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The "Irish Vote" and Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1860-1876

From: Civil War History
Volume 26, Number 2, June 1980
pp. 117-141 | 10.1353/cwh.1980.0034

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Dale Baum  

Dale Baum is an assistant professor of history at Texas A and M University. He has contributed articles to the Journal of American History, The Historian, and other journals and is now completing a study of Massachusetts politics during the Civil War and Reconstruction era.


An earlier version of this article was read at the 1979 meeting of the Organization of American Historians. The author acknowledges a summer research grant and computer time provided by Texas A&M University to assist with this study. The author also wishes to thank the following scholars for their helpful suggestions: Jay Dolan of Notre Dame University; Carol Groneman of the New York Council for the Humanities; Allan J. Lichtman of American University; and Peyton McCrary of the University of South Alabama.

1. William G. Bean, "An Aspect of Know-Nothingism: The Immigrant and Slavery," South Atlantic Quarterly XXIII (Oct., 1924), 319-324; "Puritan Versus Celt: 1850-1860," New England Quarterly VII (Mar., 1934), 70-89; and "Party Transformation in Massachusetts with Special Reference to the Antecedents of Republicanism, 1848-1860" (Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1922), 195-223; Oscar Handlin, Boston's Immigrants: A Study in Acculturation (New York, 1972, revised and enlarged edition), 178-206; Gilbert Osofsky, "Abolitionists, Irish Immigrants, and the Dilemmas of Romantic Nationalism." American Historical Review LXXX (Oct., 1975), 889-912. For a provocative interpretation of the political realignment of the 1850's, see: Michael F. Holt, The Political Crisis of the 1850s (New York, 1978).

2. Handlin, Boston's Immigrants, 207-11; David Montgomery, Beyond Equality: Labor and the Radical Republicans, 1862-1872 (New York, 1967), 120, 126, 128, quotation on 134.

3. Francis W. Bird to Charles Sumner, Apr. 15, 1854, Charles Sumner Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University; Kevin Sweeney, "Rum, Romanism, Representation and Reform: Coalition Politics in Massachusetts, 1847-1853," Civil War History XXII (June, 1976), 116-137.

4. Holt, Political Crisis of the 1850s, 123-125.

5. Benjamin F. Butler, Butler's Book: Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences of Major-General Benj. F. Butler: A Review of his Legal, Political, and Military Career (Boston, 1892), 119-120. A united stand by the Whigs was just as important as the cross-over votes of Irish Democrats in causing the proposed constitution to go down to defeat. See Sweeney, "Rum, Romanism, Representation and Reform," 136-137.

6. Handlin, Boston's Immigrants, 206. For the estimated percentage of 1852 Democrats who permanently defected to the Republicans, see my "Know-Nothingism and the Republican Majority in Massachusetts: The Political Realignment of the 1850s," Journal of American History LXIV (Mar., 1978), 980-981.

7. John J. Crittenden and others to Edward Everett, May 25, 1860, Edward Everett Papers, Microfilm Edition, Reel 17, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; Leverett Saltonstall to William C. Endicott, Mar. 20, 1860, Box 2, William C. Endicott Papers, ibid.; Boston Daily Courier, July 3, 29, Sept. 30, Oct. 3, 1860.

8. Boston Pilot, July 7, 1860.

9. A regression of the vote received by John Bell in 331 of the state's cities and towns on the votes received by Democratic, Republican and American (Know-Nothing) gubernatorial candidates in 1859 produced the following estimates: 13% of 1859 Democrats, 62% of 1859 Know-Nothings, and 112 of 1859 abstainers voted for Bell, but virtually none of the 1859 Republicans subsequently cast ballots for the Constitutional Union ticket.

10. Estimation of the percent of Catholics in each voting unit was possible since the 1860 manuscript census returns list each church by denomination in every city and town and give the number of accommodations or "seats" in each church building. The number of seating accommodations was used as a relative measure of the breakdowns of religious affiliations among inhabitants of each community by computing the percentage each denomination had relative to the population of the community. Admittedly, the use of church seating accommodations is a very crude measure of church membership. It is an even less refined measure of the percentage of eligible voters who were formally affiliated with a specific church. Many scholars contend that because Roman Catholic masses probably served four or five groups of parishioners in the same church building, and whereas there was relatively...

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