mayor that the evil must be kept within proper bounds and restrictions. More than that, I determined to restrict these houses to the central portions of the city, where they could be closely watched and kept in check. By this course of procedure I had in view the easy and unrestricted entrance of either the police to detect sharp practices by the gamblers, keep minors out and find any crooked person who might seek its enchantments, or of business men who might desire to see whether an employe was squandering money surreptitiously taken from his funds. By such course as I have thus outlined I have had the endorsement of a large number of citizens, and the results have been far better than they would have been under different conditions. Under the apparent rigid rule in vogue in 1873, there were in the city forty-four gambling establishments, and twenty odd bunko places; in 1877 over thirty gambling houses and a dozen or more bunko rooms, while during 1880 there have not been more than seventeen of the former and not a single bunko establishment. I notice the correspondent of the Tribune says there are in Washington City, with a population less than one-third of that of Chicago, from twenty-five to thirty gambling house in full blast, and yet he says they pull them frequently and break up their furniture. The present state of affairs here is due to restrictions, and while a great number of complaints came to my office shortly after my inauguration, there have been not more than a half dozen within the past eighteen months. The plan of keeping these places in the heart of the city enables the police officers to learn where brace boxes are played upon unsuspecting victims. Such houses are promptly dealt with. Those that are run are put upon their good behavior, minors are excluded, and those who must play protected from the tricks of dealers; and games of a character calculated to attract the man of small means, and the young are being entirely prevented.

I am not defending gambling per se, but if my position is wrong in dealing with it from a practical standpoint, the people have their remedy. They can appeal to an authority higher than mine; and strange it is that such citizens and newspapers as have assailed me have not also directed their batteries toward that authority. Those who think my plan not the best have a State law under which any one so disposed can take his hand in suppressing gambling.

I fear, however, that Mr. Lincoln was not mistaken when he said that “statutory enactments can’t turn a calf’s tail into a third hind leg.” The fireside, the lyceum and the well stocked public library will do more than laws to suppress social evils.

But those who differ with me have a law under which a citizen, feeling that the community has been outraged by the existence of gambling, can go and swear out a warrant and secure satisfaction. The Grand Jury are open to his complaints, and even the assistance of the State’s Attorney can be invoked.

In conclusion, I desire to return my thanks to the members of the outgoing Council and to the various heads of the different departments for their kind assistance and courtesies, and to ask the indulgence and aid of the incoming Council in all measures looking to the welfare and prosperity of the city.


  • Chicago City Council. Journal of the Proceedings, May 9, 1881, p. 3–8.
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