Mayor James Hutchinson Woodworth Inaugural Address, 1848

James Hutchinson Woodworth Biography

Inauguration date: March 14, 1848

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

Gentlemen of the Common Council:

In assuming the important responsibilities of the position to which I have been called by the free suffrages of my fellow citizens, it is proper that I should, in compliance with established custom, make such suggestions as are deemed by me worthy of your consideration, and call your attention to such subjects as the interest of the city seems to demand. But before entering upon the discharged of that duty, I beg leave to express to you, and to my fellow citizens generally, my grateful acknowledgments for their strong demonstration in my behalf, in electing me without distinction of party, or solicitation on my part, to the mayoralty of our rapidly advancing city by an unprecedented majority—and while such acknowledgments are prompted by the dictates of a thankful heart, I wish to assure you, and them, that in view of the peculiar, though flattering circumstances under which I have been called to that honorable station, that no efforts will be wanting on my part to discharge my official duties without political or personal partialities, and in such a manner as will merit the confidence so generously repose in me by my fellow citizens. While such is the course adopted for the government by my own action, I feel gratified and assured, from the known character for intelligence and integrity of gentlemen composing the council, that such will be their rule of action; and that harmony, wisdom, and efficiency of action will be a distinguishing trait of the city government for the coming year is my sincere hope and belief.

The first subject to which I would invite your attention, is the financial condition of the city. By reference to the late Finance Report, it will be seen that the total liabilities of the city are $20,338 38 and its resources but $10,400 30, leaving an excess of liabilities over resources, of $9,938 09. Although this sum is small compared with the ultimate ability of the city to pay: yet from the unavailability of our resources at the present time, and the fact that about $1000 of our debt consists of interest due upon bonds held by Messrs. Stachan & Scott, and George Smith & Co., and of some $4000 in floating orders which are constantly pressing upon an empty treasury for payment, the credit of the city is much depressed, and her orders selling in the market at most ruinous rates to the holder.

This state of things is not only extremely embarrassing and mortifying to those who have charge of the finances of the city and highly prejudicial to its pecuniary interest, but it works great injustice to those who have received her indebtedness in consideration of a full value rendered for the same.

For these reasons, I most earnestly recommend that a loan of at least $5000 be at once made, for the purpose of paying the interest due upon our bonds and for the immediate redemption of all outstanding orders, and at the same time, would urge upon you the necessity of adopting a system of rigid economy in the administration of the affairs of the city during the present municipal year; believing, as I do, that with the ordinary revenues of the city, together with the means to be derived from the sale of wharfing lots under the late arrangement of the city for the settlement of the "wharfing question," you will be able, before the expiration of twelve months, to relieve the finances of the city from all embarrassment, and to place its credit upon a firm basis.

Our Public schools are such as to excite a just pride in the breast of every citizen of Chicago, and I trust they will receive your kind and fostering care. The importance of providing ample means for the education of every child in the community cannot be too highly appreciated, and from the liberal feelings entertained by the members of this Council in behalf of our Public Schools, I confidently hope that every attention will be given them necessary to correct any existing evils tending to lessen their usefulness or efficiency in promoting the great and noble objects for which they were designed.

For a full and explicit statement in regard to the moneys received and disbursed on account of our Public Schools during the last year, I refer you to the finance report of the Common Council, and to the report of your Agent for the management of the school fund appended thereto.

Although the Fire Department of the city has acquired under the liberal appropriations of former Councils, and the care and management of its late Chief Engineer, Stephen F. Gale, a character for promptness and efficiency in the subjugation of fires equal to any Fire Department of the Eastern cities, still further appropriations will be required for that Department the present year. It will be necessary to erect at least two buildings for the reception of the two new engines which have been contracted for by the City, to be ready for delivery sometime the coming summer-a building for the use of the Hook and Ladder Company, and one, and perhaps two, suitable for Hose Houses. I would recommend that lots for these buildings suitably located, be purchased, and that the buildings be constructed of the most durable materials, and in a manner which will render them proof against fire, and well adapted to the purposes for which they are designed.

Thus much, this Department imperatively demands at your hands the present year.

I feel it my duty to call your serious attention to the condition of the cemetery grounds, which I regret to say, are, in a condition incompatible with the desires and character of the People of Chicago. Nothing exhibits in a community more clearly a high state of civilization and morality, than a proper regard for their dead, and no improvement will inspire the stranger with so high a regard for the character of our people as a proper and tasteful adornment of the depositories of our deceased friends; and I hope that immediate measures will be taken for their improvement by a judicious expenditure of the money derived from the sale of cemetery lots. As the debt contracted in the purchase of the grounds, has been entirely discharged, we may hope to realize means from this source sufficient to enable you to effect to a considerable extent the improvement so much desired.

During my membership of the Common Council of this city, I have been strongly impressed with the belief that the salaries of the officers, should be made to depend upon a faithful discharge of their duties. And for this reason, I would advise that in every case when it is practicable, the compensation of the officers be made up in most parts by an allowance of fees for services rendered, and a per centage of monies collected for the city. By way of illustration, I will suppose the city Attorney to be allowed a salary of 200 or more dollars as a compensation for the miscellaneous business which well be necessary for him to transact, the character, extent and value of which it is difficult to previously determine; and in addition to this a fixed fee for each suit prosecuted by him to judgment against the defendants for violations of the city ordinances, which will amply compensate him for services thus rendered.

In regard to street commissioners, I would suggest that they be allowed a salary, say of $150, and the balance of their compensation be made to depend upon the amount of street tax collected in their respective divisions, by allowing them such per cent. upon their collections as will give them ample compensation.

By this means I have no doubt but the city will realize from this source, the coming year, from $2,000 to $3,000 more than it did last-a result most anxiously desired.

It will be seen by an ordinance introduced by Ald. Boone, and passed by the late council, that the city marshal is made already to look to an allowance of per centage upon his collections for the most part of his compensation, from which the most favorable results to the Treasury are anticipated.

While upon this subject, I beg leave to urge upon your attention the propriety and necessity of confining the ordinary expenditures upon the streets and alleys to the means alone derived from the street tax. By requiring monthly reports from the city Treasurer setting forth the amount of street tax paid into the Treasury by the respective wards of the city, and also monthly report from the street commissioners, showing the amount expended by them in each ward, you will at all times be able to inform yourselves of any infraction of the ordinance on this subject, and at once apply the necessary corrective.

During the past year the council have been somewhat embarrassed in several instances in arriving at satisfactory conclusion as to the propriety of allowing claims presented for medical services rendered at the City Hospital. To avoid imposition in this department, I would suggest for your consideration the propriety of appointing at an early day a Hospital Physician, who shall be a member of the Board of Health, and who shall be required to present his bills to the council for services rendered, duly sworn to before a proper officer, as to the correctness, amount, value, and necessity of the services performed, and as to the inability to pay, of the person receiving such services. By the adoption of a plan something like this no doubt the pecuniary interest of the city will be materially promoted and invalids of the Hospital better served.

I would call your attention to the fact that a revision of the City Charter and Ordinances was commenced under an order of the late council, and that such revision has not been completed. I trust you will take immediate steps for the perfection of the revision at as early a day as possible; and I would suggest the propriety of leaving out of this revision or repealing, all ordinances which the public interest does not require to be enforced, or that citizens violate daily with impunity. The enactment of laws uncalled for by the wants of the people, or which are daily violated by them with impunity, are extremely pernicious in their tendency, in as much as a constant disregard of useless laws begets in the people an inclination to violate those which are wholesome and useful in their character, and which the public interest really requires should be observed.

It is extremely desirable that the negotiation which has been for some time pending between the former council and the County Commissioners' Court of Cook County, in regard to the Public Square, should be brought to a favorable termination as soon as possible. And I feel assured that in view of the important advantages to be derived both by the city and county in the perfection of the arrangement contemplated, no effort will be wanting on your part to accomplish the object desired in this behalf at an early day.

The low stage of water at the entrance of our Harbor, threatening serious embarrassment to the commerce of our city the approaching season, has been the cause of much anxiety and solicitude on the part of the late council, as well also, as on the part of our citizens generally. With a design to ward off the threatening evil, a committee of the council has been authorized to contract with some responsible person for delivering, at Chicago, in good working order, the old government dredge, now sunk at Southport. But I learn from that committee that no contract has yet been made. I solicit the immediate attention of the council to this important matter, with an assurance that they will take such action in the premises as the importance of the subject and the necessities of the case demand.

Much has been said during the past year in regard to what is the best plan for the improvement of the streets, and a thorough drainage of the city. As the time has arrived when the people begin to make strong demands upon the city government for extensive and permanent improvements of this description, I would deem it well for you to take measures to ascertain the relative advantages between planking and paving our principal streets, and also the best system of general sewerage.

In regard to this subject there seems to be much diversity of opinion, and though I have my own opinion formed in regard to it, I shall withhold an expression of them until a future time, for the reason that a full exposition would require more space than can be devoted to that subject in this communication.

It gives me much pleasure in being able to state, that with great labor and perseverance on the part of our immediate predecessors, for which they are entitled to much credit, the important and vexed question in regard to the public landings upon the Chicago river, has been so far arranged as to reconcile all conflicting claims between the individual occupants thereof and the city, and but little remains to be done, except the execution of the papers as agreed upon by the parties, to settle for all time to come, this complicated question.

By this arrangement, the city will receive six per cent interest per annum upon a sum varying but little from $180,000, producing an annual revenue to the city treasury of $10,800. As a matter of interest to our citizens, I will take occasion here to remark, that the principal is payable at the pleasure of the purchaser, but a failure to meet the interest upon his mortgages to the city as it becomes due works a forfeiture of that privilege, and the whole amount becomes due and payable. Thirty thousand dollars of the principal, first paid, is to be placed into the City Treasury for the purpose of paying the liabilities thereof. The balance of the principal, when paid, is to be added to the School Fund for the support of schools in the city. But, upon such sums as shall be added from that source, the School Fund is to pay to the city six per cent. per annum for twenty years to come. By this, it will be seen, that the school fund cannot derive any advantages from this source for at least twenty years, unless it be from an excess of interest over and above six per cent., obtained upon such sums of the principal as may be paid within that time, over the thirty thousand dollars appropriated to the City Treasury, as above mentioned.

Although it cannot be expected that the school fund will derive any considerable advantage from this arrangement, for at least twenty years to come, nevertheless, it is gratifying to the friends of humanity that there is in reserve a large fund for public instruction, the great blessings of which are to be felt and enjoyed by all coming generations.

In conclusion, gentlemen, I beg leave to assure you that in submitting the foregoing suggestions for your consideration, it has by no means been done in the spirit of dictation. Should they meet your approval, I shall ask your aid in carrying them out. But should you believe other measures better calculated to promote the public good, you will at all times find me cheerfully cooperating with you in carrying those measures into execution.


  • Chicago Daily Journal, March 15, 1848.
  • Newspaper and General Periodical Division files.
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