Mayor Walter S. Gurnee Inaugural Address, 1851

Walter S. Gurnee Biography

Inauguration date: March 11, 1851

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 cannot but feel highly gratified with the honor conferred upon me by the votes of my fellow citizens. I shall endeavor to show my appreciation of this confidence, by an anxious endeavor to perform the duties which devolve upon me.

As it has been the custom of my predecessors, in entering upon the duties of the office of Mayor, to express their views in relation to those matters, which most deeply concern the well-being of our city, I have thought proper, in obedience to the custom, to state my opinions, in relation to some of the most important measures which will necessarily engage our attention during the period in which we have been called upon to act together; and take this occasion to say that I sincerely hope nothing will occur to disturb the harmony which should prevail, that we may act in concord, for the promotion of the best interests of our constituents, and to this end, I assure you, that no efforts on my part will be wanting, to carry out to the best of my ability, all measures adopted by the Council.

The report of the Committee on Finance of the late Council, shows an indebtedness of $101,304.19, a portion of which, will mature during the current municipal year, and on which portion, twelve percent interest is now paid. I would recommend that this portion of the debt should be funded by the issuing of new bonds at a lower rate of interest, as I cannot see any reason why the credit of the city should not stand unquestioned. I doubt not, that bonds may be negotiated upon more favorable terms, to be redeemed after twenty or twenty-five years.

You are aware that the several laws heretofore forming our city charter, have been consolidated into one act, and that the act consolidating these laws, also embodies important amendments. How far this action of the Legislature, may render it necessary to re-enact the city ordinances, I am unable to say, but I most earnestly recommend that when the subject shall come up for your consideration, that all ordinances and resolutions which cannot be strictly enforced, should immediately be rescinded. No one can doubt that the allowing of any of our ordinances to remain inoperative, directly encourages a disregard of such as are susceptible of enforcement, thus leading to laxity, and disrespect of all law and good order.

I would suggest that the most exact performance of duty and rigid accountability be required of all officers acting under your direction; and that if any officer be remiss, that he be forthwith removed.

By this step, I believe no injustice will be done, since the officers can either perform the duties they undertake in accepting an election or appointment, or report the difficulties they encounter, for your consideration and action; my desire being that the Council, rather than the officer, should be the proper judges of the need and efficiency of the rules that may be adopted.

The Legislature, at the late session, also passed a law appointing a Board of Water Commissioners, to construct suitable works for furnishing the whole city with a full supply of pure and wholesome water. This measure meets my hearty approval, and I trust you will render those Commissioners, all the aid in your power towards the accomplishment of this most desirable object. I consider this a matter of the greatest importance to the interests and health of the city, as I believe much of the sickness of the past few years, has resulted from the inability of the poorer classes to procure, with sufficient convenience, an adequate supply of wholesome water.

I would also call your attention to the importance of adopting a plan for a permanent system of Sewerage, which it appears to me, may be conveniently done, in connection with the operation of the Commissioners, for supplying the city with water. The plan adopted should be a general one, applicable the whole city, and fully sufficient for the object designed.

I would suggest further, that this work should not be undertaken, without the aid and advice of some competent engineer, so that no expenditure for this purpose shall be made, which will not be certain to ensure good results.

The new charter gives the Council full power to regulate and control slaughter houses, and other establishments supposed to be of an offensive character, and of which complaints have been made, because, as is alleged, they have rendered the waters of the river and its branches impure, thereby affecting the health of the inhabitants residing in their vicinity. The adoption of judicious measures may correct the evil complained of, without depriving the city of the benefits of many hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the employment which is thereby furnished, to a large number of our citizens.

In connection with this matter, the importance of cleansing and purifying the streets and alleys, should be duly impressed upon the proper officers; and should any malignant disease again make its appearance in our vicinity, I would recommend the timely adoptation and strict enforcement of thorough sanatory and quarantine regulations.

Action was taken at the recent session of the Legislature to prevent the sale of the Public Square, and I learn that proceedings are now in progress in our courts, with the view of determining the rights between the city and county. It is to be hoped the matter may soon be adjusted, and that steps may at once be taken, towards the erection of public buildings corresponding with the growth and importance of our city.

Your attention is also called to the importance of purchasing suitable grounds, while they can easily be obtained, on which to erect such charitable institutions, and such buildings for the proper correction of juvenile and other offenders against the law, as all experience in other cities, has shown to be indispensable, for the amelioration of the condition of the unfortunate, or the reformation and correction of the vicious.

There are many other subjects of importance, which cannot be too strongly urged upon your consideration, but which I need not dwell upon. Among these are the Public Schools, the Excavation of the River, and the reorganization of the Police, all of which are eminently worthy, and will doubtless receive a large share of your attention. These, with other matters, have not heretofore received more of my consideration than they have that of other of my fellow citizens. The position to which I have been called, will make it my duty hereafter, to investigate and reflect upon them, with more care and attention.

I am fully impressed with the importance of the responsibility we have assumed, and trust we shall not disappoint the public expectation. Let us be vigilant ourselves, and exact vigilance of others,—let us, as it is our duty to do, see that all render a strict account; that the revenues be collected and economically and faithfully applied, and in all things where the public interest may be advanced, it will be my endeavor to cooperate cordially with you, and to discharge the duties with which I have been entrusted, to the best of my ability.


  • Chicago Daily Journal, March 11, 1851.
Print this page