Inauguration date: May 6, 1861
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:
I find myself, for the first time in my life, politically, in an official position. I have been, as it were, whirled from the comparatively quiet commercial pursuits in which I have been engaged from my boyhood, into the chair of the Chief Executive of this great city of the North-West. The honor—(and truly a great honor I feel it to be)—was entirely unsought and undeserved; but the feeling that the wish of the people should command the services of every good citizen, more particularly in times like these, is the cause of my presence here to-day, in this chamber. I have never entertained the idea of occupying this or any other political place, and I appear before you now, confessing with regret, that I am but poorly qualified to perform the duties that are before me; but I am ready to do my best, and if you assist me to that end, as I have no doubt you will, there is but little doubt but all will be well. During the brief period which has elapsed, since I have been aware I was to occupy this place, I have been most of the time engaged in performing duties, which I considered paramount to any, for the good of our country, and which duties I may truly say were more congenial to my feelings, than those I now assume. I have been assisting to arm, equip, and supply our volunteers, that they might “be enabled to hold, possess, and occupy” the most important military point in our State, or indeed in the whole Valley of the Mississippi. I have, however, endeavored to obtain such information in relation to the affairs of our city, as would be useful to me in the performance of my duties, and I regret to have to state that they are not in so good condition as I could wish.
I do not propose to engage your attention with a long address about matters which to many of you, who have had seats in this body before, are undoubtedly more familiar than they are to me. Besides, I think that the days of speeches are, for the present, past, and that the days of action are upon us.
But for the sake of bringing, briefly, some facts before the people, and making our record for the future right, I will make some statements as to what seems to me to be the condition of our city matters. Some small part of the charter originally granted to Chicago, is still in force, but the many alterations which have been asked for, and granted by the Legislature from time to time, have so changed the original and the subsequent amendments, that I can truly say, that it is at least difficult to know what the law is, even by those who have had experience in its administration. To illustrate some of the difficulties, even where it does seem comparatively clear, I will state that the amended charter of 1857, sec. 16, having reference to the duties of the Comptroller, reads as follows:
“The said comptroller shall, also, in the month of April in each year, before the annual appropriations “are made by the Common Council, submit to the same a report of the estimates necessary, as “nearly as may be, to defray the expenses of the city government during the ensuing fiscal year, “commencing on the first day of the said month of April; he shall, in said report, class the different “objects and branches of said city expenditure, giving, as nearly as may be, the amount required for “each; and for this purpose he is authorized to require of all city officers and heads of departments, their “statements of the condition and expense of their respective departments and offices, with any proposed “improvement and the probable expense thereof, of contracts already made and unfinished, and the “amount of any unexpended appropriations of the preceding year. He shall also, in such report, show “the aggregate income of the preceding fiscal year from all sources; the amount of liabilities outstanding “upon which interest is to be paid, and of bonds and city debts payable during the year, when due, and “where payable, so that the Common Council may fully understand the money exigencies and demands “of the city for the ensuing year; but in no event shall the Common Council make the current “appropriations of any year exceed in amount the income of the city during the preceding year, as “ascertained by the comptroller in his said statement, unless in the payment of interest on the public “debts of the city they shall provide according to law by taxation or otherwise, some additional fund out “of which such excess of appropriations may be made to meet such indebtedness.
This makes the fiscal year begin on the first day of April, and requires the Comptroller to furnish an estimate during that month of the amount necessary to defray the expences of the City Government for that year, while, by the last amendment to the charter, the Board of Public Works-(a very important branch of said Government)-is created, and their estimate of what they will require to carry on that branch of the Government, (which should be included in the estimate of the Comptroller,) is to be made in the month of May, for the current year commencing on the first day of June. The same amendments make the municipal year commence on the first Monday in May. This does not allow each Administration to manage its affairs during the time for which it is held responsible, as such Administration does not assume power until more than a month after the time for which it has to provide; nor can the Comptroller make such an estimate for “the different objects and branches of the said city expenditure,” as the law contemplates, or as would be desirable to an intelligent action of the Common Council. The new Board of Police Commissioners having, by still another bill passed by the Legislature, the full charge of the Police Department of the city, went into operation during the month of March last.
There are many other incongruities in the laws of the Legislature pertaining to our city, and many also in the ordinances, which have been from time to time enacted by the Common Council.
The Comptroller informs me that there are now on hand, belonging to special funds of the city, and held in the shape of currency in Bank, amounts about as follows:
- To credit of School Tax fund, say: $32,500
- [To credit of] Reform School Tax fund, say: 15,500
- [To credit of] Cemetery Fund: 6,500
- [To credit of] Special Assessment and Deposit Fund and Tax-Sale Redemption Fund: 10,500
- [To credit of] General Fund of last year, and for which warrants were drawn prior to April 1st, but not yet called for: 15,000
- [To credit of] Water Commissioners, to be transferred to new Board of Public Works, to be used for benefit of Water Works only: 22,000
- [To credit of] Sewerage Commissioners, to be transferred to new Board of Public Works, to be used for the benefit of Sewerage only: 180,000
- [To credit of] School Agent (School Fund proper): 34,000
- Total...$316,000. None of which can be used to liquidate any general indebtedness against the city, but, by the charter, must be used only for the purposes above indicated.
The total amount of Bonds issued by the Sewerage Commissioners is $900,000:
- Purchased and cancelled on account of Sinking Fund: 15,000
- Total outstanding: $885,000
The Common Council, in pursuance of an act of the Legislature, has authorized the further issue of Bonds in this department to the amount of $100,000, though they have not been, nor do I understand that they are to be, offered for sale at present.
The Charter directs a Special Tax to be raised annually, and paid over by the Collector to the Sewerage Board, to pay the interest on the Bonds; also to create a sinking fund sufficient to meet the Bonds at maturity. These Bonds are approved by the Mayor for the city before being issued.
The total amount of Bonds issued by the Water Commissioners is $1,105,000.
The Legislature has provided for the further issue of $225,000, but the Council has not as yet authorized such issue.
The income from the Water Rents is sufficient to pay the interest on the Bonds, also all the operating expenses, leaving an excess towards creating a sinking fund sufficient to liquidate the Bonds at maturity. The bonds are a lien upon all their Works, Pipes, Real Estate, &c., as well as upon the city proper.
The city debt proper amounts to, say, in Bonds outstanding, $484,000.
Of which $25,000 becomes due on the first day of July next, and must be provided for.
The floating debt amounts to $500,110.
The most of this latter sum matured on the 1st of May instant, and is mostly in the shape of scrip, drawing ten per cent. interest, and payable here. Of the amount, however, there is $111,000 payable in New York on the 14th day of June next.
The last amendments to the Charter authorize the funding of this debt, or any other heretofore contracted by the city authorities, and my predecessor and the Comptroller have, as I am informed, been ready to make the exchange of the bonds of the City running twenty years at 7 per cent. interest for the outstanding scrip, or to redeem the same by checks on the Treasury payable at the Banks, (the bonds being readily enough negotiable for currency at par;) but up to the present time there has been but little of it retired. There are also suits now pending in the Courts against the city for claims amounting to about $200,000, all of which originated previous to the year 1860. Upon some of these claims undoubtedly judgment will soon be obtained.
Estimates are also held by contractors for work done on special assessments in the year 1859, amounting to about $35,000, payable when assessments are collected, and bearing interest at the rate of ten per cent. from date. These assessments, if made and collected as soon as practicable, as they should be, will stop interest, and perhaps save expensive litigation.
On the first of April ultimo, (the beginning of the fiscal year,) there was not one dollar in the Treasury applicable to the payment of the ordinary expenses of the city. The amount of $68,000 reported on hand by the Mayor on the 1st of April, has all been used in liquidating liabilities incurred before the beginning of this, or, as I am informed, even the last fiscal year, and all of the revenue since that time has been absorbed by necessary expenses, leaving many liabilities unsatisfied. The new Board of Police, for instance, which, as I before stated, went into operation in March, have not as yet received a dollar from the Treasury.
Gentlemen, I do not wish to magnify the difficulties which we have before us, but I consider it a duty to you and to myself, that the citizens should know the condition of their affairs, and it may reach them this way when it would in no other. It is not the part of prudence or wisdom to try and conceal from ourselves any difficulties that we have before us.
If, as will probably be the case, the penalties of past extravagance in the city expenditures shall be visited upon us during the present year, and if other difficulties which may perhaps be anticipated shall meet us, the only effect it should have upon us should be to incite us to additional exertion to overcome those difficulties.
The credit of our city, in meeting her engagements promptly, has been maintained during all the vicissitudes of her existence, and it must be our chiefest care that it does not suffer at our hands. The very commendable economy which has been enforced during the past year by our predecessors, will, if continued, help us much to that end, and so far as it is in my power, it will be continued to that point where, like forbearance, “it ceases to be a virtue.”
I have been heretofore so much, and only so much, a partizan in politics, as to deem it my duty, as it is that of every good citizen, to take an interest in the selection of the men who rule over us. During the excitement of the election just passed, the party names of Republican and Democrat were almost entirely ignored, and each side claimed to be the stronger in their love and attachment to the Union and the laws. This is as it should be. “Death,” with parties, as with persons, is “a great leveler of distinctions.”—“The times that try men’s souls” have come again. The times of adversity, which, as the great Webster said, “came upon all nations, we must expect to come upon us also,” have come; and now in the general anxiety to preserve our common country for ourselves and our children, and as an asylum for the oppressed of all nations, partizan feeling and nationalities are seemingly forgotten. With me it certainly is so, and until that great issue is settled, the man who is for our country in this the time of her sorest need, is my political friend; he who is not for her, is my enemy. I trust that in this particular I speak the sentiments of every member of the Council. If so, we can have but one common object in view, which is to do our duty, which embodies not only our obligation to our city, but also to our common country; for in our official oath we have sworn to support “the Constitution of the United States, and of the State of Illinois.” I know of no better way of complying with the requirements of that agreeable solemnity than by keeping our city in such a condition as to have her credit respected at home and abroad, to be able, as the representative city in the North-West, to retain our reputation for doing well whatever we undertake, and to be able to furnish for our country, should she need it, other aid as freely as we now furnish her our sons.
Gentlemen, I have no promises to keep to partizan or friend. I have no enemies to punish. I am only pledged to my own conscience, that, as I have assumed to perform the duties of this office, I will perform them to the best of my ability. I sincerely desire that you will assist me to that end.
In view of my inexperience in matters of city government, and in view of the fact that, by late legislative enactments, material branches of that government have been transferred to the “Board of Public Works” and the “Board of Police,” I am not at present prepared to make any specific recommendations. I have no policy to promulgate, more than is indicated in what I have already said. I propose from time to time to suggest such action on your part as our exigencies and our experience teach us are required.
- Chicago Common Council. Journal of the Proceedings, May 6, 1861, p. 1–5.