The Amesbury-Salisbury strike and the social origins of political nativism in antebellum Massachusetts.
As operatives streamed out of the mills, residents organized a political response. Led by the towns' native-born journeymen, master craftsmen, and small storekeepers, a local movement erupted in mid June for the ten-hour working day. The leaders penned a "Ten Hour Circular" and sent it to surrounding communities in July. In it, the activists declared it to be "the duty of every well-wisher to the prosperity of the state to unite" in favor of a ten-hour law. They emphasized how the issue transcended the usual "schemes and prejudices of party politics," maintaining "all classes" have a "common and inseparable interest" in legislation for a ten-hour day. On this note of antipartyism and cross-class solidarity the Ten Hour Circular announced a decisive break with political orthodoxy. Amesbury and Salisbury, Massachusetts, once roseately described by the Quaker-poet John Greenleaf Whittier as places where "the utmost harmony prevails and has always done so between employer and employee," were plunged into a period of political upheaval.(2)
The tumult peaked two years later when local insurgents united behind the Know Nothing, or American party in the November 1854 election. Know Nothing candidates in both towns, and indeed throughout the state, swept to record majorities, obliterating the Whig party and speeding the collapse of the second American party system in Massachusetts. In fact the election of 1854 capped years of popular frustration, both locally and statewide, with the Bay State's conservative Whig establishment. Remarkably, the insurgent party carried nearly every town in the state - a complete rout that suggests the scope of voter antipathy towards politics-as-usual. Proclaimed one Amesbury nativist: "The American movement gives more power to the mechanics, the true strength of the country." "It excludes those broken-down wire-pullers and party hacks," he gloated triumphantly, "who will sell themselves for political office."(3)
Historians continue to debate the sources of the Know Nothing revolt in the antebellum North. Some insist that ethnocultural antagonisms between native-born Protestants and Irish-Catholic immigrants over conflicting values and lifestyles spilled into politics and precipitated the movement.(4) Others acknowledge the ethnocultural dimension of Know Nothingism, but are also impressed by its antiparty and reform tendencies.(5) Yet while recent work has expanded our understanding of the movement's plebeian cast and pervasive antiparty tone, the standard treatments share a conceptual imprecision. Typically the Know Nothings are portrayed as "populists" disillusioned with the political status quo and distrustful of the major parties' capacity for change. Though certainly accurate, such generalizations shed little light on the distinctive social experiences and political economic assumptions that underlay the insurgency. Evidence of the party's social composition suggests it appealed strongest to the middling sorts - skilled and semi-skilled mechanics, master manufacturers, petty merchants, and low-status professionals.(6) But if middling small producers constituted the movement's primary constituency, what, then, are the connections between them and the antiparty "populism" that bulked so large in political nativism?
Provisional answers to this question are only possible if we restore the categories of social class and political economy to the foreground of our analysis. Though the development in political history of new analytic frameworks has raised fresh methodological and theoretical challenges,(7) the reintegration of social class and political economy with ethnoculture and sectionalism can yield a more nuanced understanding of popular political behavior in the 1850s. In purely political terms, Know Nothingism was indeed a fissiparous movement. Nevertheless, suffused throughout the party's many agendas were common themes supplied largely by small producers as they struggled to negotiate the transition to an industrial-based market economy.
As the "new" social history makes clear, small producers before the Civil War held ambivalent attitudes toward the emergent market economy. By the 1830s the typical small producer in non-urban settings like Amesbury and Salisbury was hardly a preindustrial anticapitalist. But neither was he an acquisitive soul forever scheming for the main chance. Small producers often welcomed the opportunities that the market revolution offered for achieving a respectable competence, but just as often recoiled from its harsh excesses. To paraphrase Howard Chudacoff, small producers caught in the midst of the capitalist transformation equated success with security, a goal they defined as a comfortable, honest, and dignified existence at arms' length from the dislocations wrought by the market.(8)
Such a security-first orientation produced mixed attitudes about government and the economy. At times, small producers were enthusiastic about economic expansion, and viewed the major parties as agents of equal opportunity for ordinary Americans. But at other moments they expressed their anxiety over the social costs of the market revolution by aligning with popular, third party insurgencies that aimed to circumscribe the power of vested interests and reinvigorate the nation's democratic politics.(9) In the early 1850s citizens of Amesbury and Salisbury mobilized such an insurgency. Beginning with the ten-hour movement in 1852, local insurgents developed a far-reaching critique of the status quo that was given ultimate expression in the Know Nothing sweep of 1854. The issues and concerns at the heart of Know Nothingism in Amesbury and Salisbury, furthermore, resonated far beyond these two towns. The political revolt of the popular classes in Massachusetts paved the way for Know Nothing legislators to enact a spate of political economic reforms designed, in the broadest sense, to uphold the rights and opportunities of native-born small producers. Before we can appreciate the meaning of insurgency in these communities, we need first to briefly sketch the salient features of social and economic life that patterned local politics.
Amesbury Flannel and Salisbury Manufacturing lay somewhere between the Waltham and Slater models. Situated in towns with populations of about 3,000 in 1850, the AFMC and SMC were fully integrated mills employing on average 260 and 350 hands, respectively, at midcentury. As other scholars of antebellum factory towns have shown, locally managed firms like these adapted to the mutualistic customs of the New England countryside more readily than those at larger mill-cities.(10) Steady but unspectacular growth, a workforce that was ethnically homogenous and locally recruited, a lack of company boardinghouses, low rates of turn-over among skilled male operatives, a home-grown management - all worked to establish a sense of continuity and familiarity between the mills and the wider community.(11)
In addition management practiced an informal paternalism that further eased the transition to industrial capitalism in these towns. As winter approached, the mills took orders for coal from local residents and passed on the discount. More substantive was the long-standing prohibition against hiring youths under fourteen years of age: a policy not required by state law. Another case in point was lax enforcement of the workday, nominally twelve hours for men (due to the two breaks) and twelve and one-half hours for women. But millhands left their machines on occasion without permission from overseers, and men who took the morning and afternoon breaks routinely stayed beyond the fifteen minute allotment with impunity. To be sure, management at both firms sought ways to undermine workers' control. Joshua Aubin, long-time agent of the AFMC, later recalled that power looms had freed him to dispose of "60 weavers the most of them men, who in those by-gone times were intemperate and exceedingly troublesome; and substituted for them 30 girls who were easily managed." Yet it is also clear that management acquiesced, if perhaps grudgingly, in work cultures that were comparatively less authoritarian than at larger factory sites.(12) Informal paternalism thwarted criticism of early industrial capitalism, cultivating in its stead a powerful, if not unconditional, faith in the tenets of class harmony. Indeed, at their retirement in May 1852 agents Aubin and James Horton (of the SMC) were widely praised by residents for "the long period of good feelings which has existed between employer and employed, on both Corporations."(13)
The mills dominated the local economy, but Amesbury and Salisbury had a diversified industrial sector that belies the single-industry image evoked by antebellum New England milltowns. A substantial petty manufacturing sector, characterized by small shops showing little or no division of labor, flourished throughout the antebellum era.(14) The persistence of small-scale production in Amesbury and Salisbury highlights the discontinuous nature of antebellum industrial transformation. The woolen mills notwithstanding, the pattern found here is consistent with what economic and social historians have dubbed the proto-industrial, or transitional phase of the capitalist revolution.(15) Complex, contradictory, and increasingly precarious as the Civil War neared, this transitional economy was marked by distinctive social experiences upon which the political consciousness of small producers would be raised.
In the transitional context small proprietors sought to avoid unnecessary risk by producing primarily for exchange in local markets. Account books and credit profiles of area craftsmen indicate that prior to midcentury, small producers traded mostly with local residents. By-employment was another prominent feature of the transitional economy, and many local mechanics relied to a considerable extent on opportunities for work outside their traditional calling. Mechanics who acquired farmland of their own raised produce and livestock to supplement their income. While normally leaving such agricultural work to their children or wives, craftsmen might intensify their involvement if their trade was slow. The social relations of production in carriage-making, the second largest industry (by size of workforce) in these towns, illuminates the nature of the small producer economy and its associated values. The different parts of the carriage were manufactured in small shops specializing in a single branch of the industry and were then exchanged among area craftsmen. Typically assembled piece-meal, carriages might be sold or bartered to a neighboring farmer or mechanic; more often they were traded to a storekeeper for cash, staple goods or credit. As one carriage maker described social relations among tradesmen in 1852: "Here they trust a man for the trimming materials - it being the practice of carriage makers to barter for the different portions of iron and wood work, etc - and the necessaries of life."(16)
In important ways the woolen mills helped sustain this transitional social formation. The mills routinely gave work to local mechanics and laborers, offering short-term employment hauling coal and supplies and contracting with skilled artisans to erect or repair buildings. Some craftsmen began their working lives at the mills as machinist apprentices, before setting up shop on their own, suggesting the mills provided a ready means of acquiring local credit and capital. Then too, established farmers and mechanics used the mills as an extension of the family economy, hiring out sons and daughters for seasonal employment.(17) Such intermittent employment accommodated the local orientation of the petty producer and helped pattern a transitional economy combining small-scale commodity production with brief stints of wage employment to meet slowly rising cash demands and standards of consumption.
These distinctive experiences decisively shaped political economic attitudes. Some social and labor historians have been too quick to ascribe a monolithic anti-development mentalite to small producers embedded in transitional social formations. We need to recognize that the petty producer's quest for a competency frequently led him to embrace a qualified commercial attitude rooted in the shared interest of all classes in sustained economic growth. At times, this pro-development side of small producerism was manipulated by aggressive entrepreneurs in their efforts to grow the economy for their own purposes. Nevertheless, popular political economic beliefs contained real ambiguities and contradictions, as the social stratification that resulted from local economic development was, at best, only vaguely anticipated by people whose everyday concerns - getting work and improving their family's prospects - were more prosaic than political.
Such a dynamic is evidenced in the partisan politics of Amesbury and Salisbury in the decade preceding the 1852 strike. In these years Whig candidates for state offices consistently outpolled opponents, normally in convincing fashion (Table I).(18) Whig success in these towns, and in Massachusetts generally, hinged on the appeal of the party's "American System" of protective tariffs and internal improvements. Whig political economy envisioned the state as a facilitator of commercial and industrial growth, ideally promoting economic opportunity for all classes.(19) At the center of this agenda clearly lay the interests of the Bay State's commercial and industrial elite, but outside major commercial centers Whiggery had a popular dimension that has been routinely underestimated by historians. Especially in the 1840s Whigs worked hard to wrap their patrician image in plebeian cloth, emphasizing the benefits that workers and the petit bourgeoisie would derive from protective tariffs and economic expansion. The towns' newspaper, a Liberty party sheet, frequently gave expression to this labor dimension of Whig doctrine: what we might call popular Whiggery. As popularized in the 1840s Whiggery promised a socially interdependent polity working to ensure that upward mobility from the ranks of the dependent laborer to the independent petty proprietor would be commonplace. More than simply an ideological abstraction, such claims found concrete analogue in the pattern of class mutualism that evolved from mill paternalism and the area's informal network of petty production and exchange. Available evidence on the social composition of the local party reflects the success of the Whig appeal. Though most mill managers were Whigs, the party clearly recruited its base from the broad middle. Its most successful local candidates included the entrepreneurial axle-maker Jonathan B. Sargent and the modest cooper Joshua M. Pike, Jr.(20)
What political dissent existed came from an uncommonly large and active Liberty party.(21) Some scholars have noted that antislavery third party politics carried the potential for social radicalism. Indeed, occasional editorials in the Essex Transcript criticized the low pay and long hours of local mill operatives.(22) But efforts to expand the Liberty party's agenda significantly beyond its antislavery core were stillborn in the 1840s. The party's primary emotional referents were the threats of the Slave Power and the absence of moral backbone in the northern wings of the major parties. By contrast local Whigs stressed the common interests all classes had in economic growth, making regular appeals to the towns' middling and working-classes, according to one observer, "on the ground of their bread and butter." The local dimensions of Whig hegemony can be illustrated by two examples: the anemic appeal of traditional Democratic party doctrines and the initial enthusiasm among townsfolk for a local railroad.(23)
It is not difficult to comprehend why the Democrats fared so poorly in these years (Table I). The Democracy's proslavery wing was just now rising to dominance nationally, and this alone made the party a tough sell in these communities. Its anti-evangelical, libertarian thrust was also crippling among voters staunchly supportive of temperance and public education. Then too, Massachusetts Democrats throughout this decade continued to invoke the old chestnuts of Jacksonian political economy: opposition to monopolies, banks, and state spending. By the mid 1840s such appeals simply made little headway [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE I OMITTED] in a period now punctuated by broad-based economic boom, a stable currency, lower tax burdens, and a dwindling public debt. Another Jacksonian shibboleth, free trade, was also unpopular and local Democrats knew it; as early as 1842, some were hedging badly on the issue.(24)
The wide reach of Whiggish political economic ideas in these towns is best revealed by the popularity of various schemes to connect the two towns to the Boston and Maine Railroad. Local interest for a railroad connection had been piqued in 1844 when SMC agent James Horton led an unsuccessful effort. In 1846 the axle-maker J. B. Sargent organized another attempt. At a special Amesbury town meeting a large crowd enthusiastically endorsed Sargent's plan. "Our mechanics and manufacturers will be greatly benefited by the proposed road," promised one resolution. The meeting appointed a committee to lobby the General Court, and over 300 townsfolk signed petitions championing the proposal as "necessary for the public convenience and of great importance to our welfare and prosperity."(25)
Although excitement ran high, Sargent and his partners were not granted the special charter. Nevertheless, this episode in local boosterism illuminates how small producers conceptualized economic promotion in the 1840s. A striking degree of both bi-partisanship and cross-class cooperation prevailed on this issue of local economic development, as the petitions contained the signatures of Whigs, Democrats, and Liberty partisans of mostly industrial, commercial, and professional backgrounds. Indeed, among Sargent's most active supporters was Jonathan Nayson, Amesbury's Democratic party chief.(26) In a growing and diversified economy the appeal of the railroad's indirect benefits - that is, its promise of economic stimulus to the local economy - far outweighed any generalized suspicion of economic development that may have existed in these communities.(27) The emphasis on the railroad's indirect benefits gestured distinctly toward the local orientation of area small producers. Whether disingenuous or otherwise, the language of local economic development contained popular messages that spoke to the small producer's goal of a competence and his commitment to social interdependence and equal opportunity. In this sense, Whiggery's touchstone of economic promotion, particularly when it was pitched as a vehicle for democratizing economic opportunity and improving the local economy, shared certain common denominators with small producer thought and experience.
By the middle of the 1840s the Whig party could count on sustained economic growth to buttress their claim that theirs was the party of economic opportunity for the common man. Opposition may have manifested itself on certain axes of moral radicalism such as antislavery politics. But opposition forces formulated no effective answer to Whiggery's "bread and butter" appeal. Generally they endorsed Whiggish economic policies and sought to distinguish themselves on cultural or moral issues. This situation continued during the first years of the "Coalition," launched in 1849 by state Democratic and Free Soil leaders as a means to challenge Whig power and inaugurate a popular agenda of social and electoral reform.(28) The Coalition ruled Massachusetts between 1850 and 1852, but gained scarce ground locally before 1852. Thus, while political economic reform won adherents statewide, Amesbury and Salisbury remained within the Whig orbit.
Before the retirement of agents Aubin and Horton in May 1852, managements' ability to define the terms of production at Mills Village was limited by the extent to which the agents acquiesced in prevailing patterns of class mutualism. But after thirty years of harmonious relations, new agents took over the mills determined to end the flexible policies of their predecessors. We know very little about new agents John Derby (SMC) and Samuel Langley (AFMC), or why they chose to tighten industrial discipline at the mills. We do know that both were newcomers to the area and unlike their predecessors neither owned much stock in the two companies.(29)
Structural changes underway in the northeast's textile industry provide additional clues to the abrupt changes that occurred at Mills Village. Economic expansion during the 1840s prompted greater consolidation and capitalization in the cotton and woolen industries of the northeast, financed in part by new investment capital based in Boston.(30) To survive in the highly competitive market firms slashed piece rates and imposed more demanding regimens. The situation was no different at Mills Village. With the blessings of their corporate directors Derby and Langley had agreed several months in advance to abolish the two fifteen minute breaks and put a stop to unauthorized absences. After defeating the strike in August 1852 by hiring mostly Irish-Catholic strikebreakers, both companies cut piece rates for weavers and spinners by twenty to twenty-five percent. A period of capital expansion ensued at the SMC, including the buy-out in spring 1853 of the struggling AFMC, fatally crippled by the strike.(31)
Thus the context was ripe for a confrontation between the corporations, now intent on imposing industrial discipline, and the wider community, which viewed the informal relations at the mills as integral features of a larger democratic and mutualistic tradition. When Derby posted the new rules on May 31, 1852, he was challenged the next morning by about 100 of his most skilled machinists, block printers, and spinners. Derby summarily discharged the rebellious men, and relations between the new regime and the community soured rapidly. Hopeful of negotiating a compromise, operatives and townsfolk formed committees to meet with Derby and the company's directorship at Boston. Community anger greatly intensified when these efforts proved fruitless. Tension mounted as large crowds, seeking to induce sympathy strikes, congregated outside the gates of the SMC. On June 3 about 70 female weavers left their looms in protest and joined a large demonstration. A band was mustered and the noisy throng marched through town, attracting supporters. The excited crowd, said by one to be 500 strong, stopped first at James Horton's home and gave the retired agent several cheers, then moved on to Derby's residence, for a spirited round of hisses and boos.(32)
The next morning over 100 women weavers, in a spirit of "conciliation and peace," sent a delegation to meet with Derby. The women condemned the firing as "an act of gross injustice," but hoped their efforts would restore good relations. Derby doggedly refused to take back the discharged workers, and inadvertently turned the women against him. They went on strike June 4, announcing they could not "return to our work and leave our fathers, brothers, and friends outside to suffer the injustice heaped upon them by a heartless monetary power."(33) The sympathy strike suggests the women understood keenly their central role in textile production and community politics, an awareness of the differential impact of and relationship to power along gender lines. But the reference to fathers and brothers in the weavers' declaration more directly indicates the broad pattern of women's involvement in the social and political upheavals of June 1852. Local women subsumed the meaning of their protest into the dominant ideological constructions of gender propriety in antebellum America, casting themselves in an active but secondary role in the men's struggle with Derby. For example, in mid June women attended a Salisbury town meeting, apparently a local first. By all accounts, however, the women sat quietly in the balcony of the meeting hall as men gave speeches, aired grievances and devised strategies. Later, women organized a "Social Levee" to raise strike funds. While women planned the Levee, the event belonged to local men who appointed themselves to positions of leadership for the evening. In Amesbury and Salisbury the ideal of private womanhood - wife/mother as the moral but publicly anonymous underpin to the patriarchal family - frustrated the development of an alternative conception of women's activism built upon the particular concerns of female industrial workers.(34)
Meanwhile Derby's action had galvanized the townsfolk. Within a week, at least 150 men and 140 women had left the SMC, bringing production to a standstill. Upwards of one thousand residents met on June 5 and agreed the new rules were "an insult to the community." No less than the operatives, most residents believed the mills' earlier lenient policies were "the settled common law of our manufacturing establishments."(35) The new regime was unmoved by such pronouncements. Indeed, in a single stroke, Derby flatly dismissed the mutualism that had previously patterned relationships at Mills Village. By mid June, when agent Langley of the AFMC announced his intention to follow Derby's lead, it was clear that both companies were firmly committed to imposing a new ethic of control and discipline at the mills.
The agents defended the new rules by invoking free market ideology. The corporations had an unquestioned right to unilaterally define the particulars of work at the mills. Workers were free to take their labor elsewhere if they found those terms unsuitable. "The Company in whose behalf I act," Derby coolly explained, "cannot allow any dictation in regard to the rules and regulations by which the [mills] will be governed."(36) While the agents defined their prerogatives in laissez faire terms, most residents unambiguously renounced such principles. Opposition to Derby and the mills snowballed quickly, according to Villager editor and proprietor William Currier, because the new regime failed to comprehend that local operatives were "FREE MEN AND FREE WOMEN, and that as such, they have a right to dictate in the way they shall be managed." Townspeople constructed a compelling alternative to the impersonal logic of free market ideology by comparing Derby's actions to the customary relations of the small shop. Recounting management's arrogant policies, an incredulous Currier spat, "whoever heard of such a course being adopted among any considerable body of journeymen mechanics?" "It is an impossibility," he concluded, "and could never be adopted among them."(37)
As the struggle wore on, anti-mill sentiment deepened. Demonstrators hanged Derby in effigy, and posted banners outside the mills emblazoned DOWN WITH FACTORY TYRANNY. In one extraordinary act an Amesbury town meeting voted to appropriate $2,000 of town monies for general strike relief. A Salisbury town meeting followed by appointing a committee to solicit strike funds. By the end of June community hostility had become so generalized that Derby and Langley felt compelled to bring in a small police force from Boston to "watch the affairs of the Village." Unimpressed, local constables arrested one of the mercenaries and briefly locked him up for violating a vagrancy ordinance. So alienated had residents. become that when a small annex owned by the Salisbury Company was set ablaze in early July, residents let it burn.(38) Community outrage further intensified as the mills hired mostly Irish-Catholic immigrants as permanent replacements. Beginning as a trickle in mid June, the influx of strikebreakers became a steady stream by mid July. By August 1852, the strike had been effectively defeated and production at the mills resumed. Some millhands reluctantly returned to work under the new rules; most simply moved away. Percentages of foreign-born in both towns rose from about five percent in 1850 to twelve percent in 1855.(39)
These changes provided an easy entry point for the mobilization of political nativism in 1854, but in 1852 residents focused most of their hostility on the corporations. Management's actions had confirmed the potential for abuse that industrial capitalism posed if its agents were allowed unlimited freedom. For outraged citizens this demanded a political response, and by mid June Ten Hour Committees had crystallized in both towns. Local activists plugged into the statewide movement, sending a "Ten Hour Circular" to surrounding towns that announced their determination to carry the cause to the General Court. The towns' only weekly newspaper, the Villager, broke its policy of political independence and tabbed Democrat Jonathan Nayson and Free Soiler Nahum Osgood "Ten Hour" candidates for state representative. For unknown reasons Osgood later withdrew and was replaced by Democrat Timothy P. Morrill, a wealthy bank clerk who signed the Ten Hour Circular. From the outset activists warned that success depended on severing party ties, urging "workmen and their friends to unite on candidates, irrespective of party."(40)
The rationale for the political movement was confirmed by the eventual failure of the strike. Villager editor Currier repeatedly maintained that "as long as it is the tendency of centralized wealth to oppress labor, it is necessary to place it under restrictions." Articulating a set of political economic ideas common among petty producers, Currier argued "the more ... wealth and power are distributed, the less this tendency" toward abuse. For local insurgents the solution lay in expanding the police powers of the state. Corporations "are creatures of the legislature," activists realized, and hence were subject to regulation by the state. A ten-hour law was necessary to reclaim the rights of ordinary folk and exalt "the public welfare" above selfish private interests.(41) Vague appeals to the "public welfare," of course, could accommodate a wide array of perspectives. Political insurgency in these communities was characterized by an ideological capaciousness that manifested itself in populist references to "equal rights" and the "public good." These elastic concepts would remain at the center of the political upheavals of the 1850s.
Still, distinctive themes ran through insurgent thought about the role of government in society. Activists invoked common sense beliefs that together formed a coherent political economy which we might call the producers' commonwealth.(42) Starting from their customary notions of equality and community, local insurgents held that government should be the democratic embodiment of a common, public interest. Ideally, the state should stand autonomous of powerful special interests, as only then could it advance the public good. "[T]he institution of government," resolved one ten-hour meeting, "was originally designed to promote the interests and protect the rights of all the parties to a compact, without favor or partiality." But government should also be vested with the power to guarantee equal rights and opportunities for all - that is, all native-born white men. In the name of economic growth for all, corporations had received preferential treatment from the General Court. Now, when the rights of small producers were threatened, the state must also act. Local insurgents translated the core tenets of popular Whiggery - harmony of class interests, equality of opportunity, respect for community norms - into a justification for state intervention on behalf of producers' rights. If, as one ten-hour resolution claimed, "the interests of Capital and Labor" were only "antagonistical when the former is employed to oppress and degrade the latter," then the revocation of customary privileges at the mills was a "case which makes us sensible of the value of the state." Without state intervention, activists concluded, "the strong would oppress the weak and the weak would have no remedy."(43) Evidence from these towns suggests the insurgent mentalite of the 1850s was patterned by a desire for the producers' commonwealth: government independent of special interests and empowered to redress the injustices occasioned by the maturing market economy.
This sensibility resonated widely in the summer of 1852, as middling small producers predominated in several local ten-hour meetings and delegations to county and state conventions (Tables II and III).(44) Driven by a tenaciously held belief in their right to security and respectability, local insurgents aimed to recast the political economy of industrial capitalism in a more popular image. Certainly the strike had served as the catalyst for the movement. But unsettling patterns of change also bore down on the area's handicraft sector, nourishing insurgency through the fall of 1852 and beyond.
Table II OCCUPATIONAL DISTRIBUTION OF TEN-HOUR ACTIVISTS IN AMESBURY & SALISBURY Occupation(*) No. Master craftsman 16 Journeyman 12 Professional 9 Small Proprietor 7 Laborer 5 Farmer 3 Operative 2 Total identified: 54 * "Small Proprietor" includes grocers, traders, and other petty merchants. "Professional" includes clerks, doctors, teachers, and ministers. Sources: List of Ten-Hour activists compiled from the Villager from 1852 to 1854, then linked to the 1850 population and non-population Census schedules to identify occupation: Federal Population Census Schedules, 1850; Federal Nonpopulation Census Schedules: Manufacturing, 1850. Table III DISTRIBUTION OF REAL AND PERSONAL PROPERTY: 1852 Sample(*) Ten-Hour Activists No. % No. % With real property 171 51.7 34 63.0 Without real property 158 48.3 20 37.0 $0 123 37.6 11 20.4 $1-499 65 19.9 11 20.4 $500-1,999 103 31.5 23 42.6 $2,000-3,999 26 8.0 8 14.8 $4,000(+) 10 3.1 1 1.9 327 54 Mean holding of property holders = $1,195 $1,258 * A random sample of every fifth male poll's real and personal property holdings at 1852 was taken for both towns and collapsed into a single distribution. Sources: Villager, 1852 to 1854; Amesbury Valuation and Tax Assessments Lists, 1852, APL; Salisbury Assessors and Valuation Records, 1852, Salisbury Town Hall.
The towns' industrial sector experienced impressive growth following the depression of 1837. Between 1845 and 1855 reported capital investment in the towns' six leading industries increased 48 percent, and the number of employed 40 percent. Such aggregate data, though, obscure striking differences among industries. From 1840 to 1860 several trades, including ship and boat building, coopering, and leathers, experienced precipitous decline. These downward turns coincided with greater concentrations of capital and sharper divisions of labor in such growth industries as carriage-making, hat making, and of course woolens.(45)
The most dramatic changes occurred in carriages. Between 1850 and 1855, reported capital investment in this sector increased over 230 percent, while the average number of employees per shop leapt upward from three hands to twelve. Much of this resulted from greater access to capital and more distant markets that came in 1848 when a spur was finally laid between Amesbury and neighboring Newburyport by the Eastern Railroad. The improved communication strengthened the hand of entrepreneurs attempting to consolidate and expand the industry. In the 1850s some carriage makers entered partnerships with other tradesmen whose skills and expertise complemented their own, centralizing the manufacture of carriages into fully integrated firms. This pattern of expansion through partnership was followed by the firm Sawyer, Neale, and Company. Mechanics Neale and Colby of Amesbury had worked for some time as journeymen in the employ of master carriage maker E. Goodwin, who died in 1857. Neale mortgaged his property for $2,000, raised another $3,000 (probably with help from Colby), and bought the late master's house and shop from Goodwin's heirs. The two entrepreneurs joined forces with Sawyer, a dealer in carriages and horses, because he was "a good salesman." Soon the trio opened an outlet in Boston and established themselves in the city's lucrative market for finely styled carriages. One craftsman remarked that in contrast to "ten or twelve years ago [when] it was difficult to sell our carriages" beyond the local market, long-distance trade was now brisk.(46)
The opening of new markets was double-edged of course, for it threw many craftsmen into competition with distant producers. For some proprietors this meant outright failure; for most, a heightened sense of economic insecurity was reason enough for concern. The experience of carriage maker Alden B. Morse is telling. A devoted Liberty and Free Soil party activist, Morse was an Amesbury town selectmen in 1852 when he signed the Ten Hour Circular. He had arrived in Amesbury about 1841 aged 31 years and worked as a journeyman in the booming trade for another seven seasons. In 1848 he purchased a small half-house, a tiny plot of land adjacent to it, and a workshop for manufacturing simple two-wheeled chaises. Capitalized at $650 in 1850, Morse was unable to compete with larger firms when the market price for plain chaises sped downward in the early 1850s. In 1855 Morse failed and left the trade altogether to try his luck at silver-plating.(47)
These broad transformations place the ten-hour insurgency into richer context. Various structural changes in the local economy further threatened the status and security of middling petty producers, giving the movement its edge of social radicalism. Yet though these changes helped fuel insurgency, it was the strike at the mills which had set it off. Buffeted by disruptive changes in the handicrafts, townspeople were suddenly confronted with a concrete example of how early industrial capitalism produced private concentrations of power that appeared unresponsive to community norms. In a community context that reinforced traditions of social interdependence and class harmony, the ten-hour day meant much more than simply millworkers' control of their work and leisure time. It became the primary emotional symbol in a political struggle between the rights of a besieged "public," and those of a selfish, private interest. In 1852 the rally cry "Ten Hours" enabled insurgent leaders to mobilize local outrage into a political response to the excesses of the market revolution. In the races for state representative Ten Hour candidates Nayson and Morrill were easily elected over dwindling Whig opposition.(48)
Nayson, a skilled debater and tactician, was the point man in the 1853 legislature for the state's ten-hour movement. As Chair of the Special Joint Committee on factory legislation, Nayson pointed out that corporations were originally intended for the "promotion of the public welfare." Private stockholders, therefore, could not claim "an exclusive interest in their management and control." Invoking the failed Amesbury-Salisbury strike, he argued operatives were "utterly powerless to contend against the conditions of labor which may be imposed by corporations." Such an absolute power to dictate the social relations of production was unacceptable. Government, he contended, had a legal as well as moral obligation to preserve class harmony and the public good through legislation like the ten-hour day. Such arguments had been aired in years past; the General Court had debated the ten-hour issue extensively in preceding sessions but bills were always defeated when enough Democrats and Free Soilers joined a united Whig opposition. In 1853 the popularity of the ten-hour day was beyond dispute: Nayson's committee received over 10,000 signatures in support of the bill, 1,143 from Amesbury and Salisbury alone. Swayed by popular pressure the House for the first time passed a ten-hour bill, only to see it put down in the Senate by the Whigs.(49)
As this and other reform efforts stalled, voters across the state grew increasingly restless. Over the course of 1853, local ten-hour forces added other reforms to their agenda, including the secret ballot, expansion of existing mechanics' liens and homestead exemptions, and a refurbished general incorporation law.(50) Momentum for reform crested that summer when a constitutional convention was held to incorporate these and other reforms into the state's constitution. The ubiquitous Nayson was voted Amesbury's delegate, and William Carruthers, a petty dry goods retailer and ten-hour leader, was sent from Salisbury.(51)
The constitutional convention proposed a wholly new Constitution, submitted before the electorate along with seven ballot questions in November 1853. Its most controversial section reapportioned representation in the General Court to favor the state's rural, western townships. Whigs campaigned vigorously against the blatantly unfair scheme, sending the Constitution to defeat by a slim margin and regaining control of the General Court in the process. Scholars have identified several factors that conspired to give the Whigs their Pyrrhic victory. The large vote against the document in eastern counties confirms the reapportionment issue was astutely played by the Whigs. The party also received an unexpected boost when a number of influential Free Soilers and Democrats campaigned against the Constitution. Finally, long before the 1853 election national divisions over slavery had shattered the Democratic-Free Soil Coalition, leaving the orphaned proposal with no disciplined, statewide vehicle.(52)
These factors were undeniably important, but it seems likely that the concessions Whigs themselves offered to state reform were equally significant. In the summer of 1853 the state's textile barons, most of whom moved in the Whig party's exclusive inner circle, defused the ten-hour issue by voluntarily adopting an eleven-hour day in cotton and woolen mills across eastern Massachusetts. By August 1853 the eleven-hour day was the rule at Amesbury and Salisbury. Then too Whig party caucuses across Massachusetts expressed support for the reforms contained in the abortive Constitution. Beseeching voters to give the wayward party another chance, Whig leaders and editorialists argued that the party could take up reform without having to alter existing constitutional arrangements.(53)
Evidence from Amesbury and Salisbury lends support to this conclusion. Despite the popularity of the proposed reforms, only a slim majority of voters backed the Constitution, suggesting that Whig appeals on the apportionment issue swayed some.(54) But more important were changes in the local Whig party itself, underscored by the sorts of candidates the party fielded for state representative in 1853. Amesbury's Whig candidate was Charles L. Rowell, a master tanner who would be catapulted to office the following year as the town's Know Nothing representative. Salisbury Whigs backed the machinist Joseph Morrill, a delegate to several ten-hour conventions the previous year. Rowell and Morrill were not establishment-Whig types. Indeed, both might have won had they not run against other reform-minded candidates. Amesbury's election pitted Rowell against Free Soiler and ten-hour activist Philip Osgood, while in Salisbury Morrill ran against Democrat Joseph Colby, another ten-hour man. After several close ballots, Amesbury voters decided not to send a representative while Salisbury voters chose Colby, who, cheered one resident, would "do all in his power to have a [ten-hour] law enacted." The election of 1853, then, presented voters with a conflicting array of choices; no single vehicle for expressing discontent with the status quo existed in 1853. This was not the case a year earlier when Ten Hours served as the emotional referent that united local insurgents, nor would it be so in 1854 when nativism cemented insurgent forces statewide. But while the political situation was temporarily muddied, the dominant issue remained political economic reform and specifically, the ten-hour question. As one resident observed, support for a ten-hour bill continued unabated, and as a result "party lines are forgotten by many who were once leading members of the leading political parties."(55)
It was this breach in party lines that political nativism filled in 1854. For discontented voters, political nativism rendered comprehensible what was in fact a complex restructuring of society, economy, and politics in the 1850s. As historians have pointed out, Know Nothingism organized an incongruous assortment of angry middle-, lower-middle-, and working-class folk who cut their eyeteeth on a bewildering array of issues. As it happened, the party was too diverse to sustain itself and was slowly absorbed into the Republican party by an unlikely combination of events and skillful power plays by leading antislavery politicians.(56) But in 1854 voters in Amesbury and Salisbury were most concerned with a set of unresolved issues related to industrialization and the market revolution. Much as the ten-hour movement had done two years earlier, political nativism provided voters in Amesbury and Salisbury with a vehicle to express their frustrations and aspirations.
We know little about how the Know Nothing party came to Amesbury and Salisbury. The first hints of the secret order's presence appear in spring 1854; by August local lodges were flourishing.(57) We do not know for sure who were its principal organizers, nor do we have more than indirect evidence of the party's social base. A few individuals associated with the American Party did have ties to the earlier ten-hour movement. School teacher Robert Rich, a former Free Soiler, was elected state representative from Salisbury in 1854, and Streeter Evans, another school teacher, was one of five state senators sent by Essex County voters. Both backed the ten-hour movement; Evans in particular had been among the core group of activists who signed the Ten Hour Circular. Another prominent ten-hour activist, the machinist Augustus C. Carey, was elected Know Nothing representative from Ipswich in 1854, two years after he had moved there from Amesbury. This sort of direct evidence is only suggestive, however, for we cannot identify the party's supporting cast of lesser activists.(58)
However, through a close reading of the area's press we can make some general observations about the local nature of political nativism - about its primary frame of reference, its emotional content, its principal appeal. Villager editor Currier never publicly endorsed the Know Nothings, but he sympathized with nativist causes and was not shy about ventilating his anti-Catholic animus. Though often keyed by ethnocultural symbolism, political nativism in Amesbury and Salisbury tapped the roots of small producer thought and experience in these communities. Its frankly avowed biases and sensational claims were harnessed in the ongoing crusade for the producers' commonwealth. Beneath an undeniable ethnocentric exterior, nativism as a political expression captured native-born citizens' identification with the transitional world of the small producer and their anxieties over its fate amid the ravages of the market revolution. In this context nativism proved sufficiently elastic to be adapted to local conditions, yet internally unified to enable activists to forge an identity of common grievances that crossed class and party lines throughout the state.
From June 1852 onward editorials in the Villager fulminated over rising immigration rates and Catholic distrust of common schools, evidence that Know Nothingism in these towns was in part an expression of the kind of militant cultural politics commonly associated with the secret order. Indeed the ethnocultural dimension of political nativism is best illustrated by local support for the Know Nothings' stringent prohibition law. Temperance was especially popular among local petty producers, who in the 1840s had organized large and active chapters of the Washingtonians and Sons of Temperance. Taking the pledge of total abstinance had marked one as in control and ready to rise, differentiating the abstainer from the lazy, dependent drinker. As residents sought ways to clarify their identity amid the newcomers, many simply refused to admit that Irish-Catholic immigrants were anything but "a drunken, vagrant class," unreachable through the hoary traditions of self-improvement and moral suasion. The influx of Irish-Catholics into these communities greatly facilitated the tactical shift toward legal coercion here, as elsewhere, in the antebellum crusade against demon rum.(59)
But ethnocultural antagonisms cannot be abstracted from their broader socioeconomic context. That the coming of Irish-Catholic immigrants to these towns was directly traceable to the events of 1852 profoundly influenced how local voters responded to and indeed shaped political nativism. Citizens rooted their nativism in a social analysis of the changing class and community relations that immigrants embodied. Chief among residents' concerns were the effects foreign-born workers had upon the status of labor. Immigrants threatened native-born workers because they supposedly worked for lower wages and were "subservient to the wishes of employers." Worse, exclaimed the Villager, immigrants "introduce the greatest of all curses which can visit a manufacturing community, a permanent class of factory operatives." Something had to be done to preserve cherished ways of life, before "the evils which have characterized the manufacturing towns of the old world [are] transplanted with their operatives into our manufacturing towns."(60) In Amesbury and Salisbury immigrants symbolized the degree to which impersonal market forces redefined the meaning of free labor to include a perennial underclass of dependent factory workers.
These perceptions collided with the idealized constructions of a mutualistic, open, and classless society that many small producers held. In politics, as in social relations, Irish-Catholics were widely believed to be easily manipulated by vested interests. Currier pinned the blame on immigrant voters in conjunction with the conservative Whig establishment for the demise of the 1853 Constitution. Irish-Catholics provided the crucial votes against the Constitution, he claimed, and as a result gave "the government of Massachusetts into the hands of a powerful party." The "whole influence of Catholic priests," Currier raged, in combination with "the money-bags of State Street," had defeated the Constitution. As the 1854 election neared, attacks by the local press on the clannish political practices of Irish-Catholics became more acerbic still.(61) Fear of the political power of Irish-Catholics and their "Popish priests" also shaped local responses to the Kansas-Nebraska act. Anti-Nebraska sentiment was passionately felt in these communities and gave further impetus to jettison party loyalties in 1854. Mass anti-Nebraska meetings were organized and attended by men of all parties, and resolutions unanimously adopted which framed the issue as one of economic prosperity for "Northern capital and labor." "The bill in question," asserted one resolution, "directly interferes with their industrial and commercial interests, and touches the source of their wealth." The bill's ultimate passage in May 1854 was grist for the nativist mill, enabling Know Nothing publicists to intensify voter anger at a seemingly undemocratic political system. Most important in this effort was the alleged alliance between "Slavery and Romanism." "Their principles are in perfect harmony," the Villager blasted, "principles which establish an aristocracy, special privileges, which perpetuate the power of caste."(62)
Antislavery and anti-Catholicism, communicated in dire warnings about "aristocracy" and "special privileges," complemented the statewide movement for political economic reform. Final confirmation of Whig arrogance came during the 1854 legislative session, where Whig leaders, in one last miscalculation, reneged on campaign promises to take up reform. Political nativism pegged the mounting pressure for political economic reform to the most salient symbols of power and corruption available in the political universe in the mid 1850s: southern slavery, Catholicism, and conservative Whiggery. Here political nativism freed insurgents to effect reforms in the Bay State's political economy that were barely imaginable only a few years earlier. The legislative accomplishments of the Massachusetts Know Nothings are well-known, but a partial list illustrates both the movement's primary concern for allaying the anxieties of native-born petty producers and its appreciation for the uses of government in this endeavor. The Know Nothings in Massachusetts expanded the provisions in the state's general incorporation, homestead exemption, and mechanics' lien laws; abolished imprisonment for debt; sharply increased funding for the state's public school system; strengthened the property rights of married women, and prevented their husbands' creditors from seizing their property; prohibited incorporated factories from hiring children 14 years or younger who did not attend school a minimum of eleven weeks out of the year.(63)
These and other reforms were formulated in response to the small producers' demand for meaningful public policy in the area of just and equitable market relations. In Amesbury and Salisbury the issue that had touched off this struggle locally, the ten-hour day, remained pivotal to insurgent politics. The Villager periodically refocused attention on the ten-hour issue in the months leading up to the November 1854 election. Soon after the 1855 General Court convened, it became clear that strong sentiment existed among Know Nothing legislators finally to enact a ten-hour law. A Joint Committee on Factory Legislation sympathetic to the measure was organized, and Currier followed its activities closely. As a final vote on the bill neared, he reasserted the state's right to, in essence, regulate the market to ensure private interests met basic standards of communal responsibility. A ten-hour bill would guarantee to factory operatives "governmental protection from the exactions and tyranny of factory managers." The Amesbury-Salisbury strike also bulked large in the arguments of the bill's author, representative Augustus C. Carey. In the preamble to his bill Carey invoked the strike as evidence that legislation was required to prevent powerful corporations from lording over their workers. The time was now, Carey declared, for the General Court to honor the interests of the state's growing class of factory workers, interests that were usually ignored or "remembered only when their vote was necessary to the office holders' welfare." Carey's bill carried the House by a huge majority, only to go down to defeat yet again in the Senate.(64)
Such failures plagued ten-hour forces in Massachusetts until 1874. But the importance that the issue held for middling small producers suggests a basic ideological tension concerning the meaning of the market revolution, a tension that provided a crucial subtext to the political instability of the 1850s. The traditional categories of antislavery, ethnoculture, or "populism," by themselves can produce only an incomplete account of the Know Nothing insurgency. If the history of these towns is any guide, those familiar features of politics in the 1850s were political translations of deep-seated anxieties over the processes of industrial revolution and commercial expansion. In Amesbury and Salisbury the transitional economy of the small producer - an ambiguous world characterized by small-scale production and qualified commercial attitudes - was gradually eclipsed by the advance of large-scale industrial and commercial capitalism. Symbolized by the growing power of corporations, these forces produced unease among small producers who stubbornly hewed to a contradictory ideal of an economically dynamic, socially interdependent, yet classless society. In Amesbury and Salisbury social pressures boiled over into politics not simply because of the abrupt changes that occurred at the mills, although these provided the necessary ignition. The changes at the mills signified much larger processes of social stratification and class polarization that small producers feared were out of their control by the 1850s.
Of course any single case study will have its limitations. Much more community-level research into the social history of politics is needed before we can draw firm conclusions about the nature of the market revolution and the political responses it generated in the 1850s. The economies of larger cities or smaller villages produced markedly different patterns of economic activity, social interaction, and structural economic change than those found in Amesbury and Salisbury. Moreover the relative weight of sectional, ethnocultural, and reform issues in the revolt of the small producer surely varied according to the specific context within which these issues found political expression; political nativism was mediated by a matrix of preexisting political institutions and beliefs, community customs, and power relationships. Even so, the social explanation of politics offered in this essay suggests that the electoral upheavals of the 1850s were driven in part by an often frustrating search for new instruments to accommodate the market revolution. That search led finally to an expanded role for the state because of the collapse of older constraints under the weight of the free market. The corpus of political economic reforms enacted in Massachusetts, and indeed in other states, suggests the degree to which the state was reconceptualized in the decade before the Civil War as a positive force in the ongoing adjustment to new socioeconomic imperatives. William Carruthers, Salisbury's delegate to the constitutional convention of 1853, perhaps best captured this utilitarian view of government as an autonomous agent, upholding rights and opportunities that small producers held dear: "... the legitimate business of civil government is to develop the best possible physical and social condition for the people - to protect them from the exactions of centralized power - to restrain violence, intemperance, crime, by securing equal opportunities for culture and improvement."(65)
By tightening industrial discipline at the local mills the incoming regime created a community of affliction in Amesbury and Salisbury. The new agents unwittingly focused attention on the problems and contradictions attendant upon a maturing market economy. Political nativism had its roots in the distinctive intellectual traditions and social experiences of petty producers like William Carruthers, as they struggled to negotiate these profoundly transforming processes. It also transcended those traditions by envisioning an expanded role for the state in curbing the excesses of rapid capitalist development.
Department of History Amherst, MA 01003
Research for this article was supported by a fellowship at the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. For their helpful comments and suggestions, I am grateful to Paula Baker, Mary Blewett, Paul Goodman, John Higginson, Bruce Laurie, Jack Reynolds, Leonard Richards, and Sean Wilentz.
1. Amesbury and Salisbury Mills Villager, 5 June 1852; 8 July 1852.
2. "Ten Hour Circular" quoted in Villager, 15 July 1852; John Greenleaf Whittier to Harriet Farley, 8 March 1850, as printed in Farley, Operatives Reply to Honorable Jere Clemens (Lowell, 1850), 10.
3. Villager, 7 December 1854. Good recent studies of the Massachusetts Know Nothings include Ronald P. Formisano, The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790s-1840s (New York, 1983), 329-43; John R. Mulkern, The Know-Nothing Party in Massachusetts: The Rise and Fall of a People's Movement (Boston, 1990).
4. The following studies, though attentive to other factors, emphasize ethnocultural influences on mid-nineteenth-century voting behavior. Lee Benson, The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy: New York as a Test Case (Princeton, 1961); Ronald P. Formisano, The Birth of Mass Political Parties: Michigan, 1827-1861 (Princeton, 1971); William E. Gienapp, The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852-1856 (New York, 1987); Michael F. Holt, Forging A Majority: The Formation of the Republican Party in Pittsburgh, 1848-1860 (New Haven, CT, 1969); Paul Kleppner, The Cross of Culture: A Social Analysis of Midwestern Politics, 1850-1890 (New York, 1970).
5. Tyler Anbinder, Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s (New York, 1992); Jean H. Baker, Ambivalent Americans: The Know-Nothing Party in Maryland (Baltimore, 1977); Amy Bridges, A City in the Republic: Antebellum New York and the Origins of Machine Politics (Ithaca, 1984), and idem., "Becoming American: The Working Classes in the United States Before the Civil War," in Ira Katznelson and Aristide R. Zolberg, eds., Working-Class Formation: Nineteenth-Century Patterns in Western Europe and the United States (Princeton, 1986), 157-96; Robert W. Fogel, Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery (New York, 1989), 354-81; Formisano, Transformation of Political Culture, 329-43; Michael F. Holt, "The Politics of Impatience: The Origins of Know-Nothingism," Journal of American History (1973): 30931; Mulkern, Know-Nothing Party in Massachusetts. There is considerable variation among these works. Mulkern, Bridges, Fogel, and Holt, while acknowledging ethnocultural and antiparty influences, stress working-class nativism; Baker and Formisano stress the appeal of antiparty reform among a broader cross section of the native-born, evangelical Protestant community; Anbinder, in the latest twist, attempts a synthesis of antislavery, ethnocultural and antiparty explanations, but greatly underestimates the importance of social class and political economic issues.
6. See Anbinder, Nativism and Slavery, 34-51; Baker, Ambivalent Americans, 142-6; Gerald G. Eggert, "'Seeing Sam': The Know Nothing Episode in Harrisburg," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 111 (July 1987): 305-40; George L. Haynes, "A Chapter From the Local History of Knownothingism," The New England Magazine (1896): 82-96.
7. Key discussions are Geoff Eley and Keith Nield, "Why Does Social History Ignore Politics?" Social History 5 (1980): 249-71; Ira Katznelson, "The 'Bourgeois' Dimension: A Provocation About Institutions, Politics, and the Future of Labor History," and the challenges from members of the ILWCH Editorial Board in International Labor and Working-Class History 46 (Fall 1994): 7-92; Richard L. McCormick, The Party Period and Public Policy: American Politics from the Age of Jackson to the Progressive Era (New York, 1986), esp. 89-140.
8. Howard P. Chudacoff, "Success and Security: The Meaning of Social Mobility in America," Reviews in American History 10 (1982): 101-12; 106. Here and throughout the paper I have attempted to occupy a middle ground on the vexed issue of mentalite and capitalism. My reading of this debate has been shaped by, among others, Joyce Appleby, Capitalism and A New Social Order: The Republican Vision of the 1790s (New York, 1984); Christopher Clark, The Roots of Rural Capitalism: Western Massachusetts, 1780-1860 (Ithaca, 1990); Steven Hahn and Jonathan Prude, eds., The Countryside in the Age of Capitalist Revolution: Essays in the Social History of Rural America (New York, 1985); James A. Henretta, "Families and Farms: Mentalite in Preindustrial America," William and Mary Quarterly (January 1978): 3-32; Allan Kulikoff, The Agrarian Origins of American Capitalism (Charlottesville, 1992); James T. Lemon, The Best Poor Man's Country: A Geographical Study of Early Southeastern Pennsylvania (Baltimore, 1972); Michael Merrill, "Cash Is Good To Eat: Self-Sufficiency and Market Exchange in the Rural Economy of the United States," Radical History Review 3 (1977): 42-71; Winifred B. Rothenberg, From Market Places to a Market Economy: The Transformation of Rural Massachusetts, 1780-1850 (Chicago, 1992); Sean Wilentz, Chants Democratic: New York City and the Origins of the American Working-Class, 1788-1850 (New York, 1984).
9. For a case study that analyzes antebellum politics in a way similar to the approach I adopt here, see Paul Goodman, "The Emergence of Homestead Exemption in the United States: Accommodation and Resistance to the Market Revolution, 1840-1880," Journal of American History 80 (1993): 470-98. For an illuminating analysis of economic insecurity among small producers and its relationship to antebellum third partyism, see Bruce Laurie, "'Spavined Ministers, Lying Toothpullers, and Buggering Priests': Third Partyism and the Search for Security in the Antebellum North," in Howard Rock, Paul Gilje, Robert Asher, eds., American Artisans: Crafting Social Identity, 1750-1850 (Baltimore, 1995).
10. See for example, Gary Kulik, "Pawtucket Village and the Strike of 1824: The Origins of Class Conflict in Rhode Island,' Radical History Review (Spring, 1978): 5-37; Jonathan Prude, The Coming of Industrial Order: Town and Factory Life in Rural Massachusetts, 1810-1860 (New York, 1982); Anthony F. C. Wallace, Rockdale: The Growth of an American Village in the Early Industrial Revolution (New York, 1972). Demographic data derived from Barbara M. Solomon, "The Growth of the Population in Essex County, 1850-1860," Essex Institute Historical Collections (1959): 82-103.
11. The above summary drawn from "A Few particulars in relation to Woolen Manufacturing during an Agency in Amesbury of 31 Years, Commencing in 1821 and ending in 1852," [photocopy of original], Mss. 176, Museum of American Textile History; "Captain John Wills, jr," in N. B. Gordon Papers, Mss: 442, 1813-1846, (12 vols.): vol. 10, Baker Library, Harvard Business School [hereafter HBS]; "Joshua Aubin, 1789-1861," collection of unpublished manuscripts, Amesbury Public Library [APL]; Newburyport Herald, 11 June 1852; Newburyport Daily Evening Union, 2 June 1852; Villager, 16 May 1850; Farley, Operatives' Reply, 10-11; George E. McNeill, ed., The Labor Movement: The Problem of To-Day (Boston, 1887), 118; Sara Locke Redford, History of Amesbury, Massachusetts (Salisbury, 1968), 40-2. Skilled and semi-skilled males constituted between 40 and 55 percent of each company's workforce. See Louis McLane, Report of the Secretary of the Treasury, 1832. Documents Relative to the Manufactures in the United States, 22d Cong., 1st sess., Doc. No. 308, 2 vols. (Washington, 1833), I: 210-1, 252-3; John G. Palfrey, Statistics of the Branches of Industry in Massachusetts ... 1845 (Boston, 1846), 8, 34; Francis DeWitt, Statistical Information Relating to ... Industry in Massachusetts ... 1855 (Boston, 1856), 162.
12. Aubin quoted in "A Few Particulars," 6. For mill relations of production see "Joshua Aubin, 1789-1861," APL; Amesbury Morning Courier, 28 July 1837; Amesbury Essex Transcript, 22 February 1849; Villager, 29 March 1850; 31 October 1850; 3 July 1851; 24 November 1853; Newburyport Herald, 8 June 1852; "Eleventh Annual Report of the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor, January, 1880," Mass. Public Documents, 1880 No. 15, 9-10.
13. Villager, 25 April 1852. The record reveals only one incident of overt conflict at Mills Village prior to 1852. In 1836 about 100 women weavers at the AFMC struck when ordered to work two looms with no increase in wages. Agent Aubin met with the women and a mutually acceptable compromise was soon reached, for most of the women returned to their work after two or three days. See Amesbury Morning Courier, 11 April, 18 April 1836.
14. For example, in 1845 there were fifty-six carriage-making shops with a total of 116 hands. Moreover the mills' combined male workforce of 248 in 1845 was 22% less than the combined number of males employed in carriage-making, the various leather trades, boots and shoes, boat and ship building, and hat-making. See Palfrey, Statistics of the Branches of Industry in Massachusetts ... 1845, 8-10; Federal Nonpopulation Census Schedules, Manufacturing: 1850.
15. See for example Clark, Roots of Rural Capitalism, esp. ch. 1; Peter Kriedte, Hans Medick, and Jurgen Schlumbohm, Industrialization before Industrialization: Rural Industry in the Genesis of Capitalism (Cambridge, 1981); Kulikoff, Agrarian Origins of American Capitalism, esp. ch. 1; Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (New York, 1906 [orig. publ. 1867!), chs. 26-33; Jean H. Quataert, "A New View of Industrialization: 'Protoindustry' or the role of Small Scale, Labor-Intensive Manufacture in the Capitalist Environment," International Labor and Working-Class History 33 (1988): 3-22.
16. "H" quoted in Essex Banner, 21 August 1852. On the informal, decentralized nature of petty production and exchange in these towns, see Account Book of John Sargent, Carriage Maker, West Amesbury, MA, 1804-1837, Peabody Essex Museum [PEM]; Samuel Kendrick Jr., [blacksmith] Account Book, Baker Library, HBS; Diary and Account Book of Unnamed Shoemaker, 1848-1857, APL; Thomas Blaisdell [mason], Day Book, 1845-1851, APL; "Joseph Gale," in Mass. Vol. 23, 238, and "William Carey," in Mass. Vol. 23, 153, 216, R. G. Dun and Company Collection, Baker Library, HBS; Valuation and Tax Assessments Lists, Amesbury, [microfilm] Reel #2: 1837-1845, and Reel #3: 1846-1854, APL; Salisbury Assessors and Valuation Records, 1838-1859, original Mss., Salisbury Town Hall; Federal Population Schedules for Massachusetts, Agriculture: 1850. For more on these themes see Mary H. Blewett, Men, Women, and Work: Class, Gender, and Protest in the New England Shoe Industry, 1780-1910 (Urbana, 1988); Clark, Roots of Rural Capitalism; Thomas Dublin, "Rural Putting-Out Work in Early Nineteenth-Century New England: Women and the Transition to Capitalism in the Countryside," New England Quarterly 64 (1991): 531-73; Prude, Coming of Industrial Order; Daniel Vickers, Farmers and Fishermen: Two Centuries of Work in Essex County, Massachusetts, 1630-1850 (Chapel Hill, 1994).
17. N. B. Gordon Papers, Mss: 442, vol. 10, "wage book," Baker Library, HBS; Thomas Blaisdell, 1845-1851 Day Book, Amesbury, APL; "Receipts of John Blaisdell, Jr.," in Miscellaneous Papers, Essex County Collection, Amesbury, PEM; Account Book of John Martin (1776-1843), AmesbUry Carpenter, PEM; "Eleventh Annual Report of the Bureau of Statistics for Labor," 10; John J. Allen, "History of Carriage Manufacturing, Automobile Building, and Accessories, in Salisbury, Amesbury, and West Amesbury ... 1800-1955," unpublished manuscript, APL, n.d., 112-9.
18. Of course Whig power was not absolute. The aggregate vote of Democratic and Liberty/Free-Soil candidates frequently prevented Whigs from obtaining the required majority. But between 1844 and 1851 the party dominated local politics: Amesbury sent a Whig to the General Court in 1849 and 1851; Salisbury in 1844, 1845, 1847 and 1848. Amesbury Town Meeting Records: 1796-1844, and 1846-1861 [microfilm Mss: reels 12], APL; Salisbury Town Meeting Records, 1797-1858 [microfilm Mss], Massachusetts Archives. Generally voting patterns for lesser state offices closely followed the votes for Governor contained in Table I.
19. The best study of Massachusetts' political economy remains Oscar and Mary Flug Handlin, Commonwealth: A Study of the Role of Government in the American Economy: Massachusetts, 1774-1861 (Cambridge, 1947). Also see Ronald Formisano, The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790s-1840s (New York, 1983), 268-301; Paul Goodman, "The Politics of Industrialism: Massachusetts, 1830-1870," in Richard L. Bushman, et al, eds., Uprooted Americans: Essays to Honor Oscar Handlin (Boston, 1979), 163-207. Important general treatments of Whig thought include John Ashworth, "Agrarians & "Aristocrats": Party Political Ideology in the United States, 1837-1846 (London, 1983); Daniel Walker Howe, The Political Culture of the American Whigs (Chicago, 1979).
20. Fourteen Whigs, eleven of them candidates for state representative, were linked to Population and Nonpopulation Census lists producing the following breakdown: Master Craftsmen, 6; Mill Agent/Overseer, 5; Small Proprietor, 2; Professional, 1. On the local appeal of the protective tariff and economic expansion, see for example Essex Transcript, 14 April 1840; 28 May 1841; 22 April 1842; 29 April 1842; 11 May 1848; Villager, 24 May 1849; 15 May 1851.
21. It is likely that the Liberty party recruited heavily from the towns' "dissenting" sects - Baptists, Methodists, and Universalists. Based on a sample of church membership published in the Villager, I estimate these denominations accounted for 45% of all churchgoers in these communities. See Villager, 9 August 1849. For more on the relationship between religious dissent and political opposition in Massachusetts, see John L. Brooke, The Heart of the Commonwealth: Society and Political Culture in Worcester County, Massachusetts: 1713-1861 (New York, 1989), 360-75; Formisano, Transformation of Political Culture, esp. 283-301; Goodman, "The Politics of Industrialism," esp. 171-3.
22. See for example Essex Transcript, 8 December 1843; 28 March 1845; 11 June 1846; 10 August; 7 September 1848. For more on the local Liberty party and political culture in Essex county during the 1840s, see my "Political Responses to the Market Revolution: Antipartyism, Politics and the State in the Antebellum North, 1840-1860," (Ph.D. dissertation in progress, University of Massachusetts). Scholars who have recognized the potential for social radicalism in the Liberty party include Bruce Laurie, "The Making of an Antislavery Bloc in Massachusetts," (unpublished manuscript in my possession); Edward Magdol, The Antislavery Rank and File: A Social Profile of the Abolitionists' Constituency (Westport, CT, 1986), 101-15.
23. Whittier to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 3 November 1848, in John B. Pickard, ed., The Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier, vol. II (Cambridge, 1975), 119.
24. For more on these points, see Goodman, "Politics of Industrialism," 176; Formisano, Transformation of Political Culture, 270. Scholarship on antebellum Massachusetts suggests the Democrats recruited best among religious dissenters in the state's rural regions. See works cited in note 21. Evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, on the political behavior of the towns' farmers is very sketchy, a fact that itself may be illustrative. These were communities with dynamic industrial economies centered around the woolen mills, a strong orientation toward the progressive, improvement-side of Whiggery and moral reform, and a local press that celebrated these values. By contrast local farmers lived on the outskirts of town and were reputed to be far less enthusiastic about experimenting in "modem techniques of farming and husbandry" than neighboring farmers. See James R. Newhall, Essex Memorial for 1836 (Lynn, 1837), 42.
25. Amesbury Town Meeting Records: 1844-1861 [microfilm Mss: reel #2!, 26; "Petition to construct and maintain a railroad ..." Ref. #11865: 1-12, Senate Unenacted, 1846, Mass. Archives.
26. Nayson, a druggist, had built the local Democratic party on a solid Jacksonian foundation in the early 1830s. See Amesbury Chronicle, 25 April 1833; Essex Transcript, 26 January 1844.
27. Similar mobilizations elsewhere also suggest a middling base of support. See Thelma M. Kistler, "The Rise of Railroads in the Connecticut River Valley," Smith College Studies in History 23 (October, 1937-July, 1938): 73-90; John Majewski and Daniel B. Klein, "Economy, Community, and the Law: the Turnpike Movement in New York, 1797-1845," Law & Society Review 26 (1992): 469-512; Majewski, Klein, and Christopher Baer, "Responding to Relative Economic Decline: The Plank Road Boom of Antebellum New York," The Journal of Economic History 53 (1993): 106-22.
28. Dale Baum, The Civil War Party System: The Case of Massachusetts, 1848-1876 (Chapel Hill, 1984), 24-31; Mulkern, Know-Nothing Party in Massachusetts, 29-59; Kevin Sweeney, "Rum, Romanism, Representation, and Reform: Coalition Politics in Massachusetts, 1847-1853," Civil War History 22 (1976): 116-37.
29. Villager, 25 April 1852; A Succinct Account of the Late Difficulties on the Salisbury Corporation (Salisbury, MA, 1852), 3.
30. Victor S. Clark, History of Manufactures in the United States, 1607-1860 (Washington, DC, 1916), 613-5; Arthur H. Cole, The American Wool Manufacture, 2 vols. (Boston, 1926), I: 267-78; Thomas Dublin, Women at Work: The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826-1860 (New York, 1979), 133-6; Caroline F. Ware, Early New England Cotton Manufacture: A Study in Industrial Beginnings (New York, 1966 [originally published in 1931]), 108-14.
31. Derived from Boston Journal, 4 September 1854; Newburyport Daily Evening Union, 18 March 1853; Newburyport Herald, 7 September 1854; Villager, 12 February 1853; 16 March 1853; 12 January 1854; 1 December 1853.
32. Villager, 3 June 1852; 5 June 1852.
33. ibid., 5 June 1852.
34. ibid., 24 June 1852; 15 July 1852; A Succinct Account, 14-16. For more on this theme, see Blewett, Men, Women, and Work, 68-96.
35. Villager, 10 June 1852: 17 June, 1852; A Succinct Account, 6-7.
36. "Reply of Agent," Villager, 10 June 1852. See also "Letter from Overseers," Newburyport Herald, 8 June 1952.
37. Villager, 10 June 1852; Daily Evening Union, 8 June 1852; Villager, 8 July 1852.
38. Newburyport Daily Evening Union, 12 June, 29 June 1852; Villager, 10 June, 15 July 1852; Haverhill Essex Banner, 10 July 1852; Amesbury Town Meeting Records, 1844-1861, 153-6, APL; Salisbury Town Meeting Records, 1797-1858, 693-5, Mass. Archives. Salisbury town selectmen, concerned that the incident might erode local support for the strike, published a stem rebuke and offered a reward for information leading to the apprehension of the alleged arsonist.
39. Solomon, "The Growth of the Population of Essex County," Tables I-III; Shurtleff, Census of Massachusetts ... 1855, Table I.
40. Villager, 24 June 1852; 8 July 1852; 30 September 1852. On the Massachusetts ten-hour movement, see Teresa Anne Murphy, Ten Hours' Labor: Religion, Reform, and Gender in Early New England (Ithaca, 1992).
41. Currier in Villager, 30 September 1852; Ten Hour Circular in ibid., 8 July 1852; Nayson, "Minority Report," Massachusetts House Document No. 122, 1853, 3.
42. My thoughts here have been shaped by Goodman, "Emergence of Homestead Exemption;" James A. Marone, The Democratic Wish: Popular Participation and the Limits of American Government (New York, 1990), esp. 1-30; McCormick, Party Period and Public Policy, esp. 319-32; Michael Merrill and Sean Wilentz, "'The Key of Libberty': William Manning and Plebeian Democracy, 1747-1814," in Alfred F. Young, ed., Beyond the American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism (DeKalb, IL, 1993), 246-82.
43. Villager, 30 September 1852; 15 July 1852.
44. The movement also showed a clear tendency to attract old Liberty party activists. Fifteen of the twenty-four ten-hour activists (63%) whose partisan affiliation could be identified were associated with the antislavery insurgency. See my "Political Responses to the Market Revolution."
45. See Statistical Tables of Certain Branches of Industry in Massachusetts ... 1837 (Boston, 1838), 5, 19; Palfrey, Statistics of the Branches of Industry in Massachusetts ... 1845, 8, 34; DeWitt Industry in Massachusetts ... 1855, 111-3, 162-4; Federal Nonpopulation Schedules for Massachusetts, Manufacturing: 1850 and 1860.
46. "H" quoted in Essex Banner, 7 August 1852. On Sawyer, Neale, & Co. see Mass. Vol. 23, 288, R. G. Dun & Co. Records, HBS. For further evidence of partnership, consolidation, and expansion see Essex Banner, 15 July 1852; Villager [?], December 1853; R. G. Dun & Co. Records, HBS, 180; DeWitt, Industry in Massachusetts ... 1855, 111-3, 162-4; Federal Nonpopulation Schedules for Massachusetts, Manufacturing: 1850 and 1860; Allen, "History of Carriage Manufacturing," 1-4, 109-112.
47. Amesbury Valuation and Tax Assessments Lists, 1840-1855 [microfilm Mss], APL; Federal Nonpopulation Census Schedules for Massachusetts, Manufacturing: 1850; Manufacturing: 1860.
48. The popular vote for state representative in 1852 was Amesbury: Ten Hour 58%; Whig 32%; Free Soil 07%; Other 03%; Salisbury: Ten Hour 62%; Whig 28%; Free Soil 10%.
49. Nayson, "Minority Report," 3-4. See also Newburyport Herald, 20 April 1853; "Bills and All Papers Relating to the Ten Hour Law," House Unenacted, file no. 3757, Mass. Archives; Villager, 5 May 1853.
50. See for example Villager, 24 February; 17 March; 7 April 1853; 8 November, 1853; Essex Banner, 15 October 1853.
51. Amesbury Town Meeting Records, 1844-1861, APL, 169-70; Salisbury Town Meeting Records, 1797-1858, Mass Archives 699-700. The Constitution of 1853 also included election by plurality, abolition of the poll tax, and a prohibition of state funding of sectarian schools. For more on the 1853 Constitutional Convention see Baum, Civil War Party System, 29-36; Mulkern, Know Nothings in Massachusetts, 40-59.
52. On the Constitution's defeat, see Baum, Civil War Party System, 29-30; Mulkern, Know Nothings in Massachusetts, 53-59; Sweeney, "Rum, Romanism, Representation, and Reform," 135-6.
53. Villager, 29 July 1853. See also Herald, 5 November 1853; Mulkern, Know Nothings in Massachusetts, 53-4; Charles E. Persons, "Early History of Factory Legislation," in Susan Kingsbury, ed., Labor Laws and Their Enforcement: With Special Reference to Massachusetts (New York, 1911), 88.
54. In the aggregate, the results on the referendum questions were: Question #1 (reapportionment, secret ballot, election by plurality, etc.): Yeas 441 Nays 403; Question #5 (abolition of imprisonment for debt): Y 455 N 384; Question #6 (prohibit state funds to sectarian schools): Y 472 N 371; Question #7 (prohibit special incorporation): Y 445 N 398; Question #8 (prohibit special charters to banks): Y 445 N 398. See Amesbury Town Meeting Records, 1844-1861, APL, 171; Salisbury Town Meeting Records, 1797-1858, Mass. Archives, 701.
55. Both quotes from "Yours etc." in Essex Banner, 26 November 1853.
56. The best accounts of the rise of the Republican party are Fogel, Without Consent or Contract; Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War (New York, 1970).
57. Villager, 16 March; 27 April 1854; 17 August; 31 August 1854.
58. ibid., 24 June 1852; 2 November; 14 December 1854.
59. ibid., 24 June 1852. See also ibid. 21 October 1852; 17 March 1853; 2 June 1853; 22 September 1853; 24 November 1853; 11 May 1854. For more on the ethnocultural dimension of the Know Nothing appeal, see Anbinder, Nativism and Slavery, esp. 103-22; Gienapp, Origins of the Republican Party, passim.
60. Villager, 24 June; 27 January 1853; 23 February 1854.
61. ibid., 24 November 1853; 17 November 1853. See also Essex Banner, 5 August 1854; Newburyport Herald, 24 August; 4 October; 11 October 1854.
62. Villager, 2 March 1854; 28 September 1854. Studies that have recognized the centrality of antislavery to the Know Nothing revolt are Anbinder, Nativism and Slavery, 44-102, and passim; Fogel, Without Consent or Contract, 320-87; Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, 238-40. Indeed, the strength of antislavery sentiment in the two towns is indicated further by the consistently large majorities polled by the Republican party beginning 1856. See sources listed in Table I.
63. Other noteworthy reforms passed by, or with the solid backing of, Know Nothings in Massachusetts (1855-1857) included the creation of the state's first Insurance Commission with powers of inspection; expansion of railroad safety laws; substantial reductions in the amount of capital increases granted to private banks. Popular electoral reforms were also enacted that curtailed the appointive powers of the Governor and made the offices of secretary of state, treasurer, and attorney general elective; instituted election by plurality, and established a fairer scheme of apportionment among senate and house districts. Without diminishing the real prejudice at the center of the measures, one can also read the abolition of Irish militia companies, the dismissal of Irish state workers, the harassment of convents, and the efforts to disenfranchise immigrants as reprehensible attempts by nativists to uphold the rights and opportunities of native-born small producers. In a similar fashion, strong antislavery resolutions and the radical Personal Liberty Law adopted in 1855 may be interpreted in more honorable light as symbolic efforts to protect northern small producers against the threats of the slave oligarchy. For more on Know Nothing government in Massachusetts, see Formisano, Transformation of Political Culture, 331-43; Mulkern, Know Nothing Party in Massachusetts, 87-113.
64. Villager, 15 March 1855; Carey, "Report from the Committee on Regulating Hours of Labor in Incorporated Establishments," in "Papers Relating to an Act Concerning the Hours of Labor in Incorporated Establishments," Senate Unenacted, (1855) file No. 18268, Mass. Archives. Also see Villager, 2 February; 6 April 1854; 8 February; 22 February; 1 March; 29 March; 19 April 1855. The House vote on the ten-hour bill was 191 to 81 in favor; the Senate's 26 to 11 against. Representatives Rich and Rowell, and Senator Evans voted yea.
65. Carruthers in Villager, 6 October 1853. For other states see for example Tony A. Freyer, Producers versus Capitalists: Constitutional Conflict in Antebellum America (Charlottesville, 1994); Goodman, "Emergence of Homestead Exemption"; L. Ray Gunn, The Decline of Authority: Public Economic Policy and Political Development in New York State, 1800-1860 (Ithaca, 1988), 170-221; Louis Hartz, Economic Policy and Democratic Thought: Pennsylvania, 1776-1860 (Cambridge, 1948), 187-235; 254-85.
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|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1996|
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