Money, Morals, and Politics: Massachusetts in the Age of the Boston Associates

By Slopnick, Thomas | Historical Journal of Massachusetts, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Money, Morals, and Politics: Massachusetts in the Age of the Boston Associates


Slopnick, Thomas, Historical Journal of Massachusetts


Money, Morals, and Politics: Massachusetts in the Age of the Boston Associates. By William F. Hartford. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2001. 286 pp. + xiv. $55.00 (paperback).

William Hartford's Money, Morals, and Politics is a well-researched study of politics in the Bay State between 1800 and 1861. During these years, Hartford argues, an elite group of Boston merchants and industrialists, the so-called Boston Associates, dominated the state's economy through control of key commercial, industrial, and financial institutions and dominated state politics through an alliance of middling interests, newspaper publishers, select labor leaders and conservative state politicians.

Drawing on a tradition of deferential politics, the Boston Associates and their political allies persuaded a majority of Massachusetts voters that they were the best guardians of the state's communal interests. The Federalist Party served the political interests of the Associates until it collapsed in the aftermath of the War of 1812 and the Hartford Convention. The Whig Party, which evolved in response to the rise of Jacksonian Democracy, continued to serve economic elites in Massachusetts and elsewhere until it was torn apart by the conflict over abol ition and slavery. Throughout the period under study, the spokespersons for the Boston elites, primarily conservative newspaper publishers and editors, articulated an ideology of common interests: what was good for the merchants and industrialists of Boston was good for the farmers, town merchants, and social leaders.

This ideology was challenged on several occasions, notably during the Jefferson Administration's embargo of European goods in the first decade of the nineteenth century and again during the increasing vehement debates over the moral, economic and political consequences of slavery in the 1850's. In the first instance, the Boston Associates were able to retain their authority by appealing to regional loyalties. On the increasingly controversial issue of slavery, however, the close economic and political ties between textile mill owners and cotton planters undermined the moral authority of the Associates. …

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