Mayor Francis Cornwall Sherman Inaugural Address, 1862

Francis Cornwall Sherman Biography

Inauguration date: May 5, 1862

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 Common Council:

In assuming the honorable office of Mayor of the city, I deem it proper to express to my fellow citizens my deep sense of the confidence they have reposed in me. I hope to justify that confidence by the faithful performance of my official duties. While I may not bring to the task the ability and intelligence which some of my predecessors have displayed, I may safely promise to practice myself, and to require from those under my control, the homely virtues of prudence, punctuality, industry and perseverance.

This is not a fit occasion for a detailed statement upon city affairs. I shall therefore confine myself to some general observations.

A large and important portion of his former duties have been taken from the Mayor by recent amendments to the city charter.

The Board of Public Works

The most radical change has been the creation of the Board of Public Works. To that Board is now committed the charge and superintendence of all streets, alleys, lanes or highways, walks and cross-walks, bridges, docks, wharves, public places, public buildings, public grounds and parks, markets, market places and market houses, engine houses, hospitals, armories, and all other public buildings belonging to the city, except school houses; and of the location and erection of all public buildings, of all lamps and lights for the lighting of the streets, alleys, bridges, public buildings, &c., and of the erection and repair of such lamps and lights, and the creation of new lamp districts; of all works for the widening, deepening or dredging of the Chicago river, or either of its branches; of all sewers and works pertaining thereto; of the Water Works, and of all public improvements to be made by the city.

The Common Council will receive communications upon all these subjects from the Board of Public Works, instead of the Mayor, but will, as in other cases, have the power to make or withhold appropriations, and to refuse action when in their judgment the improvements or operations proposed are not compatible with the public interest.

It is greatly to be desired, that while the Board shall confine itself to its legitimate duties, and be cautious in its undertakings, it shall at the same time equalize and extend, as far as possible the benefits of its expenditures, so that the large number of tax payers, who are assessed for various public works, from which they have as yet derived but a partial advantage, may soon more directly participate in their benefits. This is particularly the case in respect to the sewerage system, and it is to be hoped that several of the main sewers will be further extended this year, while the price of labor and materials is low, both for the sake of the public health and a wise economy.

Streets, Bridges and Harbor

The control of the streets, bridges and harbor, as far as may be required for the preservation of order, health and convenience in their use, remain with the Mayor and Common Council. The ordinances promotive of these objects it will be my duty to have faithfully executed.


The most important interest in the city is that of public education, for upon it depends, to a great extent, the security of person and property, public and private morality, and political freedom. Chicago may well be proud of her common schools, unsurpassed in character and management by those of any other city. That their efficiency may be maintained and increased, objectionable features removed, and the school fund carefully preserved and wisely administered, should be the endeavor of all connected with that sacred trust.

Fire Department

It affords me satisfaction to remark that the Fire Department has quite fulfilled the expectations and wishes of our citizens. The reduction of the rates of insurance since the adoption of the present system proves its utility. The credit of this result is due, in no small degree, to the skillful management of the present Chief Engineer and his able assistants, who well merit the unanimous vote of re-election, which they have just received. I will cheerfully co-operate in all proper measures to increase still more the efficiency and success of this Department.

Fines and Licenses

All violations of the city ordinances should be promptly punished, not with unreasonable severity, but with certainty. Vagrancy and disreputable occupations should be suppressed, not only for the cause of morality, but for the protection and encouragement of honest industry. It is a matter of pride with me that I am personally familiar with the habits and interests of the laboring classes, and I will take particular care that the ordinances passed for their protection, and for the suppression of the antagonistic class of disorderly characters, shall be duly enforced. Care should be taken at the same time that innocent amusements indulged in at proper hours, and with due regard to the comfort of others, should not be interfered with.

I do not consider it good policy to raise the license for retailing liquors; but it may be well to inquire whether it cannot be lowered, at least to the extent of discriminating in favor of the lighter wines and beer.

The receipts from fines and license form no inconsiderable portion of the city revenue, and I will endeavor to secure the prompt and complete collection of such sums from those sources as may be justly collected under the ordinances.

Police Department

At the last session of the General Assembly an act was passed creating a Board of Police in and for the city of Chicago, which organized March 26th, 1861. One of the chief objections to this act arose from the fact that it provides for the appointment of the first members of the Board by the Governor of the State, who might with equal propriety have been empowered to appoint the Mayor or any other of the city officers.

By the thirty-fourth section of the schedule of the Constitution, adopted by the Convention, lately held at Springfield, it was provided that at the municipal election, to be held on the third Tuesday in April, 1862, a vote should be taken “for” and “against the City of Chicago electing its own officers,” and in the event of a majority of the legal votes being cast in favor of the people electing their own officers, then the act creating a Custodian of personal property in Chicago, and in the towns of South Chicago, West Chicago, and North Chicago, the acts creating three Commissioners to examine into the finances of the City, and the act to establish a Board of Police, above referred to, should each and all of them be thereby repealed, and the powers and duties of all officers appointed under, and by virtue of said acts should immediately cease, and all officers should thereafter be elected by the people of the City, or appointed by the Mayor and Aldermen as provided by law.

At the recent election, the vote was taken upon the proposition contained in the thirty-fourth section of the schedule, and 11,844 votes were cast for the proposition, while only 93 votes were given against it. I need scarcely say that the decision of the legal voters upon this question met with my decided concurrence. By that decision, the act creating the Board of Police was repealed, and that Board annulled. Whether the late members of the Police Board will seek to contest this decision, so unanimously expressed, I am not advised.

It will, however, be my duty to provide the necessary police force, and to recommend to the consideration of the Common Council such measures as may be needed for its organization and effectiveness, which I will proceed to do at the earliest moment.

Finance and Taxation

I have but little to suggest in reference to the finances of the city, as they require a thorough and careful examination. The city has met with heavy losses by defalcation and bank failures. Who is to blame for these losses it is not my province to enquire, except as such enquiry may be necessary in fixing legal liability, or recovering any amounts due the city. I trust that such losses will not occur under my administration. Notwithstanding these losses, it is gratifying to know that the interest on our funded debt has been promptly met, and that no doubt exists in any quarter of the good faith of the city, and her ample resources and perfect responsibility for all her obligations. It will be my endeavor to preserve the credit of the city untarnished. I shall enquire minutely into our expenditures, and ascertain in what particulars, if any, our expenses can be lessened, and how far our present onerous taxes can be reduced. Such a reduction is imperatively demanded at this time, when additional burdens are being imposed by the Federal Government.

Charter Amendments

So many acts have been passed by the General Assembly for the incorporation and regulation of our City Government, that some of the provisions of the different acts now in force conflict with one another. Some further amendments are needed. Among the most important is a provision for the better apportionment of the city into such districts as will secure to the people of each district or ward fair and equal representation in the Common Council. The several acts relating to our City Government, with the additional provision required, should be codified and reduced to one act, so clear in it terms as to avoid any conflict in its sections, and, so far as possible, any doubt about its true construction. At a proper time, before the meeting of the next General Assembly, I will call you attention again to this subject.

Ship Canal and Armory

The propriety of enlarging the canal connecting the Illinois and the Chicago Rivers, so as to admit the passage of ships and large steamers, is now engaging the attention of Congress. The entire feasibility of this project, at a very small expense, has long been settled. Its incalculable advantages both for commerce, and the national defense, must be apparent to the most careless observer. Uniting the vast trade of the lakes with the trade of the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico, equally vast, it will also furnish a sure and safe channel, by which gunboats and floating batteries may be moved from Lake Michigan for the defense of the Gulf Coast, and from the Gulf and the rivers of the interior for the defense of the northern frontier. It is believed that Congress will at this session make appropriations for this object, as well as for a national armory and ship yard, somewhere on Lake Michigan. Should they do so, the effect upon the growth and prosperity of Chicago will surpass the expectations of the most sanguine.

The Rebellion

It will not be improper for me to refer to a subject of momentous interest to every citizen and lover of his country. The differences of opinion and feeling which for fifteen years have been growing up between a portion of the people of the slave-holding States and a large and controling portion of the people of the free-labor States, have at last culminated in a civil war, which has startled the world by its magnitude. Conservative men, North and South, have long foreseen it, and have endeavored to avert it, by withdrawing from Congress the discussion of these exciting questions, which are of little practical importance under our form of government, yet lay at the foundation of these differences. Although their efforts have proved unavailing, the wisdom of their counsels is now acknowledged, and will be always hereafter recognized in the government of this country. For this civil war the national government, being clearly in the right, maintaining the constitution which all are bound to obey, has met with the earnest and united support and the most devoted sacrifices of the people, without regard to party. Fortunately for the country, and for the cause of free government throughout the world, the Administration of Mr. Lincoln has proved itself patriotic, conservative and able. Our arms have already been covered with many glorious victories, and the day seems near at hand, when rebellion and disloyalty shall be driven from the land, and peace, fraternity and prosperity again restored. In accomplishing this result, the wishes and efforts of all except the factionists and visionary fanatics will concur, and the future history of the country, illustrating a sound and conservative policy, will probably be unmarked by internal disorder or insurrection.

The Condition of Chicago

In conclusion, allow me to congratulate you, that notwithstanding the general disturbance of financial and business relations, the enterprise, capital, and resources of Chicago have secured us to a great extent from the misfortunes that have befallen other cities. Our trade and manufactories are increasing with wonderful rapidity, real estates is saleable at improving prices, new buildings are projected and being built in great numbers, and with proper attention to our interests, we may hope before many years to take the front rank among the great cities of this continent.


  • Chicago Common Council. Journal of the Proceedings, May 5, 1862, p. 2–5.
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