Cannons on Clark Street
April 21, 2015 9:08 AM   Subscribe

In Chicago's early years, city politics were a dull non-partisan affair. That changed in 1855, when a coalition of temperance advocates and anti-Catholic Know Nothings took advantage of low voter turnout to seize city hall.
Once elected, Mayor Levi Boone and the new council majority hiked liquor license fees while also shortening license terms from one year to three months. Expecting resistance, Mayor Boone “reformed” the city's police force: tripling its size, refusing to hire immigrants, requiring police to wear uniforms for the first time, and directing them to enforce an old, previously ignored ordinance requiring the Sunday closing of taverns and saloons. These were intentionally provocative acts aimed at Germans and Irish accustomed to spending their leisure hours in drinking establishments. [...] Prosecutions clogged the city courts and attorneys scheduled a test case for April 21. This, in effect, scheduled the riot.
Today is the 160th anniversary of the Lager Beer Riot, Chicago's first civil disturbance.

-This handy overlay map displays the city in 1857, two years after the riot. Most of the commotion took place on Clark Street, between the river and the "Public Square." After the crowds dispersed, Boone maintained loaded cannons in the square as a warning.
posted by Iridic (20 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
🍻 ✊🇩🇪🍻 🍀 🍻 ✊☭ 🍻 🍻.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:29 AM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Interesting post! I knew one of the big forces behind the temperance movement in general in the US was anti-immigrant sentiment, but didn't know this specific incident in Chicago's history.

The bit from the second link about how the police force was purged to turn it into an anti-immigrant occupying army, plagued by corruption to boot, is so resonant today. Plus ça change...

Ooo title text on the links, nice.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:18 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, then, professionalized police were a result of instigatory acts by fanatic right politicans.

Well of course they were.
posted by clarknova at 10:21 AM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'd challenge your terminology. A professionalized police force is a desirable thing (sorry libertarians). It sounds like what Mayor Boone did under the guise of modernizing the force was de-professionalize it, by tossing out immigrants and recruiting street toughs willing to go break heads in immigrant neighborhoods rather than uphold law and order for the population as a whole. A truly professional force would, in theory, be apolitical just like an idealized Weberian bureaucracy. It doesn't often work out so well in reality, but that's not a reason to turn the word professional into a derogatory term. Would you rather cities be policed like the Wild West, by quickdraw sheriffs and mob justice?
posted by Wretch729 at 10:46 AM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yep. From the second link:
the ouster of foreign born officers of the two original forces had disastrous consequences. The Germans, who were on those forces in large numbers, were culturally attuned to order and discipline and made excellent, and by the standards of the time, largely incorruptible servant of the local power structure. The Irish provided the muscle needed in crime ridden slum neighborhoods. The American born street toughs recruited by the city turned out to be, form the outset, highly corruptible and undisciplined. That was overlooked since their main function was not preventing crime or capturing offenders, but the intimidation of immigrants in their communities and at their jobs.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:25 AM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Would you rather cities be policed like the Wild West, by quickdraw sheriffs and mob justice?

No, I'd prefer unarmed or lightly armed police that aren't uniformed and constantly "projecting presence" and "showing force".

Certainly I want police to be professionals and uphold the law using reasonable judgement and expert training. But by no means does "professionalized" preclude ruthless and unjust behavior. It simply implies rigorous standardization, to whatever end.

The Chicago Police in this story, much like modern riot police who also brutalize protesters, sounded like consummate professionals. It's just that thier professional allegiance isn't to the law or citizenry.


On another note, this pocket map is a great overlay. It's always nice to see a... professionally georeferenced image.
posted by clarknova at 11:25 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


By the way, an excellent source for all things Chicago....

Encyclopedia of Chicago
posted by C.A.S. at 12:13 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seconding that the map is very cool. And back to the terminology thing I'd argue then that "militarized police force" gets at what you're saying better. (Though in the historical case discussed in the links from the OP I suppose it's less a case of police militarization than of police being co-opted as clients of a political patron. Not to mention Boone swearing in a bunch of goons at the last minute to beef up his forces was pretty much just putting a fig leaf on the nativist mob.)
posted by Wretch729 at 12:15 PM on April 21, 2015


Imagine Homer Simpson,
Two handed, holding his paunch,
"Ummmmm! Lager beer riot!"
posted by Oyéah at 12:24 PM on April 21, 2015


The Chicago Tribune fashioned the crowd as monsters. The street, it claimed, was “crowded with a multitude of the most desperate and savage characters in the city, ready for any blood, rapine or murder.”


The Chicago Tribune: Being Super Shitty For Over 170 Years!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:27 PM on April 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Would you rather cities be policed like the Wild West, by quickdraw sheriffs and mob justice?


Well, there's what I would rather, and then there's the actual state of American policing today.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:29 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Chicago. As it has ever been:
The police are not here to create disorder, they're here to preserve disorder.
posted by wotsac at 1:15 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


My friend is doing a reenactment event about this!

Check it out.
posted by mai at 2:06 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


So this is what we have to look forward to after the Hugos basically then
posted by Jairus at 2:16 PM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Chicago Tribune fashioned the crowd as monsters. The street, it claimed, was “crowded with a multitude of the most desperate and savage characters in the city, ready for any blood, rapine or murder.”
The Chicago Tribune: Being Super Shitty For Over 170 Years!


Nowadays they would probably also mention that they were cyclists.
posted by srboisvert at 4:22 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Would you rather cities be policed like the Wild West, by quickdraw sheriffs and mob justice?

I think they are. Except the mobs are now also quickdraw sheriffs.
posted by umberto at 4:34 PM on April 21, 2015


So this is what we have to look forward to after the Hugos basically then

I'm thinking that the Hugos will be a lot of Sad Puppies pulling fedoras down over their eyes and slinking away glowering, and Vox Day taking out the business card that Westboro Baptist gave him and deciding to go pro with the haterade-dispensing.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:35 PM on April 21, 2015


This is the first alcohol related riot that I've ever heard of that was comprised of sober people. The mind boggles.
posted by el io at 8:49 PM on April 21, 2015


Also, on the Know-Nothings; why can't we have truthful party names like that anymore - that is some honesty in advertising.
posted by el io at 8:50 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


They didn't call themselves that. They were the "Native American Party", and when somebody realized how dumb that was they dropped the "Native". They also had secret societies with other names.

Much like the Masons, whom they opposed and despised for that very reason.

We're always free to make up our own pet names for political movements we don't like. My favorite is still "Lolbertarian".
posted by clarknova at 10:46 AM on April 22, 2015


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