Tuesday, August 28, 2007

When Drunkards Revolt: The Chicago Beer Riot of 1855

Richard English at Modern Drunkard Magazine has a fun history article titled When Drunkards Revolt: The Chicago Beer Riot of 1855. While this magazine may not be the most reliable, this article appears to be grounded in some solid history based on some fact checking. It just has an interesting spin...

From the article:

Chicago, circa 1850, was a rough-and-tumble city crouching by the chilly, windy waters of Lake Michigan, a final outpost on the edges of the great western frontier. An argument can be made as to which was more hazardous — the city or the frontier.

The city’s population numbered some 80,000 souls, with newcomers arriving daily, most looking for work in the burgeoning stockyards or on the lake-front docks. The poor and working classes outnumbered the moneyed elite by almost five to one. Saloons, beer gardens, and taverns outnumbered other businesses two to one, and churches almost fifteen to one. The good people of Chicago liked to drink.

Crime, especially burglary and vice, was epidemic, a fact which disturbed many citizens, especially the upper crust. Chicago’s constabulary, believe it or not, was comprised of a whopping nine men, so little could be done to curb the city’s increasingly chaotic tendencies. The situation came to a head in 1855, and Chicago empowered its first official Police Department. A noted volunteer fireman and occasional private detective named Cyrus P. Bradley was appointed Chief of Police. He reported directly to the newly-elected mayor, Dr. Levi D. Boone, who, in addition to being Daniel Boone’s grand-nephew, was an important member of an up-and-coming political party called the Native Americans, or Know-Nothings. Generally speaking, the Know-Nothings were in favor of civic order and “traditional American values,” while being vehemently anti-foreigner, anti-Catholic, and anti-alcohol.

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