The Amesbury-Salisbury Strike and the Social Origins of Political Nativism in Antebellum Massachusetts

By Voss-Hubbard, Mark | Journal of Social History, Spring 1996 | Go to article overview

The Amesbury-Salisbury Strike and the Social Origins of Political Nativism in Antebellum Massachusetts


Voss-Hubbard, Mark, Journal of Social History


On May 31, 1852, John P. Derby, newly appointed agent of the Salisbury Manufacturing Company, announced that "luncheon" privilege would be abolished the following day. The so-called "luncheon" privilege, a custom at this woolen factory since it began production in 1823, amounted to two fifteen-minute breaks in the morning and afternoon for all male employees. The next day about one-hundred operatives defiantly left the mills at the usual hour for their morning break. All were discharged for their insubordination, and were soon joined by most employees of the SMC, male and female, in sympathy strikes. Within two weeks Samuel Langley, another newly appointed agent of the nearby Amesbury Flannel Manufacturing Company, announced that his firm would likewise revoke "luncheon" privilege. Threatened with a massive strike, Langley refused to rescind his order and watched his mills completely shut down.(1)

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. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Amesbury-Salisbury Strike and the Social Origins of Political Nativism in Antebellum Massachusetts
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.