Early Chicago, 1833–1871
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
DOCUMENT 10REPORT RELATING TO A NIGHT WATCH AND WATCH HOUSE
April 11, 1845
By the terms of the Town of Chicago's incorporation in 1833, it had general jurisdiction over disorderly conduct. It was not until 1835 that town trustees appointed constables to serve the courts and maintain order. By 1837, constables were authorized for each of the six wards established by the charter of the newly formed City of Chicago. However, until 1841 all law enforcement in the cost conscious municipality was left to a high constable and two assistants. In 1841, constables were abolished and a marshal was elected annually. He appointed three assistants. The position of marshal was abolished in 1847 and one police constable for each ward was elected annually. A separate night watch was established in 1849. By 1855, the council organized the police force into three districts and employed eighty men. The separate night watch was abolished. In 1861, as a reform, a board of three police commissioners was created. One each was elected from the North, South, and West Divisions for six year terms. This removed the appointment of officers from the mayor and council who often used the police to further their own interests.
In 1845, the population of Chicago was 12,088. Only one marshal and three assistants provided twenty-four hour law and order. Although this document recommends supplementing the police force with a night watch, the council did not approve this measure. Realizing that the police force was inadequate, many citizens hired private guards to protect their homes and businesses.
Points to Consider
How large was Chicago in 1845?
What kind of police force was in place at that time?
Why didn't the ordinary police system protect the city at night and why was a separate night watch recommended?
Besides arresting lawbreakers, what was to be the function of a night watch?