Mayor John A. Roche Inaugural Address, 1887

John A. Roche Biography

Inauguration date: April 18, 1887

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:

You are the chosen guardians of, and legislators for a city of 800,000 people, whose material and moral well being, and prosperity are, in large measure, committed to your care. How immense is your responsibility: How commanding the call for the right exercise of your highest faculties: And how great the reward for the faithful discharge of your duties:

To-day, Chicago is the chief distributing point of the North-West; the greatest railway center on this Continent—a living tide of over three hundred thousand souls rushing through her railway arteries daily, while the books of the Collector of Customs show a greater number of arrivals and departures of vessels from our harbor during the season of navigation, than from the port of New York.

Chicago is peopled by diverse nationalities, with different original modes of training and habits of thought and life, attracted here by the larger opportunities afforded for providing homes for themselves and their children and for laying the foundations of a prosperous future. The atmosphere of Freedom changes an exotic feature here, obliterates or smooths down a foreign wrinkle there, and contact and association assimilate their habits to those who are “to the manner born,” till, in the powerful alembic of free institutions, race distinctions, prejudices and hates dissolve and disappear, and the plastic hand of Liberty moulds all nationalities into the perfect likeness of American citizenship—the grandest type of manhood the world has ever seen. Thus without violent change, or sudden shock to race or religious opinions, the equal rights of all citizens of whatever birth or creed being preserved intact, the old civilization gives place to the new, combining the patient industry, frugal habits and sturdy grip of the Old World with the quick perceptions, and elastic and expansive enterprise of the New, and forming a cosmopolitan city, whose genius is creative, not destructive. Her inspiration is to build up, not to tear down; and they most truly represent and honor her character who do most to “lengthen her cords and strengthen her stakes,” and help to make Chicago the most economical, the most comfortable, and the most desirable dwelling place on this continent.

This city owes her pre-eminence to productive labor, which is simply ingenuity, skill and industry employed, in rural districts, chiefly in agriculture, and occupied, in cities and manufacturing towns, mainly in shaping raw material into useful forms. Every brick, and stone, and timber in buildings which line our six hundred and fifty miles of streets, is a contribution to the grandest monument of labor, erected by willing hands and earnest hearts, in modern times.

The demand of workingmen for just treatment and fair wages is right and should be respected. Arbitration is a better method of settling controversies between employee and employer than strikes or boycotts or brute force. Might is not the synonym of Right, and should not take its place in a land of Liberty, and Law, and a free ballot. And mistaken men who, while enjoying the benefits of a free government are seeking to undermine and overthrow it under the guise of socialism or anarchy, must learn that this is not the soil for the growth of their un-American doctrines.

The first duty of government is the protection of its citizens in their right to life, liberty and property. We have for this purpose several departments, prominent among which are Departments of Police, Fire, Health and Public Works. It shall be my aim to make all of them serve as efficiently as possible the purposes for which they were organized, and one of my earliest duties will be a thorough examination of the working of every department and the personnel of its members. All competent and faithful officials will welcome such investigation in their own interests as well as in the interest of public service.

Called to the office of chief of magistrate of this city by the great majority of its citizens because they believed I would be sincerely devoted to the public welfare, and that I would maintain order, discourage vice, and protect the equal rights of all. It shall be my earnest endeavor to fulfill their just expectations. There is but one proper, safe and equitable rule for the executive officer of this city. The law must be supreme. The will of the people, legally expressed, must be executed.

One of the most important branches of the city government is the Board of Education, whose chief care should be to secure the largest attendance and the most efficient instruction in our common schools. The percentage of non-attendance of children of school age is lamentably large, while but a small per cent. of them ever attend high school. The high schools are invaluable, but can never rank in importance to the mass of our people with the common schools. The general course of study pursued in these schools, supplemented by a system of manual training, by which the eye and the hand co-operate with the mind in the work of education, and which I hope to see more extensively introduced into the higher grades of our school system, will qualify any pupil for the ordinary avocations of life and fit him to become a useful and respected citizen.

The Health Department, so intimately connected with the subject of drainage and an abundant supply of pure water, shall be my special care. The drainage question is now in the hands of a commission appointed by the City Council, and the proper course to be taken will depend largely upon the action of the Legislature, before which several bills on this subject are now pending. I will vigorously support any just and liberal measure that will accomplish the objects sought, and, at the same time, promote the sanitary and commercial interests of the people of the cities and towns along the line of the proposed outlet. This drainage question, however, is of such present vital importance to the health and lives of more than a million people, that some acceptable plan should be formulated by which the work can be begun at an early period. If no feasible plan be provided by the Legislature, or the Commission, it will become the duty of this Council and the Mayor to devise some means by which the health of the city can be protected. A public debt is not a public blessing but an obligation binding the debtor to the creditor, and the only relief is in satisfactory payment. Repudiation or indefinite deferment only adds disgrace and shame to the burden. Bonding a debt transfers a portion of the burden to those who will hereafter enjoy a part—it may be a large part—of the benefits for which the debt was contracted, and may be justified, in exceptional cases, on that ground. But the safe general rule for municipalities and for Chicago, is to “pay as you go.” Though opposed to an increase of our bonded indebtedness for ordinary purposes, I should favor special assessments for the issue of bonds, or both, if necessary, for the prosecution of work so essential to the health and happiness of our people as the providing of a suitable drainage system and water supply.

The affairs of our city should be conducted on the same principles which govern any large enterprising, prudent and successful business organization. There must be competent, honest, and faithful heads of departments and employes and responsibility and accountability to central authority in any well-conducted enterprise. Any rules which apply to large, well managed business organizations should guide the administration of our city affairs.


  • Chicago City Council. Journal of the Proceedings, April 18, 1887, p. 16-17.
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