Chapter 29: Society in Boston. 1845-1860.

A view of the society of Boston,—of the character and tendencies of its ruling class,—at the close of the first half of this century is essential to a just comprehension of the position of an agitator in such a community for moral and political reforms. The subject has only been touched casually in memoirs and books of travel, without an attempt to treat it comprehensively; and a brief review of life in the city as it then was fitly opens the new period of Charles Sumner's career.1

The population of the city grew between 1845 and 1850 from 115,000 to 137,000, and five years later exceeded 160,000. Its territory was still confined to the peninsula,—Charlestown, Roxbury, and Dorchester being as yet suburban towns. Mansions surrounded by gardens had disappeared, and had given place to blocks. Fort Hill, long a residential quarter of rich people, had been abandoned to tenement-houses. The Back Bay, now the seat of fine houses and noble churches, was still a waste, and mostly under the sea. Beacon Street ended in front of the site of the Public Garden. What is called ‘our best society’ lived on streets looking on the Common, or on those lying near by, all within ten minutes walk of the State House. For its numbers, no American city was so strong in capital. Its older wealth, created just before and just after the beginning of the century, had come from foreign commerce, from ships returning from distant seas; its later had come from mills established on the

1 For a description of Boston in 1825, see ante, vol. i. p. 45. The characteristics of the people and society were much the same from 1820-1860. There are touches of Boston in 1860 in the ‘Life, Letters, and Journals’ of Ticknor, vol. i. pp. 315, 316.

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