Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Bad Sign December, 1857

Lowell Courier, December 1857
December of 1857 proved to be a rather turbulent time in the city of Lowell, specifically in the Irish neighborhood.  Newspapers across the Northeast were reporting the lawlessness that had been incurring since the recent civic elections.  There were pleas for the Irish to cease their carousing and return to order.  If not, the strong arm of the law should be called out to quell the outbreaks. 
Lowell City Directory, 1856
The Officers of the Peace were reporting ongoing rowdiness, especially along Lowell Street (Market Street).  One officer came face to face with a pistol being held by an Irish rum seller.  Luckily it misfired and the officer’s life was spared.  The troubles seemed to be brewing around the “Irish cellars.”  Rum sellers opened up the basements of their tenements into make-shift, illegal bar rooms.  The Acre was filled with them.  As soon as one was closed, another opened.  The courts were overloaded with cases of illegal sale of spirits.  They lined up before the judge, along with Mrs. Quinn who was running a house of ill fame, but the rum runners were the major problem.  It seemed that there was much jubilation over recent elections that would get out of control and spill into the streets. 
What was the cause?  A look at the previous months might give us a hint.  The Know-Nothing Party had been in power in Lowell, in Massachusetts, and across the country for a number of years. They preached a policy of “Americanism.”  The fear was that foreigners, in this case Irish Catholics, were going to take over the country.  The thought of the Irish becoming part of the political process brought fear to many native born Americans.  With so many Irish in Lowell the fear grew like a cancer.  There were even rumors that the Irish would cast votes illegally in order to get their Democratic candidates into office who would bring an end to the Know-Nothing Party.  The mills had suffered financial set-backs.  Jobs had become scarce with some Irish wishing to return to the native homeland.  Things began turning around.  More and more Irish were becoming active voters and following the Democratic Party.  With the election of Dr. Elisha Huntington, who had been courting the Irish vote, as mayor of Lowell, the Irish saw this as the beginning of the end to their troubles.  To others it meant that rum sellers and foreigners were taking over the city.  To the Irish, even a small victory of a mayor who recognized their presence, was cause for celebration. 

1 comment:

  1. Sad to say that some of these political events had echoes in the 2012 Pres. election. More things change, the more they stay the same.