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First half of the 19th century


Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the first half of the 19th century, Massachusetts underwent a period of internal reform and cultural achievement. In 1820, as a part of the Missouri Compromise, Maine was separated from Massachusetts and became a state. A year later several important amendments to the state constitution were adopted, including those that abolished property qualifications for voting and religious tests for officeholders. In 1833 a constitutional amendment separated the Congregational Church from state government, ending its privileged position. At the same time Unitarianism, a liberal religion quite different from early Congregationalism, took strong hold in the state under the guidance of clergyman William Ellery Channing.

In the early 1830s the antislavery movement won many followers in the state, and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison first published his influential weekly The Liberator in Boston in 1831. In 1843 Dorothea Lynde Dix presented her “Memorial to the Legislature of Massachusetts,” an account of conditions in the state’s prisons and asylums. The report led to immediate reforms in Massachusetts and initiated a national crusade for the humane treatment of prisoners and the mentally ill. Educational reforms were introduced by such leaders as Horace Mann, who helped create the first state board of education in the United States, and Bronson Alcott, who in 1834 established a school in Boston that used Alcott’s then-revolutionary method of teaching young children by means of conversation.

As secretary of Massachusetts’s board of education, Mann influenced the educational system of the entire United States, working to improve the pay and training of teachers. Massachusetts also became the center of an American cultural renaissance, especially in literature.

Writers


Writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow gained international fame. The Whig Party dominated Massachusetts politics from the 1830s until the 1850s. In 1855 the American Party, also known as Know-Nothings, secured the governor’s seat for one term, as well as control of the legislature. This party was an anti-Catholic and antiforeign group that arose in response to massive immigration of the 1840s and 1850s, especially of Irish Catholics trying to escape a devastating potato famine in their homeland. The Know-Nothings, given the name because of their secrecy, discriminated against foreign-born citizens, trying to prevent them from holding political office or gaining influence. But the Know-Nothings collapsed when the national controversy over slavery in the 1850s led to the rise of the Republican Party, which then dominated the governor’s office in Massachusetts until 1931. "Massachusetts" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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