An Overview of Massachusetts History to 1820
THIS volume of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts Publications is intended for a broad audience including historians, physicians, scientists, and social scientists, as well as the general reader. With such a varied group of readers in mind, we thought it would be helpful to introduce this work with an overview of Massachusetts history down to 1820, a brief analysis of the writing of American medical history, and a new look at the relevance of medical history to the practicing physician.
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The first two centuries of Massachusetts history can be broken down into six somewhat arbitrary and overlapping but nonetheless recognizable and significant periods: the era of the colonies of Plymouth Plantation and Massachusetts Bay (1620–1691), the period of royal government and colonial wars (1685–1763), the Revolutionary era (1761–1783), the period of the Articles of Confederation and postwar adjustment (1781–1789), and the Federalist era (1789–1820).
Throughout most of the seventeenth century Massachusetts consisted of not one colony but two: the “Old Colony” of Plymouth, founded in 1620, and the larger and more powerful corporate colony of Massachusetts Bay, founded in 1629–1630 and including Maine after 1668. These two colonies were virtually autonomous until absorbed into the ill-fated Dominion of New England in 1686. The Dominion was designed to bring all the colonies from New Hampshire through New Jersey under one government for purposes of efficiency and security, but it disintegrated at the time of the Glorious Revolution, which drove the absolutist James II from the throne of England (1688–1689). After that Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were combined into one royal colony (1691).
The colony of Plymouth Plantation was settled by Pilgrims, a band of religious exiles who had separated from the Anglican Church and some of whom had fled to Holland. Thus it began as a settlement of storm-tossed refugees with little political influence or economic resources. What is more, the region they settled possessed poor soils and harbors. Its leadership tried to overcome these adversities with considerable enterprise, especially in exploiting cattle, fish, furs, and lumber, but the colony remained a loosely organized and somewhat unstable collection of relatively poor settlements with a rich religious heritage.
Massachusetts Bay was founded by Puritans, most of whom wished to reform or purify the Anglican Church rather than abandon it. Possessing political strength and economic means commensurate with their great self-confidence, they were eager to establish in the New World “a city upon a hill,” as John Winthrop called it, to serve as a beacon and model for European Protestantism. Over the first thirty years of the colony’s existence this model evolved into an emphasis on the autonomy of the individual congregation, the central role of the sermon in public worship, a modified Calvinist theology based on the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the primacy of Scripture in all things. These ideals found their most complete expression in the famous Cambridge Platform of 1648, by which the Bay Colony virtually declared its ecclesiastical independence from England. Further to assure the holiness of the Bible Commonwealth, voting was restricted to adult males who held full church membership, although this restriction did not always apply in local elections. However, the institutional creativity of the “wilderness Zion” was not limited to purely religious matters. During this same time span other features which distinguished the Bay Colony developed: the township system and the town meeting; a bicameral legislature (the Great and General Court); the first modern legal code in the western world (the Body of Liberties of 1641 and the Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts of 1648); British America’s first public school system, begun under the laws of 1642 and 1647; and its first college, Harvard, founded in 1636.
While doggedly struggling to make their colony conform to God’s dictates, the Puritans by no means neglected their economic well-being, for they were very much in this world if not of it. A great majority became and remained small farmers. Unlike settlers in the middle and southern colonies, the inhabitants of Massachusetts owned their lands in fee simple without quitrents or other feudal encumbrances. However, the largely poor and rocky soils of the region caused a significant minority in the Bible Commonwealth—more than in any other colony—to seek their livelihood in the economically more dynamic areas of fishing, fur trading, commerce, shipbuilding, and manufacturing. As a result the colony quickly became prosperous, and Boston developed into the first great trading center in British North America.
Also during this period the population pattern that would characterize Massachusetts for the next two centuries emerged. It was overwhelmingly English and middle class, with the settlers generally arriving in family units. As a result, Massachusetts and her neighboring colonies of Connecticut and New Hampshire were by far the most homogeneous of the British colonies. This homogeneity was heightened by the power and pervasiveness of the Puritan ideology, which exerted its influence on the non-elect and rebellious as well as on the Saints. The demographic pattern of fishing and trading ports along the coast and agricultural villages in the interior also became well developed. Lastly, the leadership of the Bay Colony evolved into an impressive if contentious triumvirate of divines, magistrates, and merchants, who were well educated, strong willed, highly aggressive, and more than a little neurotic. Indeed, the colony as a whole exhibited these characteristics. By the end of its period as a quasi-autonomous colony, Massachusetts Bay was both communal and commercial, enterprising and consensual, self-controlled and aggressive.
Although wars were not as dominant in the first period of Massachusetts history as they would be during the next two eras, the earliest years did witness what was proportionately the bloodiest and most dangerous conflict in the region’s history. This was the general uprising of Indians in New England known as King Philip’s War (1675–1676). During this conflict the Indians, who were thoroughly aroused by white expansionism, ethnocentricity, and greed, ravaged not only the Connecticut Valley and Maine, but also struck at Concord and Sudbury, less than twenty miles from Boston. At least thirteen frontier villages were wholly, and six partially, destroyed while about one thousand of the five thousand males of military age were killed or captured.1 A long time passed before the horrors of this war receded from the collective memory of the colony.
The next era of Massachusetts history (1685–1763) saw continued if uneven economic growth until mid-century, when opportunities for further growth became greatly constricted. During this entire period, however, the colony’s population increased steadily. In 1691, when Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay became one colony, their total population was about 44,000. By 1765 it numbered 280,000.2 This combination produced an increasingly complex society plagued by social, religious, and political tensions. These tensions were both heightened and given sharp focus by the need to adjust to royal authority and extensive participation in the four great imperial wars between England and France.
The charter of 1691 placed the executive branch of Massachusetts government in the hands of a royal governor. In addition, as time went by, the colony was encumbered by an increasing number of imperial military, revenue, and legal officials. All of this produced a much more substantial link to the home government and the fabric of empire than had existed before. It also enhanced county government at the expense of the towns. The franchise was now based on property qualifications rather than church membership, although these restrictions often were not applied in local elections. The growth of royal government also produced in Bay Colony politics a fundamental, but not static, division between, on the one hand, those elements whose focus was primarily local and whose power resided chiefly in town meetings and the General Court and, on the other hand, those provincial leaders whose focus was basically imperial and who clustered around the governor and other royal officials. This political cleavage found its most intense expression in the quarrel over the establishment of a land bank and the use of paper money as legal tender during the 1740’s. The conservative-imperial element won this struggle, by defeating the bank, but only at the cost of lasting resentment on the part of a large segment of the Bay Colony’s citizenry.
Although the state church of Massachusetts remained Congregational, the presence of imperial government facilitated the growth of the royally favored Church of England, especially among the well-to-do. The religious framework of the Bay Colony was complicated further by the theological upheaval known as the Great Awakening. This religious excitement was initially sparked by the preaching in 1734–1736 of Jonathan Edwards, pastor at Northampton and one of America’s greatest religious thinkers. It was renewed in 1740 by the arrival of the charismatic English evangelical George Whitefield and did not die down until 1745. This ecclesiastical earthquake divided the Congregational churches into “New Lights,” who stressed the emotional and egalitarian factors of religion, and the “Old Lights,” who stressed deference, rationality, and order. The “New Lights” apparently enjoyed their greatest success among the newer and middle-aged towns. The religious unity of the Puritan era was weakened further by the presence of small but growing groups of other sects. In 1760, fifty-four percent of the total population lived in towns possessing dissenting congregations of Anglicans, Quakers, Baptists, or Separatists.3 Also during this period ministers, like lawyers and physicians, were developing a sense of professional self-consciousness.
The earlier demographic pattern of trading and fishing ports along the coast and farming villages in the interior continued and expanded. By 1765 the colony’s eleven maritime towns contained 48,349 permanent inhabitants, or about nineteen percent of the entire population.4 At the same time over forty percent of the people of Massachusetts lived in towns of more than two thousand, and seventy percent in towns of over one thousand.5 However, population pressures in relation to available farmland and greater economic diversity made the towns less cohesive than they had been earlier. With a more complex society, Massachusetts citizens became less consensual and communal and more majoritarian and litigious. The Puritan gave way to the Yankee.
Although the Massachusetts economy of this era was one of the most impressive in the British empire, it was precariously based. Lacking rich soils or other valuable resources save lumber, the colony, to a degree unmatched by any other colony, depended upon maritime activities for her economic well-being. Fishing, shipbuilding, and the carrying trade provided the main sources of her wealth. All three activities could be very profitable but were highly vulnerable not only to the fortunes of war and the cruel sea, but also to trading restrictions imposed by the mother country. If followed, these restrictions would have destroyed the economic structure of Massachusetts for they would have cut off trade with the French and Spanish islands of the West Indies. These islands provided the Bay Colony with two vital components of her vast trading network: sugar and molasses for rum, and specie and bills of exchange to pay for English manufactures and slaves. As a result Massachusetts merchants were forced to commit wholesale violations of the British navigation and tax systems.
Among the colonial urban centers during this era, Boston remained the largest and most prosperous until the early 1740’s when it went into relative decline until after the Revolution. In 1742 her permanent population stood at 16,382.6 In 1775 it was a little less.7 Several reasons account for the slow economic growth of New England’s metropolis between the early 1740’s and the late 1780’s: lack of natural resources or an agriculturally rich back country, the emergence of aggressive competitors both within and without the colony, frequent wars, numerous fires, a chronic shortage of fuel, and the heavy expense of her impressive array of public services. Examples of such services included a large, well-built almshouse, the latest in firefighting equipment, and support for the city’s widows and orphans.
One of the grimmest and most important aspects of Massachusetts life between 1689 and 1760 was the colony’s deep involvement in the struggle between England and France for supremacy in North America. It took four major wars to decide this contest in England’s favor. Actually, these wars were part of a bewildering array of eighteenth-century European military struggles that involved all the major nations of that continent and were fought in far-flung climes and places. Indeed, they were world wars. The first two Anglo-French conflicts, known on this continent as King William’s War and Queen Anne’s War, were contested between 1689 and 1713 with an interval of peace lasting only from 1697 to 1702. During these wars the French relied mainly upon Indian-white raiding parties to spread havoc along the New York-New England frontier. The English colonials retaliated with similar raids against vulnerable French villages as well as those of their Indian allies. Massachusetts played the leading role among the British colonies in these two struggles. She took the lead in twice seizing Port Royal, the center of French power in Acadia. However, her joint expedition with a British fleet against Quebec in 1711 was an unmitigated disaster. Both the human and material costs of the first two Anglo-French wars heavily burdened Massachusetts, especially Boston. However, the Bay Colony’s fishermen and frontier settlements derived some benefit from the British acquisition of Nova Scotia in 1713. Serious economic dislocation was another significant result of these wars. Particularly important in this regard was the infusion of a more aggressive, less socially conscious, element into the colony’s mercantile community.
The first two Anglo-French wars were followed by a generation of peace except for occasional skirmishes along the Canadian-New England frontier. Then in 1739 hostilities broke out between Great Britain and Spain in what is known as the War of Jenkins’ Ear. In 1741 Massachusetts, and particularly Boston, contributed heavily in men to the British assault on Cartagena (Colombia), one of the greatest debacles in the long history of British arms. This war merged into the third Anglo-French conflict, known as King George’s War (1742–1748). During this war—in 1745—the New England militia achieved its greatest feat of arms prior to the Revolution when it combined with a British fleet commanded by the enterprising Commodore Peter Warren to seize Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, second only to Quebec among French strongholds in North America. It is said of this victory, which was a product of both luck and aggressiveness, that it was planned by a lawyer (Governor Shirley of Massachusetts) and executed by a merchant (Sir William Pepperrell of Maine) commanding undisciplined farmers, fishermen, and mechanics. Shades of the Revolution! Much to the anger and frustration of the Bay Colony this menacing citadel was returned to France at the peace treaty in 1748.
In 1754, after a six-year breathing spell, the last and greatest of these colonial wars, known in America as the French, or French and Indian War, broke out in the Ohio Valley as each side maneuvered to gain control of the trans-Appalachian West. However, it was not until 1756 that England and France officially declared war. The role of the Bay Colony in this conflict, although significant, was not as prominent as in the previous three. Even before the opening shots, Massachusetts was weary, in serious economic difficulty, and disgusted with the failure to retain Louisbourg. True, the conquest of French Canada had temporarily raised the spirits of the Bay Colony citizenry and caused them to experience exhilaration at being part of the British empire which was now hailed as the greatest since Rome. However, the difficulties that would shatter that empire in only a little over a decade were already festering, especially in Virginia and New England.
With the Treaty of Paris (February 1763) that ended the last Anglo-French colonial struggle, Great Britain found herself confronted with four difficult and interrelated problems: (1) how to finance and reduce her huge war debt; (2) how to finance and administer the vast territories acquired from France and Spain; (3) how to reorder her relationship with her older colonies in the light of the altered nature of her empire and the removal of the century-old French menace; and (4) how to develop the proper theoretical framework upon which this huge and varied empire would now rest. In all her attempts to solve these problems the mother country found herself seriously at odds with her traditional mainland settlements. Taking full advantage of the English tradition of imperial neglect, these colonies had developed their own economic systems, political and legal institutions, and social structures and aspirations. They were an amalgam of European, especially British, inheritance and New World experience. Among the older mainland settlements, opposition to the new imperial thrust of the mother country was led by Virginia, the colony most consciously imitative of England, and Massachusetts, the province most self-consciously different from her. Bay Colony resistance really began in 1761, even before the end of the last Anglo-French war, when James Otis directly challenged the authority of Parliament in arguing against the right of that body to issue the general search warrants known as Writs of Assistance.
Although Massachusetts based its opposition to the new British taxes for revenue and imperial policies further restricting trade, and their accompanying assertions of colonial subordination, on well-reasoned and principled legal arguments, her weapons of resistance were boycotts, riots, propaganda, and coercion. This struggle culminated in the Boston Tea Party of December 1773 in which about sixty members of the Sons of Liberty disguised as Indians threw £9,000 worth of East India Company tea into Boston harbor in protest over English taxing and monopolistic policies. Parliament retaliated with the Coercive, or Intolerable, Acts (March–May 1774) which closed the port of Boston to all but emergency shipping until the destroyed tea was paid for. Moreover, it drastically and unilaterally altered the Massachusetts charter of 1691 by greatly expanding royal authority and seriously curbing local government. To enforce these acts General Gage was sent over as governor accompanied by four regiments of troops. From this time until the actual outbreak of fighting at Lexington and Concord on 19 April 1775, Massachusetts was in virtual rebellion. An extralegal Whig government composed of a Committee of Safety and a Provincial Congress, as well as local committees of correspondence supported by county conventions and town meetings, worked to keep British authority confined to Boston and to win the full support of the sister colonies.
With the clash at Lexington and Concord the struggle between Great Britain and her traditional mainland settlements shifted to the field of battle. Although the contribution of Massachusetts to the military struggle for independence was equaled only by that of Virginia, the fighting on her soil was, except for some skirmishing in Maine, confined to the first year of the war, when the New England militia and the Continental Army conducted a successful siege to drive the forces of the crown from Boston. This was one of only three major victories enjoyed by Continental arms during the entire War of Independence, the others being at Saratoga and Yorktown. However, if little actual fighting took place in Massachusetts, she nonetheless suffered profoundly in this our second-longest and most exhausting conflict. Her suffering is grimly illustrated in the following statistics for Marblehead, one of the leading secondary urban centers in British America before the Revolution. In 1772 this lively port had a population of 5,000. By 1780 she was burdened with 458 widows and 966 orphans. Her list of voters had fallen from 1203 to 544, and the total tonnage of her shipping from 12,000 to 1500.8
During this protracted and bitter contest which combined a colonial struggle for independence with a civil war and a political and ideological revolution, Massachusetts found her economy drastically altered. In agriculture a minority of farmers reaped large profits while a majority, already hard pressed, sank into poverty and debt. Fishing, which from earliest times had been vital to the Massachusetts economy, was virtually suspended, and Maine lumbering was seriously curtailed. Commerce became much more predatory and speculative. The merchants of the new commonwealth sent out nearly half of the Patriot privateers during this conflict. Manufacturing, protected from outside competition by wartime conditions and stimulated by military contracts, grew rapidly. What is more, the demands of wartime plus the emigration of a number of Tories from among the mercantile and professional elite brought into prominence on both the local and state levels a host of “new men” who combined ambition and avarice with energy and daring, and imagination with hardheaded practicality. They would provide much of the economic, professional, and political leadership of Massachusetts during the early years of the republic.
At the outbreak of the Revolution Massachusetts reverted to operating under the virtually abrogated charter of 1691, a move of questionable legality and of far from universal popularity. At the same time the ancient and well-developed town governments considerably extended their responsibilities to meet wartime needs. In order to produce a stronger and more soundly ordered government, the two houses of the state legislature, over the objection of many of the towns, drew up a new constitution in 1778. However, when submitted to the voters for ratification, it was turned down overwhelmingly, for the people felt it to be inadequate in a number of ways, especially because it lacked a bill of rights. This rejection was followed by a statewide election to choose delegates for a constitutional convention and thus to establish in practice as well as in theory the doctrine of the people as the constituent power. John Adams, serving as a delegate from Braintree, wrote the original draft of a new constitution which was only slightly modified in the ensuing debates. Under this constitution the people of Massachusetts would be citizens of a new commonwealth rather than subjects of a crown. Although the constitutional convention had been elected by universal manhood suffrage, only a small number of talented and fundamentally conservative delegates participated extensively in the proceedings. They brought forth a charter which was basically in line with their principles, keeping property qualifications for voting and holding office, retaining the privileged position of the Congregational churches, voicing continued support for Harvard and public education, and creating an independent judiciary. The governor, who enjoyed broad appointive powers, was given a veto which could be overridden only by a two-thirds vote of both houses. Amendments also required a two-thirds vote. Senate seats were distributed among the counties according to the assessed value of taxable wealth, which favored the mercantile counties of Suffolk and Essex. More democratic features included a bill of rights, the provision that the legislature and governor be elected directly each year, and the proviso that every town then incorporated be entitled to at least one representative in the lower house of the legislature. However, in the future, new towns, in order to qualify for representation, would have to have at least 150 taxable males. Actually, in practice, many of the poorer towns, and especially those remote from Boston, usually did not bother to send representatives to the legislature because of the expense and difficulty. Later, the state supreme court interpreted as outlawing slavery a statement in this constitution’s Bill of Rights that all men are born free and equal and are endowed with the inalienable right of enjoying their lives and liberties. Lastly, there was a provision that in 1795 a vote would be taken as to whether a new constitutional convention should be called. This constitution of 1780 was ratified by a two-thirds vote with twenty-three percent of the electorate taking part.9
In March 1781, during the darkest period of the War of Independence, the rebellious states, after four years of quarreling and maneuvering, finally succeeded in completing ratification of the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States. The time span from 1781 until the adoption of our second and present federal Constitution in 1789 is known in American history as the Confederation period or recently as the era of the New Nation. In Massachusetts this era of adaptation to independence was marked by serious economic difficulties, an agrarian uprising, a deep concern for the success of the American experiment in republican government in a world of hostile monarchies, and by an outburst of institutional creativity.
The economic problems of Massachusetts between 1781 and 1787 were complex and serious. They revolved around the need to adjust from war to peace and from colonialism to economic independence in a highly vulnerable new nation. The government of the commonwealth found itself confronted with a large war debt, inadequate revenue, and an overly ambitious and regressive tax program which favored merchants and financiers at the expense of small farmers. Massachusetts merchants at this time were preoccupied with finding new markets, recovering from over-speculation in foreign goods, and pressing for the redemption at full value of the national and state instruments of debt. The farmers in the central and western parts of the state were plagued by burdensome mortgages, inadequate markets, a lack of specie, heavy and inequitable taxation, and an expensive and inflexible court system. They were unhappy, too, at being underrepresented in the state senate and at having the capital located in far-away Boston, the citadel of the mercantile-financial element. This rural discontent culminated in the disorganized and confusing uprising in Berkshire, Hampshire, and Worcester counties known as Shays’ Rebellion.
This dramatic episode in Massachusetts history was less a rebellion than a popular protest against the conservative and business-oriented policies of Governor James Bowdoin. It centered around county conventions, which drew up lists of grievances, and the deployment of armed bands of farmers, many of them veterans, to keep the county courts from operating. Actually, the tactics employed by the Shaysites were embarrassingly similar to those that had been used by Massachusetts Whigs against royal authority in 1774–1775. Even more alarming, this seeming rebellion was taking place in the one state where a constitution had been ratified directly by the people. Thus an event that was local in nature took on great symbolic significance and alarmed Whigs throughout the new country. Would the infant United States suffer the fate of most republics in history and lapse into anarchy or tyranny? Fortunately, a wise mixture of force and conciliation on the part of Governor Bowdoin and the legislature brought the affair quickly to an end, but not before it had given considerable impetus to the movement to produce a new national constitution.
The fact of independence had presented Massachusetts with both the need and the opportunity to create a broad range of incorporated institutions, and it was with enthusiasm and self-concious pride that her citizens threw themselves into the task. Between 1780, the gloomiest year of the Revolution, and 1785, while the commonwealth was in the grip of a depression, citizens of Massachusetts founded new scientific, charitable, and medical societies, a much needed state bank, a number of academies, and a corporation to construct the first bridge across the Charles River from Boston to Charlestown. Over the next two years two other bridge companies were chartered, to build the Maiden Bridge over the Mystic River and the Essex Bridge connecting Salem and Beverly. In 1789 the state incorporated the Beverly Company, a textile concern.
The time span from the adoption of our present national Constitution in 1789 until 1820 constitutes the Federalist period of Massachusetts history. This era was marked by the first sustained and significant economic growth since the middle of the eighteenth century, the emergence of a two-party political system, and a resurgence of religious intensity and conflict.
Bay State commercial, manufacturing, and financial interests were ardent champions of the new national Constitution. In the state ratifying convention they triumphed over a suspicious or indifferent majority primarily by winning the support of Sam Adams and John Hancock.10 These interests hoped that a strong central government would effectively regulate commerce, obtain favorable treaties, and champion the fishing and shipping industries. It also was hoped that such a government would help protect them from the growing power of the small farmers within the state. In all these expectations they were not disappointed. In addition, the opening of the lucrative China trade and the outbreak of the wars of the French Revolution in Europe presented Bay State maritime interests with golden economic opportunities. As a result, between 1790 and the imposition of the Embargo in 1807, commerce and the shipbuilding and the fishing industries in Massachusetts flourished, and their success improved conditions in agriculture and manufacturing as well. This new prosperity found its finest expression in the architecture of Charles Bulfinch in Boston and Samuel McIntire in Salem. Population also grew steadily if not spectacularly. At the end of the Revolution, in 1783, the commonwealth’s population stood at 350,000. By the census of 1800 it had increased to 423,000, and by 1820 it numbered 523,000.11
Good times came to an abrupt end in 1807, however, when the Jefferson administration adopted a policy of economic boycott to try to force England and France to respect American rights without resort to war. From then until the end of the War of 1812 the Bay State was in serious economic difficulty. There was a silver lining, however, in that the commercial depression stimulated investment in manufacturing, a source of wealth which eventually proved as lucrative to Massachusetts as that obtained from the sea.
The Federalist era also witnessed the emergence of the first party system in American politics. The primary forces which brought it about were Hamilton’s ambitious program for funding the debt, for establishing a national bank, and for rapid economic development, as well as the problems, both ideological and practical, raised by the French Revolution. The two parties which these issues produced were the pro-English, pro-Hamilton Federalist party and the pro-French, anti-Hamilton Democratic-Republicans or Jeffersonian party. During the 1790’s the dominant party in Massachusetts was the Federalist party, which stood for stability, piety, tradition, and order sustained by a ruling elite of talent, breeding, learning, and virtue. It drew its chief strength from the established commercial and financial interests, and from the leadership of the Congregational churches, as well as from the legal profession and the more prosperous farmers. Their opponents, the Democratic-Republicans, stood for competition, opportunity, social mobility, and freedom of religion and thought. They drew their primary support from small farmers, the upwardly mobile, free thinkers, Baptists, Methodists, and a considerable proportion of the medical profession.
By the early 1800’s the Democratic-Republicans were overtaking the Federalists in the Commonwealth. In 1804 the state went for Jefferson, who had shown strong support for Massachusetts maritime interests during his first term. By 1807 the Jeffersonians controlled all branches of government in the Bay State. However, the Embargo gave Massachusetts Federalists a new lease on life, and they returned to dominance.
The Federalist era also witnessed a renewal of interest in matters of religion after a half-century of preoccupation with war, politics, and economics. At this time believers found themselves confronted with secularism, worldliness, free thought, and denominational proliferation. These dangers to the spirit bred both anxiety and the thrill of challenge. The result was an outpouring of religious enthusiasm known as the Second Great Awakening. The Congregational churches once again divided between an orthodox majority and an evangelical minority, while a smaller elite group of reformers slowly drifted toward Unitarianism. The older Baptist, Episcopal (Anglican), and Quaker denominations were now joined by Methodists and Universalists. Although the Congregational churches retained their privileged status, laws passed in 1800 and 1811 created conditions mildly more favorable to religious liberty and diversity.
When in 1812 the United States at long last went to war once more with Great Britain, to assert our right to be treated as a sovereign nation, the Federalist establishment in Massachusetts and the rest of New England, which possessed strong commercial and social ties with England, offered solid opposition to “Mr. Madison’s War.” This opposition included refusal to lend money to the federal government or to furnish militia troops for national service. It culminated in the notorious Hartford Convention (15 December 1814 to 5 January 1815) that drew up a series of resolutions which, if enacted, would have seriously weakened, if not disrupted, the union. This convention was not, as some of its more vociferous critics have asserted, either illegal or treasonable. It was, however, most certainly a shabby affair and ultimately a grave political error.
Nonetheless, during the years immediately following the Peace of Ghent (December 1814), the Federalists continued to dominate Massachusetts politics until the 1820’s when, burdened by reactionary ideas and values, the party slowly disintegrated. At the same time, the state underwent another serious postwar depression followed by an economic boom which brought the Industrial Revolution in its wake.
By 1820, then, the two-century-old Massachusetts pattern of racial and cultural homogeneity, and the predominance there of earning one’s living from the sea or soil, began to come to an end. Over the next century and a half the state would become synonymous with pluralism and industrialism. However, her traditions of independence, moral earnestness, and love of learning would remain.