Mayor Charles McNeill Gray Inaugural Address, 1853

Charles McNeill Gray Biography

Inauguration date: March 7, 1853

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

Editor’s note: The handwritten original and the newspaper version vary slightly. The text here generally follows Mayor Grey’s handwritten copy and the punctuation follows the Chicago Tribune version.

Gentlemen of the Council and Fellow Citizens:

Before taking my seat as the presiding officer at this Board, and in accordance with the usage heretofore adopted on occasions of this kind, I take this opportunity to express my thanks for the testimonial of your kind regards and confidence in electing my humble self to fill the office of Mayor of our city. I do this with the deepest sense of my want and ability to fill the office to which I have been called by the votes of my fellow citizens.

Called, as I have been by my personal friends backed by the most unequivocal intimation of a generous public, to serve you, I feel that deep sense of obligation that no language can express for the honor that the citizens of Chicago have done me; and I can only say that, with such poor ability as I possess, the citizens of Chicago may depend on my entire devotion, to promote the interest and honor of our city and the welfare of her citizens.

Gentlemen, it is with much anxiety and trepidation that I have presumed to address myself to the task of presiding over and directing the affairs of our city, but I feel encouraged, as I trust I shall have the matured and kindly counsels of this honorable board to direct and their hearty support in executing and carrying out all such measures as may be deemed of importance to the interest, dignity and honor of the city, or the welfare of her citizens.

The good reputation and character of our city is dear to me, and it will be a proud day to me when I may be enabled to promote the one or in the least to establish the other. The financial affairs of the city are at present in a very flattering and healthy condition. For several years past there has been little or no city scrip issued unless ample provision was made to redeem it whenever presented at the Treasurer’s office, and the consequence has been most salutary upon the credit of the city at home and abroad. You will undoubtedly agree with me, gentlemen, that ample means should be most promptly provided to meet the rapidly increasing current expenses of the city government and discharge the debts coming due, and also to meet the interest on the funded debt.—The very able and detailed report of the Committee on Finance from the late Council and to which you will refer, make it unnecessary for me at this time to say more than in a general way, to call your attention to some few items that will necessarily soon claim your attention. One of these is a provision which has not yet been made, to meet the debt of the city to the Board of Supervisors of Cook County on account of public building, amounting to about $13,900.

By a recent act of the legislature of our State we have had established in this city a Recorder’s Court, it being the proper court of appeals, and having exclusive special jurisdiction in all criminal cases except for murder and treason, the entire expenses of this court, except the salary of the Judge, must be paid by the city, and of necessity must be very heavy; it will, of course, devolve upon the council to provide a suitable room for holding the court and for Clerk’s office, Jury rooms, &c.

The peculiar position of our city and its rapidly increasing population, make it of the utmost importance that we have an efficient police organization, and that the most perfect system for the department may be immediately adopted, and such men only as are discreet, faithful, and active, placed in that body. The mere existence of a good and active police in a city like ours, is enough, of itself, to keep in check the flood of vicious characters that are continually pouring in upon our city by the ready channels of communication that concentrate at this point from the larger cities and towns. The presence of a faithful police will also ensure a proper observance of our ordinances among our own citizens. I shall feel it my duty, and shall cheerfully direct the police department, by and with the council and advice of the committee on police, and shall exact the most faithful performance of duty by its officers. I ask your special attention to this subject, hoping, that if possible, to adopt a system that shall give the department the greatest degree of efficiency.

Your early attention will be required to a more proper and efficient organization of the city Surveyor’s department. There is much complaint by our citizens about that office.—The Surveyor’s department of our city government has been most sadly overlooked and neglected by our predecessors in office; this ought not to be.—The increasing value of real estate, make it of the utmost importance that a better arrangement of the business of that office be adopted; and, if need be, a suitable number of assistants should be employed by the city to act under the direction of the city Surveyor, and that attested copies of the original surveys now on file in the old Cook County records, be made and properly arranged and bound and kept in the Surveyor’s office.

Our Schools and School fund and property will properly claim your attention. And you will, I doubt not, take pleasure in throwing around that fund all the necessary safeguards to prevent a spirit of vandalism from laying its unnatural hands upon that sacred trust, that the entire fund may be preserved for the use of future generations. And at the same time in adopting such measures as will most effectually serve to encourage and elevate our schools, and establish them in the confidence of the people, assured that in so doing we best secure to our children that means which will best enable them to perpetuate our institutions with all their progressive and fraternizing influence.

I have but one or two more allusions to make and I have done. One is to a system that seems to be gaining ground, for the depletion of the city treasury by parties beyond the power of the Council to call to account. Most particularly is this the case in the law organizing the recorders court, the officers of which are in no way accountable to the city authorities—and yet the city must pay their bills.

It will devolve upon you, gentlemen, to adopt some effective measures to prevent the abuse of power conferred by so unnatural an organization, until such time as our State legislature shall again meet, when it is to be hoped some salutory amendments to this law may be obtained by the city.

Our state legislature at its recent session, passed some laws amending our city charter, and among them, one extending the bounds of the city. This is a matter of considerable interest to the city, and most especially commends itself to the alderman of the respective divisions to see that the interests of the new and somewhat remote parts of their respective wards are not overlooked.

It is desirable that, as soon as practicable, the Standing Committees report to the Council the estimates for their respective departments for the current year. This is of importance to enable you to act with reference to the available resources of the city.

I deem it but an act of duty for me, at this time, to commend the able and efficient manner in which the business of the city is conducted by your gentlemanly and very able City Clerk, Mr. Zimmerman. The most perfect system seems to have been adopted by him. The complete arrangement of the documents, together with the accounts of the several departments are sufficient recommendation; and I trust, it will be the pleasure of the Council to retain the services of Mr. Z., as I am well convinced that his reappointment will result in vast benefit to the city.

Gentlemen of the Council

We have taken upon ourselves the most sacred obligations to perform the duties pertaining to our respective offices. Heretofore complaints have been made of a want of punctuality on the part of members meeting at the appointed time. I think punctuality the duty and interest of every member of this board, and hope it may be adopted, by all. For myself, I crave your indulgent kindness for my many imperfections; and be assured that nothing shall be wanting on my part in an impartial endeavor to preserve the rules of the Council. And my hope is that all our deliberations may be characterized by true courtesy, and crowned with success and the approval of our fellow citizens.


  • Chicago Tribune, March 8, 1853, p. 3.
  • Illinois State Archives. Chicago City Council Proceedings Files, March 7, 1853.
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