A Guide to the History of Illinois

By John Hoffmann | Go to book overview

10
CHICAGO

PERRY R. DUIS

JOSEPH BALESTIER STARTED it all. In 1840, when Chicago's city charter was only three years old, the twenty-five-year-old lawyer delivered an oration that became the first history of the city. The purpose of The Annals of Chicago . . . , reprinted as the first number in Fergus' Historical Series ( Chicago, 1876), was clear: the past would help to establish the legitimacy of the present, which was then racked by severe economic depression. This small book also established the idea that history should serve some other master, a course that many others would follow during the remainder of the nineteenth century. For William Bross, History of Chicago . . . ( Chicago, 1876), the past was but a prelude to the economic boom of mid-century. The creation of the Chicago Historical Society in 1856 and the publications that would flow from it were meant to preserve the story of the founding members' contributions for later generations, as well as to teach Americanism to the city's polyglot population. Similarly, the spate of instant accounts following the Great Fire of 1871 used history to reassure their readers of the inevitability of the city's rebuilding and its return to its former greatness. Every word had its purpose.

By the late nineteenth century, history began to play a role in the efforts to create a sense of celebration and civic unity amidst economic discord and labor violence. The publication of A[lfred] T[heodore] Andreas's monumental History of Chicago from the Earliest Period to the Present Time ( 3 vols., Chicago, 1884-86) was the first milestone. While his books were a commercial venture,

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