John Blake Rice

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John B. Rice
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1873 – December 17, 1874
Preceded by Charles B. Farwell
Succeeded by Bernard G. Caulfield
24th Mayor of Chicago
In office
Preceded by Francis Cornwall Sherman
Succeeded by Roswell B. Mason
Personal details
Born (1809-05-28)May 28, 1809
Easton, Maryland
Died December 17, 1874(1874-12-17) (aged 65)
Chicago, Illinois
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Mary Ann Warren
Residence Chicago, Illinois

John Blake Rice (May 28, 1809 – December 17, 1874) was an American actor, theatrical producer and politician. He served as mayor of Chicago, Illinois (1865–1869) as a member of the Republican Party.

Rice was born in Easton, Maryland and made his acting debut in Annapolis in 1829. His first professional role was as Uncle Barnwell in George Lillo's The London Merchant.[1] He toured up and down the East Coast, as well as in the West Indies. While living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he married into a local theatre family.[1] By 1839, he moved his family to Buffalo, New York, where he managed a theatre during the summers. In winter, he managed a theatre in Albany.[1]

Rice arrived in Chicago in 1847 to work as an actor and entertain the politicians at the River and Harbor Convention, Chicago's first national convention. He decided to stay and establish a permanent theater, called Rice's Theater. On July 30, 1850, in the middle of Vincenzo Bellini's opera La Sonnambula, a fire broke out in the theater. Rice addressed the crowds, saying "Sit down. Do you think I would permit a fire to occur in my theater?" The crowd sat, but a prompter stage-whispered to Rice that the theater was on fire and panic ensued. The theater was destroyed, and he lost about $4,000. When a benefit only raised $60, he left Chicago for Milwaukee, Wisconsin.[2]

Rice returned to Chicago in 1851 and built a new theater, entirely of brick. He hired James McVicker to serve as manager, and was active in the theater until 1857.

Near the end of the Civil War, Rice ran for mayor of Chicago as a very conservative Republican. Aided by the end of the war and the subsequent assassination of Abraham Lincoln only days before the election, Rice won easily.

As mayor, Rice was anti-labor, and he vetoed a plan to enforce an eight-hour work day. This veto led to a spontaneous demonstration on May 1, 1867 by workers which led to the international May Day observance. The City Council eventually overrode his veto.[3]

Rice and the City Council were connected with graft, prostitution and gambling, and he was defeated by Roswell B. Mason in 1869.

Rice was elected to represent Illinois' 1st congressional district in the United States House of Representatives in 1872. While serving in the House, he died from liver cancer[4] on December 17, 1874 in Norfolk, Virginia.[5] He had not sought re-election in 1874, and his death soon after the election raised issues about whether Illinois Governor John Beveridge was required to appoint a replacement to complete his term.[6] In the end, Bernard G. Caulfield won a special election to complete the term, after having already been elected to succeed Rice. Rice was buried in Chicago's Rosehill Cemetery.


  1. ^ a b c Caleb (1939-08-02), "Builders of Chicago", Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 8 
  2. ^ Andreas, A.T. (1887), History of Chicago From the Earliest Period to the Present Time., Volume II: A.T. Andreas 
  3. ^ Heise, Kenan; Ed Baumann (1990), Chicago Originals, Bonus Books, p. 30, ISBN 0-933893-94-9 
  4. ^ "Arrangements for the Funeral Obsequies", Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 16, 1874-12-20 
  5. ^ "In Memoriam", Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 5, 1874-12-19 
  6. ^ "The First District Vacancy", Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 8, 1874-12-24 

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Charles B. Farwell
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
Bernard G. Caulfield