From Boston Brahmin to Boston Common: Political Change in Massachusett
From Boston Brahmin to Boston Common:
The Wave of Change in Massachusetts Politics
Massachusetts has always been known for its politics. From the days of John Hancock and John Adams to the Kennedy Compound and failed Dukakis presidential campaign, the Bay State is, has been, and always will be a hotbed of political activism. But that does not mean that Massachusetts has a vibrant two party system.
If anything can be said about Massachusetts, it is that the state and its voters are certainly lop-sided towards one party. Massachusetts currently has Democrats filling all of their US House and US Senate Seats, as well as a 138 of 160 State House seats, and 33 of 40 State Senate seats. The only state-wide office held not held by the Democrats is the Governor’s seat, which is set to be widely contested next year with 7 candidates lining up to face “incumbent” acting Gov. Jane Swift.
In the old days however, the story wasn’t exactly the same. For practically every year before 1928, Massachusetts overwhelming voted Republican. In fact, the first Republican floor leader in the US Senate was Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., from Massachusetts. Many of the famous Massachusetts politicians that rose to power before world war two were Republicans, including President Calvin Coolidge, who before moving on to Vice President and President, was the Governor of Massachusetts.
Somewhat like today’s climate in the state, Massachusetts at that time was also dominated by one party. It just happened to be the Republicans rather than the Democrats. Before Franklin Roosevelt, the Democrats were largely the party of the Southern whites farmers who were ideologically different than the Northern white businessmen that dominated politics and voted largely Republican.
It is the party switch that is the most interesting and the most available to analyzing. There most certainly was a switch somewhere between the roaring twenties and the great depression, but it not necessarily had everything to do with the money in people’s pockets. The reasons for it are to be further explained.
The Industrial Revolution in Massachusetts
In Massachusetts during the 1880’s and 1890’s, as in almost every other part of the country, immigrants were arriving at unprecedented levels. Especially in Boston, but in other communities like Lowell, Brockton, Worcester, and Springfield, the demographic of people was slowly making an abrupt change.
While these outsiders continued to poor into the urban centers, they posed no threat to the power that the elite, such as the Boston Brahmins, held over the commoners. The immigrants were forced to work extensive hours, many times could not speak English, had limited experience with voting, and furthermore had little interest in the elite candidates that were running.
Thus, the power of the wealthy continued to reign in the state. Staunch conservatives that held only pro-business ideologies came into office on swells of support. The state representative and senate seats were filled to the brim with Republicans, much in the way they are filled with Democrats today.
This is most evident in the rise of Coolidge in the Bay State. Coolidge’s laissez-faire beliefs and elite ideas personified the Massachusetts political scene at the time.
Slowly, however, this system began to fade. As unions grew, working immigrants became acquainted with a new idea: leisure time. As work hours were slashed from 12 to 10 even down to a reasonable 8, the newcomers were slowly becoming allowed to take some time to evaluate what they had been working so hard for.
Unions: A rise to power
As Unions began to grow amongst the factory workers in the cities, a new sentiment began to grow through the huddled masses. The idea of self-determination began to slowly enter the minds of the workers who were seeing successes on the picket lines.
As the new immigrants (who at this time may even have been second-generation Americans), began to learn more about the freedoms the US offered, political thoughts started to swirl in their heads, albeit minute ones.
With a new generation born in America by the nineteen-teen’s, a new sense of participation began to be felt in the urban centers the common people were beginning to dominate. As numbers had risen and risen, new communities of ethnic groups were rising