Lager Beer Riot
The Lager Beer Riot occurred in Chicago, Illinois in 1855 after Mayor Levi Boone, great-nephew of Daniel Boone, renewed enforcement of an old local ordinance mandating that taverns be closed on Sundays and led the city council to raise the cost of a liquor license from $50 per year to $300 per year, renewable quarterly. This move was seen as targeting German and Irish immigrants. On April 21, after several tavern owners were arrested for selling beer on Sunday, protesters clashed with police near the Cook County Court House. Waves of angry immigrants stormed the downtown area and the mayor ordered the swing bridges opened to stop further waves of protestors from crossing the river. This left some trapped on the bridges, police then fired shots at protesters stuck on the Clark Street Bridge over the Chicago River. A policeman named George W. Hunt was shot in the arm by a rioter named Peter Martin. Martin was killed by police, and Hunt's arm had to be amputated. Rumors flew throughout the city that more protesters were killed, although there is no evidence to support this. Loaded cannons set on the public square contributed to these rumors. The following year, after Boone was turned out of office, the prohibition was repealed. This riot concluded in one known death and about sixty arrests.
Chicago's rapid growth in the 1840s and 50s was due in large part to German and Irish Catholic immigrants. These immigrants settled in their own neighborhoods, German immigrants congregating mainly on the North Side, across the Chicago River from City Hall and the older, Protestant part of the city. The German settlers worked a six-day week, leaving Sunday as their primary day to socialize; much of this socialization took place in the small taverns that dotted the North Side. German-language newspapers, the Turners, and German craft unions gave the German population of Chicago a high degree of political cohesiveness; the Forty-Eighters among them were used to demonstrations as a political tool.
As in much of the rest of the country, distrust of Catholic influence produced a backlash in the form of the “Know-Nothing” movement. In the election of 1854, the Temperance Party candidate, Amos Throop, lost by nearly 20% points to Isaac Lawrence Milliken. Nevertheless, after winning the election, Milliken declared himself in favor of temperance as well. Milliken lost the following year to Levi Boone, the American Party candidate. Boone, a Baptist and temperance advocate, believed that the Sabbath was profaned by having drinking establishments open on Sunday. Boone's actions were in anticipation of Illinois enacting by referendum a Maine law that would prohibit the sale of alcohol for recreational purposes. The referendum failed in June 1855, by a statewide vote of 54% to 46%.
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- Inauguration Speech of Levi D. Boone