Mayor Francis Cornwall Sherman Inaugural Address, 1863

Francis Cornwall Sherman Biography

Inauguration date: May 4, 1863

The speech below is from the files of the Municipal Reference Collection and is reproduced as first published.

Gentlemen of the Common Council:

We have met today, in accordance with the provisions of the revised charter, to organize the municipal government for the ensuing year. Upon assuming for another term the responsible station to which I have been again chosen by the unsolicited suffrages of my fellow citizens, I am at a loss for words adequate to express my grateful appreciation of the generous confidence reposed in me. The approbation of my past official conduct, evinced by my re-election, is a source of profound gratification and encouragement; and in the performance of my future duties I promise my best efforts to merit a continuance of the good opinion of my fellow-citizens by an unremitting and watchful devotion to the trusts committed to my charge.

General Aspect of Municipal Affairs

In reviewing the present condition of our municipal affairs we find just occasion for mutual congratulations, as well as well as grateful acknowledgments to an all-wise and beneficent Providence for the signal blessings of health and prosperity with which the people of this city have been hitherto so bounteously favored. Not only have we enjoyed uninterrupted health, but, notwithstanding the derangement in the general business of the country by the rebellion, it has been our good fortune thus far to have escaped many of the embarrassments which have so seriously affected most of the larger cities; the business avocations of our citizens have been pursued with undiminished profit and safety; and our city has continued to increase steadily in growth and the elements of permanent prosperity.

It appears from the census completed by the school agent on the first of November last, that the population comprised within the present limits of the city was at that time a little rising 138,000--showing an increase of about 30,000 since the taking of the decennial census of 1860. Our commercial and manufacturing interests have advanced to an extent at least commensurate with the increase of population; industry and skill have found ready and remunerative employment, and the blessings of good order and public tranquility have been enjoyed without interruption or disturbance.

Revision of the Charter and Ordinances

The codification and revision of the numerous acts of the General Assembly relating to the government of the city, so strongly urged in my inaugural address last year, have been completed and have received the sanction of the Legislature. Those acts have received a careful and laborious revision, and the general favor with which the revised charter has been received by the people, without distinction of party, attests the ability and fidelity with which the work has been performed. The Council have already directed its publication, and it will soon be issued from the press in an authentic and convenient form.

Measures have also been initiated by the Common Council, for a revision and republication of the city ordinances. So many changes have been made since the last revision of 1856, that it is difficult for the public to ascertain what the municipal regulations are, which are now in force. In addition to this, serious incongruities and conflict are found to exist between the ordinances of the city and the existing provisions of the organic law, in consequence of the radical alterations which the charter has undergone during this period. It is evident, therefore, that a careful revision and republication of the municipal laws are demanded by a due regard, as well to the interests of the city as the convenience and accommodation of the public. This important work will be commenced immediately, and will be completed, it is hoped, during the present season. No appropriation has been yet made to defray the expense of it, but I am confident you will grant the amount requisite for the purpose.


For a detailed account of the fiscal condition of the city, I beg leave to refer you to the report of the Comptroller, who has had that part of the municipal government in his immediate charge. Our financial position must always be a matter of the first importance to every one having the interest of the city at heart; and it is gratifying to learn from the Comptroller’s official statement that in this respect our condition was never more satisfactory than at the present moment. The current expenditures during the past year have been punctually met, and the faith of the city scrupulously maintained.

During my past term of office, it has been my constant endeavor to inculcate the strictest economy in municipal expenditures. Financial economy is as sound policy for a city or a State, as for an individual, and I trust that during my present term this policy will be studiously observed by all connected with the administration of the city government. The flourishing condition of the city, and of its finances, ought not to stimulate us to indulge in lavish and extravagant expenditures. Such appropriations as may be required to promote the public welfare and meet the actual wants of the city must, of course, be provided, but they should be confined in all cases to objects authorized by law, and clearly calculated to advance the prosperity and best interests of the city.

Board of Public Works

By the amendments incorporated into the revised charter, the Mayor has been made a member ex-officio of the Board of Public Works and Board of Police. By this salutary provision he will be enabled hereafter to exercise a more active supervision over the important matters confided to the management of those two departments. To the Board of Public Works are committed the special charge and superintendence of the water and sewerage works, and of all public improvements made by the city. The proceedings of the Board, during the past year, are set forth in detail, in their annual report and the accompanying documents, to which I beg leave to refer you for much valuable information, relating to this branch of the public service.

Among the more important subjects which have engaged the particular attention of the board, and of the able civil engineer in the service, has been that of procuring for the present and future necessities of the city an abundant supply of pure water. Their suggestions upon this important subject will doubtless attract your attention. It is, in my judgment, a matter of vital concern to the health and comfort of our citizens, and the future prosperity of the city, that some plan should be speedily devised and adopted adequate to the purpose just suggested. Ample authority has been conferred upon the municipal government, by the Legislature, to construct and maintain the necessary works, and I would earnestly recommend that early but considerate steps be taken by your honorable body, to secure the speedy consummation of this desirable object.

The Police Department

It affords me pleasure to state that the police department, as at present organized, has proved itself worthy of the approbation and confidence of the community. The efficiency, fidelity and uniform good conduct, which have been exhibited by the active members of the force, with very few exceptions, have been highly commendable and satisfactory to the public. The men now on duty will compare favorably with the police corps of any city in the country; and no efforts will be spared, I am satisfied, by the present board to maintain the vigor and efficiency of this important arm of the public service.

The recent extension of the city limits, and the considerable accessions to the population of the city during the past year, have induced the Commissioners to ask of the Council a small increase of the number of patrolmen. The subject will doubtless receive your early and considerate attention.

House of Correction

In connection with this subject I esteem it my duty to urge strongly upon your consideration the necessity which exists of establishing a House of Correction for the punishment of petty offenders. This subject has previously engaged the attention of the Common Council. In December last an order was passed directing the Finance Committee in connection with the Mayor and Comptroller to examine the most desirable sites for the location of such an institution and ascertain the most favorable terms on which the necessary grounds could be procured. From various causes the action of that committee was delayed to so late a day as to preclude any further action by the late Council, and the whole matter is, therefore, submitted to your honorable body for definite and final action. The urgent necessity for the establishment of a permanent and commodious House of Correction must, I think, be apparent to all who have given the subject even a casual investigation. The present City Bridewell has been for a long time a subject of complaint. The buildings are light wooden structures, never intended for permanence, and are incapable of being remodeled and made suitable for a permanent prison. The support of the institution involves the city in a large yearly expense, while, in a proper location, and by prudent management, it might be made at least self-supporting. In my judgment, it would be wise policy to purchase a tract of land on the site of some one of the stone quarries in the vicinity of the city, and erect thereon a permanent building adapted to the purposes to which it is to be appropriated, and of sufficient size to answer the probable requirements of the corporation for several years to come. I trust, therefore, that your attention will be directed, at an early day, to the adoption of measures whereby the desired object may be accomplished.

Fire Department

The fire department of the city has fully maintained, during the past year, its high character for usefulness and efficiency. The steam engines and apparatus connected with the department have been kept in thorough repair, and the force in commission, under the skillful management of the Chief Engineer and his assistants, have, by the prompt and energetic manner in which they have been accustomed to perform their duties, established additional claims upon the favor and confidence of the community. The Chief Engineer has urgently advised the purchase of one or more steam engines, for the use of this department. His recommendation is entitled to the early and careful consideration of the Common Council.

Public Schools

It appears from the report of the Board of Education that our public schools during the past year have been in the highest degree prosperous and successful. I need not urge upon you the importance of a judicious encouragement of these invaluable agencies for the dissemination of useful learning, and the intellectual and moral culture of the rising generation. Their importance cannot be too highly appreciated. They have long been the pride and ornament of our city, and should not be permitted to fall into neglect or disrepute for want of our liberal support and fostering care.

The Canal Convention

It is known to you that a convention has been called to meet in this city, on the second day of June, to consider the importance of enlarging the canals between the Mississippi and the Atlantic, with the view of increasing their efficiency as national, commercial, and military works, and as tending to promote the development, prosperity, and unity of our country. The importance of the projected improvements, and the magnitude of the contemplated works have not escaped your attention. The interests of this city are in a peculiar manner involved in the successful and speedy completion of sufficient outlets for our commerce to the Atlantic. This convention will be composed of representatives of the agricultural, commercial, and transportation interests of the whole North. They will come here to this city, to consult upon measures for the national welfare, and in which we have a peculiar interest. It is fitting that such a convention should be hospitably greeted, and I recommend that the members of this Council, and our fellow-citizens generally, should leave nothing undone to make the visit of the delegates to this city as pleasant and agreeable as possible.

National Affairs

It will probably be expected of me, that I should say something respecting national affairs. I do not know that I would have done so further than to deplore the calamity of civil war, and to express the hope of a speedy peace, with a full recognition of national authority everywhere throughout the land, were it not for the persistent efforts made by my opponents, both before and since the election, to create the impression here and elsewhere that my election was to be considered as giving aid and comfort to the rebellion, and hope and encouragement to those northern men whose sympathies and feelings are hostile to the Union, and in favor of the Southern Confederacy. If the newspapers and others, who make this assertion believe what they say, never was there a greater mistake; if they do not believe it, never was there a more groundless falsehood uttered. If there be men in this city who have any sympathy for the rebellion; who desire the recognition of the Southern Confederacy, who desire a withdrawal of our troops from the rebel States and coast, who desire a peace that will directly or indirectly impair the territorial or political integrity of the Union, such men are strangers to me personally and politically. I have no relations with them of any kind. I am not their friend, nor are they my friends. If any such men voted for me, which I think is improbable, they did so with a full knowledge that I was not in any way favorable to their schemes against my country. If it be necessary that I should state my political position, it can be done in a very few words.

I am a democrat, devoted to the success of democratic principles, because those principles make the constitution the sole and unchangeable test of all political operations. While the democracy do not favor every measure that may be strictly constitutional, they are opposed always to everything that is not constitutional. The constitution has provided a sufficient means of determining the constitutionality of all legislative and executive action, and the democratic rule has been, and I hope always will be, to resort to those means, and not to rebellion or insurrection to test the validity of objectionable legislation or executive oppression. This devotion to law, as the only arbiter of public rights, necessarily requires that the democratic party should give their undivided support to the government, no matter by whom administered, in every effort to maintain the constitution. This rebellion is an effort to overturn the constitution and destroy the Union; that rebellion must be put down, no matter at what cost of money or sacrifice of life; it is a struggle for national existence, in which individuals must be prepared to sacrifice all that the nation may legally demand to preserve the national life. No democrat can be true to his principles, who does not render to his government all the aid, in whatever form it may be legally required, to put down the rebellion, which, if allowed to be successful, will destroy both constitution and Union, and plunge the nation into a civil and border warfare, which for years will keep the country desolated, bankrupt and ruined.

The doctrines I have stated as those taught and enforced by the democratic party are my political faith, not, however, expressed now for the first time, but are and have been well known to all my friends, personal and political; and it is to the fact that I held, and was firmly fixed in holding, such sentiments, that I attribute that unanimity with which the democratic party supported and elected me at the recent election. While thus faithful in their duty to their government, the democracy are not the less faithful to themselves and their fellow-citizens. While they are lavish in all things needed or asked by the government to put down the rebellion against the laws and constitution, they are not the less opposed to, and by all lawful means will resist, the employment of the power and means placed by the people in the hands of the Executive to put down those engaged in rebellion, for the illegal and wanton oppression and destruction of the true and faithful people of the northern States who are not engaged in rebellion. Against all such outrages upon personal and public right they will protest, and will seek redress in the manner provided by the constitution, despite all the frowns, threats and persecution of a party dynasty whose official hours may be counted with an accuracy that precludes all doubt.


In conclusion let me remind you that to us have been confided the custody and management of the interests of the people of Chicago. In the administration of the affairs of the city let us always remember that we are but the agents of the public, and that personal feelings and partisan suggestions must never be permitted to influence our action in any way to the detriment of the interests of the great city of which we are the present official representatives. Actuated and governed by this spirit we may confidently hope that our joint efforts in the city government will inure to the benefit and promote the prosperity of our loved city of Chicago.


  • Chicago Common Council. Journal of the Proceedings, May 4, 1863, p. 1–3.
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