1.3. New England (1833-1865): The Antebellum Period


Population, rank
1840
(26 states)
1860
(33 states)
Maine
501,973
13th
628,279
22nd
New Hampshire
284,574
22nd
326,073
27th
Vermont
291,948
21st
315,098
28th
Massachusetts
737.699
8th
1,231,066
7th
Rhode Island
108,830
24th
174,620
29th
Connecticut
309.978
20th    
 460,147
24th
Region's % of US pop.
13.1%

10.0%


New England became the center of the American antislavery movement after 1830:

    • William Lloyd Garrison founded the American Antislavery Society, America’s leading abolitionist society, in Boston in 1833. 
    • New England nurtured other antislavery speakers and writers such as Theodore Weld, Wendell Phillips and Harriet Beecher Stowe, who spread the antislavery gospel across the United States. 
    • A group composed mostly of Massachusetts business magnates, known as the “Secret Six,” financed many of John Brown’s activities and the free-state movement in Kansas during the 1850s. 
    • In the U.S. Congress, William Slade of Vermont and John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts led the fight against efforts to stifle discussion of abolition in the 1840s, and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was the leading voice for emancipation and civil rights in the Senate from 1850 until his death in 1874.  New England was also a center of resistance to federal efforts to recapture fugitive slaves. 
  • New England continued its transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy during the antebellum years.  The textile industry, already well established in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, spread to northern New England.  Mechanized, mass-production industries specializing mainly in firearms and small domestic goods proliferated in southern New England. 
  • The transportation revolution was in full flower in New England.  By 1860 southern New England’s rail network was largely complete and railroads were steadily pushing from Boston into northern New England.  Construction of the Hoosac Tunnel through the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts started in the 1850’s; upon completion in 1873, the tunnel opened a vital trade link between New England and areas to the west, although Massachusetts never seriously challenged New York’s position as the leading commercial state.
  • Puritan and Yankee influence over New England’s social order, which had faded steadily since the late 1700s, confronted a new challenge in the 1840s when Irish and French-Canadian immigrants began entering southern and northern New England, respectively, in search of economic opportunity.   Ethnic tensions between Irish and Yankees gave rise to the Know-Nothing Party, which briefly gained power in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire in the mid-1850s.  The Know-Nothings brought a curious mix of ethnic prejudice and genuine reform sentiment to government.  Their quest to prevent new immigrants from sharing in New England’s political and economic power failed, but they left behind a number of new laws promoting workers rights.   
Memorial in Boston to 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the first black regiment in the Civil War - courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Hoosac railroad tunnel, Massachusetts (constructed 1850-1874) - courtesy Catskill Archive and Wikimedia Commons