Mayor James Hutchinson Woodworth Inaugural Address, 1849

James Hutchinson Woodworth Biography

Inauguration date: March 16, 1849

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:

Having been called by my fellow citizens to exercise the powers and perform the duties pertaining to the office of Chief Magistrate of the city of Chicago, in accordance with the custom of my predecessors, it becomes my duty, in assuming its important responsibilities for another year, to make such communications to you as the interest of the public seems to demand. But before calling your attention to particular subjects connected with the improvement and welfare of the city, I beg leave to express to you and the citizens of Chicago generally, my grateful acknowledgments for the renewed evidence of their continued confidence and favor as exhibited in their almost unanimous support for the honorable position to which I have just been called by their free and unsolicited suffrages. And while I fully appreciate this expression of confidence, let me assure you and them that it will serve to stimulate me to greater exertions in the discharge of my duties, in order to meet the high expectations of my fellow citizens, which their strong expression of preference seems to indicate. And when I take a survey of the gentlemen composing the Common Council, with most of whom I have been long and familiarly acquainted, and bear in mind their known character for liberality, integrity and capability, I feel assured of having at all times their ready and efficient co-operation in the adoption and execution of all measures calculated to promote the general welfare of our citizens: and I moreover feel a conviction that the City Government for the ensuing year will by no means render itself justly obnoxious to the charge of “maintaining a masterly inactivity,” or a want of wisdom and efficiency in its administration.

In view of the probable appearance of the cholera amongst us at the commencement of warm weather, you will doubtless feel with me, the importance of immediate action with a view to prevent, as far as possible, the spread of that disease in our city, and to mitigate its evils; as observation and experience have clearly shown that low damp situations, collections of filth, of vegetable and animal matters, and whatever produces offensive and noxious effluvia, favor in a special manner the prevalence and mortality of cholera, the first thing to be done in relation to this subject, will at once suggest itself to your minds, viz., a thorough cleansing of the city. But as a large and respectable meeting of the citizens have adopted resolutions recommendatory of certain measures to be carried out by the Common Council, in the accomplishment of this object, and having confidence that you will adopt wise and salutary measures, I shall refrain at this time from making any suggestions on this point.

The time has arrived when the adoption of a general, uniform system of drainage for our city is imperatively demanded, and I trust you will take such immediate action upon this subject as will result in the maturing of a system adapted to our wants and condition, at an early day. And I would remark that inasmuch as the public mind seems to have settled down in the opinion that the best practical mode of improving our main thoroughfares is by planking, and deeming it the duty of the Council to meet the demands of the citizens for such improvements, with as little delay as possible, it seems highly necessary that the plan of sewerage to be adopted should be known as soon may be, in order to avoid the inconvenience and additional cost likely to attend the construction of sewers through streets which has been thus improved.

As to the best mode of effecting this object there is some diversity of opinion. It has been suggested that for the drainage of the South Division the preferable plan is to construct a sewer in, say, Washington street, leading from the South Branch of the Chicago to State street or even the Lake, and as many others, intersecting this and leading to the main river, as may be thought necessary for a thorough drainage of the this portion of the city, of sufficient dimensions to enable a man to pass though them for the purpose of removing any obstruction to the passage of the water designed to be carried off by them, should it at any time become necessary, a contingency however not likely to happen, the plan being to place the bottom of the sewers on a level with the lowest stage of water in the river, so that by the ebbing and flowing of the Lake, which is known to be almost daily, and from 6 to 24 inches, a current of fresh water would be forced through them sufficiently often to keep them at all times thoroughly cleansed and purified. Another plan has also been mentioned of putting down sewers and near the surface of the ground, through the principal streets leading to the river, connecting the whole with the reservoirs of the Chicago Hydraulic Company, with the view of cleansing them by forcing a rapid passage of fresh water through them by means of this connection.

Though this plan is plausible, and would doubtless answer a tolerable purpose. Still I believe the deep sewers possess great advantages over it. It is true the cost of their construction would be much greater than that of the others, yet they will endure for a long time to come, and will subject the city to no expense for cleansing. Also, instead of draining only from the surface, as would be the case with small sewers, they would cause a thorough and deep drainage of the adjacent lots, rendering them sufficiently dry to admit of the construction of comfortable cellars-an improvement of great value to the owners of such lots.

While upon this subject, I would remark that at a public meeting of the citizens of Chicago, held a few days since in the City Hall, a resolution was adopted requiring the chairman thereof to appoint a committee of seven to take into consideration the subject of sewerage, and report the result of their deliberations to a subsequent meeting to be called by the Mayor.

This committee has been appointed, and is composed of men who are able to, and I trust will, give to the public, valuable information upon this subject at an early day. This circumstance, however, should form no reason for delay on the part of the Council in taking the matter under consideration.

In view of the fact that the future growth and prosperity of Chicago depend upon the facilities it renders to commerce, the necessity of prosecuting the plan already adopted by a previous Council, of widening the main river, with the view of rendering our harbor more capacious, safe, and easy of access, is so apparent to all, that no solicitation on my part is necessary to insure at you hands the prosecution of this important improvement to the extent of the means within your control.

Situated as we are on the main channel of communication between the chain of Western Lakes and the Southern rivers, we necessarily have thrown amongst us a great variety of character, and I regret to say there is found infesting our city, at all times of the year, a class of individuals who, regarding the rights of none, are almost daily in the commission of crime, as a means of converting to their use the substance of their fellow men. This state of things calls loudly for the organization of a well regulated police whose efficiency will be adequate to our wants in the detection and punishment of crime.

This subject, I trust, will receive your early consideration, and you will take such measures for the safety of the citizens in this behalf as the provisions of the city Charter and the condition of the Treasury will allow.

It has been suggested by some that the Mayor should hold a court for the trial of persons charged with a violation of the city ordinances. I deem it proper to say, that if the Common Council desire the establishment of such a court, they will receive from me a willing co-operation in the attainment of that object.

The establishment of a Bridewell, or House of Correction, as contemplated in the City Charter, would be a valuable acquisition to this department of the city government, and I would recommend the erection of suitable buildings for this purpose as soon as the pecuniary means of the city will admit. And as a preparatory step towards the accomplishment of an object as desirable and necessary to give force and effect to our police organization, I would submit for your consideration the suggestion that a lot of ground, suitably located for that purpose, be obtained at once, a quantity of building stone be procured and placed upon it, and cheap buildings, for a temporary lodgment of prisoners, be erected, with the view of requiring them to labor in the preparation of the ground and materials for such building. If such a plan should be found feasible, great advantages would doubtless be derived from its adoption, as it would enable the city to put to labor, and render useful in some degree, that class of individuals denominated rogues, vagabonds, stragglers, idle and disorderly persons infesting the community, and who are now permitted to go at large for the want of a proper place to confine them.

Although the Public Schools of Chicago are entitled to, and do enjoy a high reputation at home and abroad for their good order and usefulness, yet much is wanting in the way of additional school room, and the necessary apparatus to extend to all the children of our city the means of procuring a common education, and facilitating the progress of the scholar in the pursuit of his studies, to render them all that the philanthropist can desire, and when it is borne in mind that the plan of imparting knowledge to the rising generation through the medium of Common Schools is the most effectual means of improving the moral and physical condition of man, it is expected that the Public Schools of our city will receive at your hands a zealous and fostering care.

As the principle adopted by the late Common Council in making the compensation of city officers depend in a great degree upon a faithful discharge of their duties, has been found highly advantageous in its operation during the past year, I would recommend a continuance of the same policy.

In consequence of the depressed condition of the finances, the Council was unable during the last year to make such appropriations for the improvement of the Fire Department as its necessities required, and many of its members became dissatisfied, under an impression that a disposition existed on the part of Aldermen to withhold that aid and encouragement which their importance and condition demanded. But having learned that the necessary appropriations were withheld alone from a want of means, I believe that general satisfaction has been restored, and a willingness prevails in the department to render that prompt and efficient service in the extingishment of fires which has, hitherto, been so distinguishing a trait in the character of our Firemen, I would recommend an early examination into the condition of the several companies, with a view of rendering such aid and encouragement as their wants require.

In my first communication to the late Council I submitted for their consideration the suggestion that a Hospital Physician be appointed who should 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 the necessity of the services performed, and as to the inability to pay of the person receiving such services.

The Council having failed to act upon the suggestion, and my views having undergone no change in regard to the subject, I would respectfully call your attention to it, under the conviction that its adoption would result in pecuniary benefit to the city, and better service to the invalids of the Hospital.

The negotiation which was entered into some time since between the city and the County Commissioners' Court of Cook County, in regard to the Public Square, I regret to say has been nearly or quite suspended. Deeming the attainment of the object sought in the opening of this negotiation, extremely desirable, I would respectfully urge the renewal and prosecution of the negotiation to a termination at as early a day as possible, believing that both the City and the County will derive great advantages from the perfection of the arrangement contemplated.

The devastating effects of the terrible flood and rush of ice and water, with which our Harbor has been visited, causing great damage to shipping, and the destruction of nearly all the bridges within the bounds of the city, demand such action at your hands, in supplying the necessary means of communication between the grand division of the city, as the circumstances of the case demand. What those means shall be, I leave to the Council, in its greater wisdom, to determine, with this simple remark, that in your action upon this subject it is necessary to have a strict regard to economy and the empty state of the Treasury, so far as possible and meet to a reasonable extent, the wants of the public in this behalf.

Agreeably to an order of the late Council, a revision of the Laws and Ordinances for the government of the city has been undertaken by the appointment of Commissioners for the purpose, and I hope you will not fail to do everything in your power to hasten the accomplishment of a work so desirable.

It is well known that the Public Grounds between Michigan Avenue and the Lake have been wasting away by the washing of the waters for several years, and although considerable sums of money have been spent in attempting to protect them from the incursion of the Lake, yet a large portion of the ground is still exposed and being constantly carried away. As to the propriety of taking measures for the preservation of this ground, it seems to me there can be no reasonable doubt; for the time is not far distant, if protected and properly improved and ornamented, when it will become to Chicago what the Battery is to New York, a place of general resort for our citizens during the summer evenings, where they will be enabled to enjoy, not only the benefits of a delightful promenade, but also the sanitary [note: word supplied— illegible in original] advantages which the invigorating breezes from the Lake, generally prevailing at that time, will impart to the system. Your early attention to this subject is desired.

While it is true that the wants of the city are many, and the public interest requires at your hands prompt and efficient action in supplying these wants, it is equally true that without adequate pecuniary means you will be unable to meet the demands and expectations of the public in this behalf; and I would therefore urge the necessity of placing at once the City Treasury in a condition to meet all necessary demands upon it.

The receipts of the Treasury at this period of the municipal year, being light, I would recommend that a temporary loan of $5,000 be made as soon as may be for the purpose of sustaining the Treasury until the taxes for the present year shall have been collected.

By reference to the finance report of the late Council, it will be seen that the outstanding orders upon the Treasury amounted to between three and four thousand dollars, and that its available means were insufficient for their payment. The result of which is to depreciate them in value and cause a loss to the holders of from 5 to 6 per cent. This state of the finances not only works injustice to our creditors, but also a pecuniary loss to the city in the increased charge for every thing furnished it by individuals. All back interest upon city loans, and demands due and falling due against the city during the last year, having been paid, (except the outstanding orders above mentioned) with the present special funds in the treasury, and the balance of taxes for 1848 of about $2,400, which is now, or will be placed in the treasury in a few days, I have no doubt but the sum proposed to be loaned will enable the city to meet all demands against it at once, and to give and maintain, for the coming year at least, a par value to its Scrip, should no very extraordinary and unexpected appropriations be made from the Treasury.

In conclusion, gentlemen, let me assure you that the foregoing suggestions have been submitted, not in a spirit of dictation, but with the view of drawing your attention to them, and eliciting such discussion and interchange of views as will be likely to lead us to a wise and harmonious action in everything pertaining to the general welfare of our fellow citizens; and being by no means strongly wedded to my own opinions, or to any particular measure or policy, except an honest and faithful discharge of my duties, you will, at all times, find me readily and cheerfully co-operating with you in the adoption and execution of such measures as you in your greater wisdom may think the public interest calls for.


  • Chicago Daily Journal, March 17, 1849, p. 2.
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