Policing the City: Boston, 1822-1885

Policing the City: Boston, 1822-1885

Policing the City: Boston, 1822-1885

Policing the City: Boston, 1822-1885

Excerpt

The words "police" and "politics" are both derived from the Greek noun meaning "city." In the United States, the close association among the three terms provides a special challenge to the historian. This book was originally conceived as a study of the effect of police on civil liberties. It soon became clear, however, that the very character of police work made it undesirable to abstract any such single issue. During the formative years of the nineteenth century the business of an urban police department covered so great a range of politically sensitive local affairs that its development was inextricably part of the wider history of the city.

This study is intended then as a contribution to the already considerable literature on the history of Boston. But it is intended equally to suggest some more general conclusions. The important particularities of American municipal police systems do not obscure the basically similar pattern of their development. The precise terminal dates 1822 and 1885 have a uniquely local significance, but the period encompassed is of equal importance in all the major eastern cities. Each, at the beginning, had several kinds of officials serving various police functions, all of them haphazardly inherited from the British and colonial past. These agents were gradually drawn into better defined and more coherent organizations. At the same time, the exchange of information and ideas led to an increasing standardization among cities, symbolized by the almost universal adoption of uniform blue. By the end of the period, the era of flux and experiment was over, and the functions of the police had acquired a familiar and settled character not only in New York, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Baltimore, and Boston, but in the newer cities all over the country which followed their example.

As increasing communication and imitation were the means, common experience was the most important factor in the resemblance among cities. Immigration, interdependence, new economic functions and social standards were all aspects of the most fundamental com-

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