Mayor Roswell B. Mason Inaugural Address, 1869

Roswell B. Mason Biography

Inauguration date: December 6, 1869

This speech is recorded as it first appeared in print. Archaic spelling and misspellings in the original document have not been corrected.

Gentlemen: In compliance with the usual custom and in accordance with my duty, I lay before you such matters pertaining to the interests of the city as the brief period since my election has enabled me to become familiar with. More definite information may be given hereafter from time to time, as circumstances require. A summary furnished to me by the City Comptroller shows the total debt of the city on the 1st of December, 1869, to be $10,754,873.28, and that it is composed of the following items:

Bonded debt, municipal...$2,960,500.00

Sewerage debt...3,930,000.00

Water debt...3,150,000.00

Floating debt of the city...714,373.28--$10,754,873.28

Deduct from the above the amount of water debt which is provided to be paid, principal and interest, out of the revenue from the Water Works...$3,150,000.00

Also the amount expended for deepening the canal, which is to be reimbursed by the State...1,420,000.00--$4,570,00.00

And it leaves as the net city debt on Dec. 1, 1869, to be paid from taxation. $6,184,873.28

It may be of some interest to know, as I am credibly informed, that the present canal registered debt is now only from $400,00 to $500,000, which comes due on the 1st of July next. The State will no doubt pay the debt when due, after which the net income from the canal is applicable to the principal and interest of the expenditure now being made by the city for the deepening of the canal for sanitary purposes.

A detailed statement of the operations of the Board of Public Works for the year ending April 1, 1869, is in course of preparation, and will soon be ready for distribution. The expenditures of this Board for city purposes for the year ending April 1, 1870, were estimated at $1,216,581.01; of this amount there has been expended up to this time, $721,121.76, leaving a balance now on hand of $495,459.25. The total disbursements made by this Board during the year ending April 1, 1869, for the above purposes and for sewerage, river improvement, and other public works, amounted to more than $3,000,000. This shows what large and important interests are intrusted to this branch of the city government, and where so much is required to be done it can readily be seen how difficult it may be to make selections and decide what the true interest of the city are in relation to the improvements.

The financial condition of the city will always have a bearing upon and should be well considered in reference to large expenditures, which, in some cases, probably may be postponed without affecting the interests of the city. I should not deem it wise policy to extend our improvements to such a degree as to impair our credit or to materially increase our taxes. In this connection I would call attention to a communication from the Board of Public Works to the Council on the 12th of last January on the subject of sewerage. The suggestions made therein are worthy of careful consideration, in view of the urgent demands made for sewerage in all parts of the city.

Great responsibility rests upon the Board of Police. On them, in a large measure, depends the security of our lives, the peace, quiet, and good name of our city, and the preservation of our property. No portion of our taxes would, probably, be more readily, or more cheerfully paid than for the support of our Police Department, if, in return, we secure that protection which we have a reasonable right to expect. I am well aware that the duties of a policeman are often difficult, and that his acts are liable to misconstruction. He should not be judged harshly or hastily, nor condemned without good proof of a violation of that courtesy and consideration which are due to every citizen. At the same time he should not be excused for willful neglect or of a departure from his duty. I feel a great interest in the Police Department, because so much depends upon it, and I hope and trust that those who have it in charge will make every effort to render the police force still more efficient than it has hitherto been, and that it may command the entire confidence of the community.

The Fire Department, I believe, is well disciplined, prompt and reliable, and justly merits the high appreciation in which it is held by the public.

The rapid increase of our population requires large provision for the education of the rising generation, and it is most desirable that this should be made. At the same time, economy in the construction of buildings for school purposes should be carefully considered. It may be that a class of buildings of a still less expensive character than those now in the process of construction would be advisable in some if not all cases. The income from school lands at the present time is very small in proportion to their value. But, as they are to be reappraised in 1870, and as it is the duty of the appraisers to fix a fair value upon them, the income from this source must be very largely increased after that time.

So far as I am advised the Board of Health is ably and efficiently managed, and with that constant care and watchfulness that has hitherto characterized it will prove of great benefit to our city. The experience that is gained year after year, and the experience of other cities which can be made applicable here, must constantly increase the importance of this Board and the value of its services to the community.

When the new Bridewell is completed so as to admit of its being occupied, which will be at no very distant day, a radical change in the management of it will no doubt be made. With this in view it would seem to me wise policy to place it in charge of some one who has had large experience in similar institutions, and has shown himself to be well qualified for such an important trust. And in view of the large number of females imprisoned there, I submit whether it would not be very desirable to have a Matron appointed to take charge of them, acting under the orders of the Bridewell Keeper. Other cities have made similar institutions not only self-supporting, but a source of income. Could we but bring the same experience to bear upon the new Bridewell, we might, in a short time, expect similar results.

The citizens of Chicago have, by a very large majority, indicated their wishes in reference to the management of the affairs of the city; and I understand this to be that they shall be conducted on the basis of economy, integrity and strict accountability. Services rendered should receive a fair and just compensation, and whatever any office yields beyond that should be paid into the City Treasury.

I would recommend that measures be taken to ascertain what the several offices do pay, and if there be any from which unreasonable profits accrue, that the city should receive all proceeds of the same over and above a fair compensation.

The great increase of our public debt and of our taxes for a few years past makes it eminently fit and proper that we should pause and consider well our resources, and so make them available as not to impair the credit and good name of our city.

Prominent members of the bar and judiciary give it as their opinion, the Section 1 of the amended charter does not release the Mayor from the duty of presiding over the deliberations of the Common Council. I regard the matter in the same light, and it is my wish and duty to preserve all the rights which legally belong to the office of Mayor, and to perform all its functions.

It will give me great pleasure to co-operate with the Common Council in all measures that will tend to promote the prosperity of our city, and I ferverently hope that our joint labors may prove to be for the best interest of our city, and be crowned with the blessing of Almighty God.


  • Chicago Common Council. Journal of Proceedings. December 6, 1869, p. 4–5.
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