Inauguration date: April 15, 1889
This speech is recorded as it first appeared in print. Archaic spelling and misspellings in the original document have not been corrected.
Gentlemen of the City Council:
On the second day of May, 1837, Chicago became a city and its first municipal officers were installed. The portrait of its first Mayor graces the walls of this chamber. At the first city election, according to the record, there were only six wards, having in the aggregate a population of about 4,000. The total vote cast for officers was 709; the south division contributing 408; the north division 204, and the west division 97. To the Chicagoan of to day these statistics give force to the truth of the adage: “From little acorns great oaks grow.” Since the municipal acorn was planted, fifty-two years have passed and notwithstanding the vicissitudes of financial panics, desolation by flood and fire, notwithstanding discouraging obstacles incident to the march of time, the acorn planted half a century ago, nurtured by men of indomitable energy, devotion and confidence in Chicago has developed into a grand and enduring oak, spreading its majestic branches over a metropolis containing more than 850,000 people—a growth and development without a parallel in the history of the world.
As late as 1852, there were no public improvements of note, no general water supply, no system of drainage, but few paved streets, beyond plank, and comparatively few other public works. Since that date however, the march of improvement has kept pace with the demand of the great and growing metropolis of the west, as demonstrated by the character and magnitude of the public improvements in our city at the close of last year. There were then in use nearly 700 miles of water pipes, ten miles of water tunnels, 500 miles of sewers, 350 miles of paved streets, 1,000 miles of sidewalks, 25,000 street lamps, ninety-eight school buildings, twenty-one police stations, forty-nine fire department stations, seventy-six fire apparatus, thirty-six swing-bridges, thirty-three viaducts, 900 miles of city telegraph wire, a public library containing 44,000 volumes, together with the City Hall and numerous other public buildings. The bonded debt of the city is a little over $12,500,000., the water debt less than $4,000,000., and the sewer debt about $2,500,000., making a total indebtness of about 19,000,000. dollars.
The vast amount of public property above enumerated was paid for by the people and therefore belongs to the tax payers of Chicago.
By the suffrages of the people, you, gentlemen of the City Council, have been chosen as their representatives. To you and to the executive branch of the city government is confided the control and the management of the great trust, of protecting the varied and important interests of the public at large. I do not presume to instruct this Council in their duties but I may be permitted to say, that each and every member of this body is an Alderman of the whole city, and being such, his voice and vote will doubtless be exercised in behalf of the best interests of the entire community.
I have been called upon to discharge the duties of mayor. With a full measure of appreciation of the great honor conferred, and the implied confidence reposed in me by my fellow citizens, I am the more sensible of the grave responsibilities and exacting duties of the task assigned me. I therefore assume the grave trust with diffidence, but with a sincere determination to see to it that the affairs of the city are administered with justice and economy, that order is maintained, that citizens of all classes shall be secured in their just and lawful rights.
It will be demanded from every servant of the people that they shall keep within the legitimate scope of their duty, in the performance of which economy, integrity, faithfulness and industry in the public interest are absolutely essential. These are the paramount objects in view. To these purposes I shall apply myself with all the strength and ability with which I am endowed; and while keeping in view that I am the servant of the whole people, and that though elevated for a time to a high and honorable station by fellow citizens, I shall not forget the fact that I was elevated by them.
The drainage bill now pending before the General Assembly of our state comprehends an undertaking of great magnitude, involving the expenditure of vast sums of money. It is generally conceded that a permanent and adequate plan for the disposal of the sewage of this city will be required as soon as can be provided. I am not sufficiently familiar with the details of the bill in question to discuss its merits at this time. I take it for granted, however, that its provisions have been carefully considered by competent and reliable citizens and legislators. I am informed that the measure, at a proper time, will come before the people directly interested, for their approval. Then an opportunity will be afforded for further and more deliberate consideration of its merits.
Rapid transit within the limits of our city, and cheap fares, are a necessity of the time. The artisan, the laboring men and their families, indeed all classes of our citizens will be benefitted by ample and comfortable facilities of transit from homes to business, and from business to homes. Real estate will rise in value, and business will be increased. In granting franchise for any purpose such liberality should be exercised on the part of the city as will induce a generous investment of capital in the enterprise, but at the same time every safeguard should be thrown around such grants, so that the people shall receive the fullest benefit and protection.
The police and fire departments are the branches of public service upon which we mainly rely for protection to life and property. They should be substantially free from the mutations and influence of politics. Personal merit and rigid compliance with the essential rules of the department should be the main passport to either service, and the retention and promotion should be the reward of duties efficiently performed. Everything in power should be done to foster and encourage our marine commerce. Its importance to our city cannot be overestimated. Our facilities now are too limited to meet the demand; the river is crowded and the water is shallow. The difficulties of handling vessels in the river, and the delay in passing the bridges are calculated to interfere with this great interest. A grand harbor on our lake shore would not only meet the present and growing wants of Chicago in this regard, but would be the means of ultimately doing away with the swing bridges in the heart of the great metropolis containing a million people.
Educational facilities, water drainage, improved streets and light, constitute some of the more important elements of a well ordered community. These public necessities which are more or less lacking in numerous parts of the city, will receive due attention. We need not map out a particular course of action. We prefer to submit work performed rather than promises by men.
Gentlemen, I feel that the co-operation of the legislative branch of the city government is essential to enable the executive to successfully enforce and maintain good government.
I therefore look for that cordial and intelligent support from your honorable body, which shall make our administration an honorable and efficient one.
Permit me to refer to the fact that the nation is upon the eve of celebrating its centennial. On the 30th day of April, 1789, the original 13 states were enrolled as an independent nation. The 30th day of the present month is the anniversary of the interesting event.
We, as American citizens, cannot fail to be inspired by the glorious memories of the past, and also to feel profoundly grateful that we are permitted to enjoy the rights and privileges vouchsafed by the constitution of our free, united and prosperous republic. The patriotism of the people of Chicago is a sufficient guarantee that the anniversary of the nations birthday will be fittingly recognized and properly celebrated in our city. To the lofty declarations of the Fourth of July, 1776, and the inauguration of the immortal Washington in 1789 as the representative of these declarations of freedom and equality before the law we may ascribe the progress and development of our common country, which is practically illustrated in the growth of this matchless city of Chicago, whose march, let us hope, will continue onward and upward, until she reaches the summit of her destiny, viz: The most progressive and energetic city in the world.
- Chicago City Council. Journal of the Proceedings, April 15, 1889, p. 8–10.