Maryland History and Culture Bibliography
Quick Search:

Advanced Search
Maryland Humanities Council



Interpretive Essays

The Nineteenth Century

Whitman H. Ridgway

[The author covers the century with a wide range of insights into the intricate workings of the politics, economics, and social context of Maryland in this transformative period. - Eds.]

Even today, nineteenth-century Maryland is never far from our consciousness. Francis Scott Key's depiction of the defense of Baltimore during the War of 1812 provides the words for our national anthem. Our state song, adopted in 1939 and based on a poem by James Ryder Randall, recounts the political turmoil of 1861 and laments that Maryland did not join the southern states in secession. People who lived then, such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, Isaac Freeman Raisin, and countless more are remembered today, some more favorably than others. This essay will address the major political, economic, and social themes of the century.

I: The Constitutional Structure of Politics

The Maryland Constitution of 1776 reflected tensions between the two influential ideologies of the revolutionary era, republicanism and democracy, which would animate state politics throughout the next century. The Declaration of Rights articulated the new social and political contract between the people and their governors. More than a bill of rights, where certain essential rights were reserved to the people, it stipulated that all power emanated from the people and that the governors were accountable to them; indeed, they were their trustees.

Yet the structure of the new government kept the sovereign people at arm's length. Male citizens who met a minimum property requirement voted directly for delegates to the general assembly and indirectly for the Senate. Every five years voters elected Senatorial Electors who would then meet together to elect a fifteen-member Senate. If there was a vacancy in the Senate between elections, then the Senate itself selected a replacement. The people had no direct voice in the election of the Governor, who was elected indirectly by the joint legislature, nor for the selection of most local offices, which were appointed by the Governor, with the concurrence of his Executive Council.

Republican theory did not require greater popular participation. Frequent elections for the delegates to the lower house and the Governor tethered the trustees to their constituents. The five-year term of the indirectly elected Senate gave it independence from undue influence from the executive and the popularly based assembly and provided the whole system with stability. Age and property qualifications for office-holders were designed to keep most power in the hands of white, Christian men who had a greater stake in society than voters. The Revolutionary generation attempted to craft a system of government that would balance direct and indirect elections to keep the destabilizing power of the people in check, as well as assure that office-holders would remain true to their trust, by requiring them to be substantial citizens, who would serve short terms in office.

Not all people enjoyed equal political rights or citizenship. Slaves and women did not enjoy the franchise, nor did they have rights equal to men. Until the election laws were changed in 1802 establishing white manhood suffrage, some Free Blacks who met the property qualifications voted, at least in Baltimore City elections. Office-holding was also limited to Christians. It was only in 1826 that legislation was adopted allowing Jews access to public office-holding and equal rights and privileges as enjoyed by Christians.

The gap between the republican and democratic systems was evident in the notion of representation. Rather than establish representation on population, as we do today, the constitution perpetuated the colonial system based upon geographic units. Each country, regardless of area or population, sent four delegates to the legislature. The cities of Annapolis and Baltimore sent two each. The structure of the Senate reflected the additional influence of regionalism. Nine members were to be elected from the Western Shore and six from the Eastern Shore. The effect of this system was to give smaller counties greater influence in the legislature and to empower the Eastern Shore in a century when population would gravitate to the Western Shore in ever greater numbers.

Several external factors, notably demography and democratic ideology, undermined this republican system of 1776 before the constitution was finally rewritten in 1851. Population exploded on the Western Shore, due primarily to immigration from abroad and migration from other areas, while counties in Southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore changed very little. The demands for greater representation by residents of Baltimore City, whose population increased from 26,514 people in 1800 to 80,620 in 1830, and the more populous counties were rebuffed until the constitutional crisis of 1836. Reformers boycotted the scheduled meeting of the Senatorial Electoral College in an attempt to force the election of a Senate sympathetic to reform. Governor Thomas W. Veazey of Cecil County averted the potential chaos of not being able to elect a government by re-calling the old Senate. This action, based upon dubious constitutional authority, broke the will of the recalcitrant electors who joined the College to elect a new Senate. True to republican principles, the legislature eventually gave the Western Shore greater representation by creating two new counties, Carroll in 1837 and Howard in 1838, and awarded Baltimore City equal representation to the largest county in 1838, without committing the state to popular representation. Even the reformers from the more populous counties wanted to limit Baltimore City's representation.

By 1850 the malapportionment of the state was no longer acceptable. Baltimore City now numbered 169,054 souls and the Western Shore had 78 per cent of the state's population. Under the modified system in the Constitution of 1851, citizens from each county and Baltimore City were entitled to elect one Senator directly, and representation in the general assembly was essentially based upon population, while still allowing for a minimum county representation of two delegates.

Universal manhood suffrage proved more elusive. Notwithstanding the adoption of the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery, the state Constitutions of both 1864 and 1867 continued to restrict the franchise to white males. This would not change until the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870. Obtaining the vote for women would take longer.

II. Political Parties

Political parties proved to be an essential component in the evolution of democracy in Maryland. Marylanders quickly divided into a two-party competition in the 1790s between Federalists and Republicans. As in the past, both parties drew their leaders primarily from the elite, but the Federalists represented the propertied interests and the Republicans appealed to the lesser sorts in society for support. The Federalist party endured longer in the state than in most others, due in no small measure to their opposition to President Madison's decision to enter the War of 1812 and a bloody confrontation between Federalists and Republicans in the Baltimore riot of that year. In the 1820s former Federalists and Republicans rallied to new political standards as an evolving party competition between National Republicans and Jacksonians took shape. The Whig party emerged from the ashes of the National Republicans in the 1830s to offer battle to the Jacksonians. The Whigs, closely aligned with the interests of the propertied class, advocated governmental support for internal improvements and commerce. The Jacksonians, who evolved into the Democratic party, were far more democratic than the old Republicans both in terms of ideology and leadership, and they opposed monopolies and public support for private enterprises in general.

Maryland politics was influenced by several factors in the 1840s. The flood of immigration, bringing Irish and Germans to the state in greater numbers, strengthened the Democratic party, but the party itself was split between its democratic elements and those that considered the protection of slavery as the party's central mission. Whig politicians favored greater representation for the Western Shore in an effort to strengthen their power in the state legislature, where they hoped to accomplish their economic agenda in the face of continuing opposition from the smaller rural counties. The strains of the Mexican War and growing sectionalism proved fatal to the Whig party; from its ruins rose the Know-Nothing party.

The emergence of the Know-Nothing Party in the 1850s was an important development. Its primary appeal was nativism, blaming political corruption on immigrants and the Democratic party, which heralded a period of violent partisan confrontation, especially in Baltimore City. To some it represented the ultimate corruption of democracy--a people unhinged. Dominant in state politics during the secession crisis, and absent any semblance of the Republican party which was taking shape in other areas, the Know-Nothing, or American Party, proved to be a bridge for unionism in the state.

The Civil War tore Maryland families apart and the state barely remained in the union in 1861. As the state song recounts, southern sympathizers challenged federal troops as they marched from one railroad station to another in Baltimore City, resulting in a bloody riot, which was followed by an effort to prevent further troop movement by burning railroad bridges leading into the city. Governor Thomas Hicks was instrumental in keeping Maryland loyal to the union. His efforts were successful due to the intervention of Federal forces, which maintained a highly visible presence in the state, and especially on Federal Hill in Baltimore's inner harbor. President Abraham Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, despite Chief Justice Roger B. Taney's unsuccessful legal challenge, effectively silenced pro-secessionist voices and weakened the Democratic party. The unionist triumph became complete with the adoption of the Constitution of 1864 which outlawed slavery, disenfranchised southern sympathizers, and reapportioned the legislature based upon white inhabitants. This provision further diminished the power of the small counties where the majority of the former slave population lived.

The Civil War left its imprint on Maryland in various ways. Point Lookout in St. Mary's county became as infamous a Confederate prison as Andersonville was for Union prisoners. Several battles were fought on Maryland soil, notably Antietam in 1862, as Confederate troops moved into Pennsylvania, raided commerce, and menaced the nation's capital. But President Lincoln's emancipation program was blunted in Maryland because he feared losing the border states.

The domination of the newly-formed Republican party did not survive long after the conclusion of the war. Although the courts upheld the constitutional provision disenfranchising disloyal persons, popular support for it eroded with the peace, and the Constitution of 1867 restored the vote to white males. For the remainder of the century a resurgent Democratic party would compete with a weakened Republican party for political domination of the state. Political machines continued to run urban politics, and their colorful political bosses dispensed patronage and power throughout the nineteenth century and well into the next. Progressive reformers rose to displace them late in the century, but with only limited success.

III. Internal Improvements

A lasting legacy of the nineteenth century may be seen in the internal improvements, the system of roads, canals and railroads that are still visible throughout Maryland. Boosters justified the expense of internal improvements in terms of access to remote agricultural hinterlands within the state, ties to regional markets, and the fabled bounty of the Ohio Valley. As the state would discover as it teetered on insolvency the early 1840s due to its overenthusiastic investment in such projects, boosters underestimated the costs and difficulty of these ventures and overestimated the profits.

Long before the state could impose a gas tax or access federal funds to pay for transportation projects, the burden of transportation improvement was borne by the county government or the private investor. One common device to keep local taxes low was for the state to incorporate private groups to build toll roads. Many such toll roads were constructed throughout the state to connect cities and to link the state to the National Road, whose eastern terminus was Cumberland, which led into the Ohio Valley. These roads, however, had severe limitations and proved too costly to transport bulk agricultural produce at a reasonable price.

The construction of canals, most often along side of rivers, appeared to be the ideal solution. Among the numerous canal projects undertaken in the state, three stand out--the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal, and the Cross-Cut Canal. Begun in 1828, the Chesapeake and Ohio canal promised easy access to the fabled wealth of the Ohio Valley by following the Potomac River. This challenge proved too daunting and would never be fully realized, but the canal was completed to Cumberland in 1850, and would continue in operation, primarily hauling coal from Western Maryland, through 1924, when flood damage proved too expensive to repair. The Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal was part of a bi-state system which followed the shallow Susquehanna River to move agricultural produce from the interior of Pennsylvania and Maryland to the Chesapeake Bay and beyond. Built in the late 1830s, it also failed to generate the profits investors expected due in large part to unforeseen legal problems and recurring damage from the river itself. The Maryland portion of the canal continued to carry trade through the end of the century. The most successful of the three projects was the Cross-Cut canal across the Delmarva Peninsula, which opened in 1829 to link the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware River, creating new opportunities for regional trade. It remains in operation today.

The greatest challenge to canals as a cost-effective means to transport bulk cargo came from the introduction of a new technology--the railroad. This innovative and untried transportation idea was embraced by Baltimore City boosters with the incorporation of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1827. They were desperate; completion of a Potomac river canal would divert the grain trade from the hinterland to Georgetown or Alexandria and undermine the source of Baltimore's remarkable prosperity and growth. Far from any navigable river, some boosters envisioned a cross-cut canal to connect the city with the Potomac River and tap the trade generated by the C&O Canal, but the more visionary boosters recognized the potential of the railroad, which promised to be cheaper to construct and could be built in almost any direction by not having to follow a river valley. It was no accident that the first terminus of the new railroad in 1830 was Ellicott City, a highly successful mill town on the Patapsco River, where wheat and other grains were ground into flour for export. From there it pushed into the rich Maryland hinterland and ultimately into the Ohio Valley. The railroad proved to be the ideal nineteenth century internal improvement and the success of the B&O would be replicated by other companies created within Maryland and regionally.

The railroads left their imprint on many Maryland communities. The B&O constructed large maintenance and repair shops in Baltimore City, creating economic opportunities for other companies to build locomotives and rolling stock, and to fabricate metal parts. Smaller towns with repair facilities, such as Brunswick and Perryville, became railroad towns in their own right. Railroads also provided access to raw materials, such as coal and iron ore, in the western counties of Maryland. Combined with the emergence of new technologies, such as the fabrication of tin cans and ice harvesting from the Susquehanna River in the winter, railroads moved a more diverse array of goods into far distant markets.

New technologies had a tremendous impact on transportation throughout the nineteenth century. The massive and expensive stone structures used in canal building and early railroad bridges, still evident along the C&O Canal where the Monocacy and Potomac rivers meet or the Thomas Viaduct where the B&O crosses the Patapsco River, were supplemented with innovative uses of iron and steel to build bridges, which were far easier and cheaper to construct. Steam power was quickly harnessed to power railroad engines, which became more streamlined and powerful over the century, and to propel boats on the Chesapeake Bay. Still, as in other areas where older technologies competed with the new, sail continued to provide efficient power for boats moving goods up and down the Chesapeake and along Maryland's extensive river system.

As the costs of these internal improvements projects became prohibitive, and far beyond the capacity of the private sector to finance, boosters turned to the local, state and national governments for funding. While the national government proved reluctant to assume this burden, the state of Maryland, like New York and Pennsylvania, invested heavily in internal improvements projects within its borders.

IV: Commerce, Industry and Work

The nineteenth century reflected both continuity and change in how people earned their living. For those on the farm, who continued to grow grain or tobacco for market, the work remained hard, lessened perhaps by the selective introduction of machinery over the century, and influenced by the eradication of slavery following the Civil War. Canal construction provided labor for skilled stone masons and unskilled manual laborers, many of whom were Irish, who worked in competing gangs. The greatest change, other than the end of slavery, would be associated with the introduction of the market economy and the evolution of the industrial age.

The introduction of the market economy would forever alter commercial relations in America in this period. This transformation is associated with the replacement of barter with cash payment for work and the increased importance of commerce in local economic affairs. That is, in many rural areas, a worker or producer would barter his labor or crops for non-cash goods or credit, or a merchant would accept goods in exchange for others. Canal workers were often paid in company scrip which could only be redeemed in company stores. When a farmer took his grain to be milled, the miller often took his payment in flour. Naturally, some transactions were in cash because it was required for the payment of taxes, among other things. With the expansion of the market economy, barter was replaced by cash payments, and work itself was valued on what the market would bear. This transformation occurred more quickly in some areas than others; indeed, in isolated rural areas, the old ways died hard. The expansion of commerce was also an essential component of this transformation.

These changes transformed the artisanal system of production which dominated the pre-industrial way in which goods were produced. For instance, enterprising merchants were now able purchase goods, such as shoes, from distant manufacturers and sell them locally at a profit. The local shoemakers, or cordwainers, would be forced to reduce their prices to be competitive and to search for ways to cut their costs of production. Among the several options was to make production more efficient, or to cut the wages of the journeymen cordwainers. Both of these options struck at the heart of the artisanal system. Traditionally, a master artisan took on apprentices, who lived in the master's household and learned the trade in exchange for their labor, and who upon adulthood became independent journeymen, who worked for wages and aspired to become masters themselves. Taken together, they formed the elements of an honorable and respectable trade, one which promised a "competence," a living wage, to all who worked hard and skillfully in their craft. One result of the rationalization of production was the "de-skilling" of work, which meant that instead of making a complete shoe the journeyman would only perform the skilled work, such as cutting the leather, while unskilled workers would work on more routine operations for less pay. While a journeyman expected to earn a fair living wage for his labor, the new economy meant that wages would be determined by market forces, and that he might never establish his own shop and become a master artisan. For those artisans whose craft was caught up in the new commercial reality, life was far less certain than before, estranging traditional personal relationships between masters and journeymen, and transforming masters into employers rather than co-workers. One result in the early nineteenth century was that journeymen formed associations to protect their status and tried to withhold their labor, in the form of a strike, in an effort to maintain or improve their wages.

The emergence of "sweat shops" as part of Baltimore City's clothing manufacturing system was symbolic of the fallen state of the artisanal system and the influence of immigration as the century progressed. Tailoring had once been an honorable craft. But the increasing demand for clothing encouraged employers to rationalize production and to cut costs. One way to reduce production costs was to recruit immigrant women, who possessed essential sewing skills, as unskilled workers, who could be paid low wages. Clothing was produced in ever larger manufactories and in sweat shops which were often located in lofts in immigrant residential areas.

The emergence of the industrial economy was a parallel development. A close study of Maryland's economic development shows the complexity of this transformation in the nineteenth century. The industrial revolution is often associated with the creation of factories, a new work discipline, and the introduction of steam power. In reality, two different systems co-existed.

Water power rather than steam provided the incentive for early industrial development in Maryland. The abundance of fast flowing streams on the Western Shore had attracted millers in the previous century who provided in turn an incentive for farmers to cultivate grain crops and for Baltimore merchants to find new markets for flour. Baltimore entrepreneurs, recognizing the potential of the many water sites in close proximity to the city, constructed numerous textile factories, especially along the Patapsco River, Gwynn's Falls and Jones Falls. Small factory villages soon clustered around these operations to house the work force. Water would continue to be a cheap source of power well into the twentieth century. Even after factories converted to alternative power sources, some of these textile villages, such as Daniels on the Patapsco River, continued producing cotton duck until after World War II when competition from synthetic fabrics undermined the market. Other small factory villages located along the streams that passed through Baltimore would be incorporated into the city as it grew.

In the end, however, steam power ultimately triumphed over water power. Even if the abundance of water power retarded the introduction of steam power early in the century, over time its advantages, especially that of building factories where the potential labor force lived, proved to be far more beneficial. With the advent of the railroad age, and the construction of the locomotive shops in Baltimore, not to mention its demand for metal-making shops, the industrial age arrived in the city. Steam-powered presses were used to print the Baltimore Sun, to produce power for canneries in Canton, and for other industrial operations throughout the city.

The vicissitudes of the market economy affected the factory worker as much as the artisan who toiled in the craft system. Employers sought to improve their market share by controlling labor costs with the result that workers increasingly resorted to strikes to protect their livelihoods. They also formed unions and the conflicts between labor and management became more confrontational, especially towards the end of the century. There was an especially violent and destructive strike of B&O workers in 1877.

V. The End of Slavery

The nineteenth century witnessed the end of slavery, but as in other Southern states, it was a complicated process and not always a pretty tale. Maryland was different than most other Southern States in that it had a large and expanding Free Black population, many of whom gravitated to Baltimore City in search of work and greater opportunity. One historian characterized Free Blacks as being "slaves without masters," a term which says more about white attitudes towards "free" blacks than attitudes of African Americans towards freedom. Even after emancipation, freedom for African Americans did not mean equality.

Following the Revolution and the establishment of the new national government in the 1790s, there was a general outcry that slavery was inconsistent with republican principles. Several states north of the Mason-Dixon line enacted legislation ending slavery. Maryland and Virginia, concerned that slavery and tobacco were unprofitable, made it easier for owners to manumit their slaves. Increasingly farmers on the upper Eastern Shore and on the Western Shore turned to the production of grain crops which did not require the intensive work associated with tobacco. Added to this was the post-Revolutionary expansion of Methodism, which taught that it was immoral for one man to own another. The result was that slave owners on the upper Eastern Shore and the upper Western Shore increasingly manumitted, or freed, their slaves. Those who continued to cultivate tobacco, especially in Southern Maryland, did not, with the result that slavery became even more concentrated there before the Civil War. Maryland's Free Black population was far more numerous than in other Southern States. Some chose to remain in the rural areas to find agricultural work; others moved to Baltimore City or left the state. Most retained ties to their families, both slave and free, throughout the state.

Manumission patterns demonstrate the difficulty of making easy generalizations about the motives of masters in freeing their slaves. Some manumissions were immediate, suggesting an ideological or moral motivation, while many stretched out the process over many years. Some Maryland owners, like a number of state-sponsored schemes in the north, hit upon the idea that slaves should bear the cost of emancipation by laboring for a specific term of years before earning their freedom. Children born of slave mothers under these arrangements remained slaves until reaching a specific age. In some instances, masters permitted slaves to purchase their freedom; or they reached agreements with Free Blacks to the purchase of family members who were still slaves.

Reformers attacked the "peculiar institution" in several ways. Abolitionists petitioned the first Congress to eradicate slavery altogether. Failing that, they proselytized against it through public talks, newspapers, and pamphlets. Frederick Douglass, a run-away slave from Talbot County who wrote a powerful autobiography condemning slavery, was an especially attractive and articulate spokesman for the abolitionist cause. The noted abolitionist crusaders Benjamin Lundy and William Lloyd Garrison co-edited The Genius of Universal Emancipation in Baltimore City in the 1820s. Misjudging Baltimore as a city of northern sympathies in a slave state, they discovered that there was little support for abolitionism, and ultimately moved the press to the north.

Colonization was embraced by other reformers. The Maryland Colonization Society was formed in 1817 to encourage Free Blacks to resettle in Liberia so that they could provide a beacon of progress for other Africans. Like slave owners, a number of these reformers believed in the innate racial inferiority of African Americans and that Free Blacks constituted an unreliable work force, so their motives were less than enlightened. The accomplishments of people like Benjamin Banneker and Frederick Douglass show the shallowness of that belief. Nonetheless, some Free Blacks, such as Daniel Coker, left Maryland for Liberia in 1820, and wrote home extolling Africa and encouraging others to follow. Other Free Blacks migrated to Guiana, Haiti, and Trinidad in search of a better life. Overall, however, most Free Blacks resisted the call for colonization. Some reformers suspected that its real purpose was to strengthen the institution of slavery in Maryland by removing the Free Black population altogether.

Free Blacks proved to be a valued work force in both rural and urban Maryland. Following the Nat Turner Rebellion in Virginia in 1831, the state legislatures of both Virginia and Maryland adopted legislation that curtailed manumissions, mandated that all newly manumitted slaves had to leave the state, and limited the freedom of Free Blacks. White farmers and urban employers protested this legislation and refused to implement it because of their dependence upon Free Black labor.

One of the most remarkable developments in antebellum Maryland was the creation of a vital Free Black society in the face of such hostility. Increasing racial intolerance forced blacks from a number of religious congregations in the late 1790s. African Americans in Baltimore City established a black Methodist meetinghouse on Sharp Street in 1801, which was one of several black and mixed race congregations in the city. Unhappy with uninspiring white visiting ministers, these congregations called for black ministers. One of the first was Daniel Coker who emerged as a dynamic religious figure in 1810 and as a force in the creation of an independent black church in 1816. Ultimately, building on ties to the African American community in Philadelphia, a new evangelical church, the AME church, was created. As black religious leaders became involved with efforts to establish African American schools, they emerged as important community leaders. Free Blacks found employment in the city in manual and semi-skilled jobs. Considering the travails of community building, and white paternalism and resistance, it is no wonder that Baltimore's African Americans preferred to celebrate Haitian Independence day rather than the Fourth of July.

Not all whites were intolerant. Quakers continued to oppose the growing racism and served as useful intermediaries between Free Blacks and a legal system that impeded their equal access to courts of law. Baptists were also more inclusive than exclusive.

Nonetheless, as slavery became more of a divisive political issue nationally, and with the expansion of the market economy, life for Free Blacks became increasingly difficult. The Baltimore riot of 1812 had shown that when rioters rampaged against the emerging Free Black community, racial tensions were never far below the surface. Such attacks on the Free Blacks would continue with Know-Nothing mob violence in the 1850s. One reason, revealed in Frederick Douglass's description of working as a Baltimore City shipyard in the early 1830s, was that white laborers saw blacks as undercutting their wages. Indeed, even before the enactment of restrictive legislation in the 1830s, Free Blacks were increasingly limited to unskilled jobs in the city. Visitors to Baltimore observed that by the 1850s white immigrants dominated the docks where Free Blacks had once provided the labor.

The end of slavery in Maryland was a complex affair. All along, slaves like Frederick Douglass had tried to escape to the north on their own initiative, some successfully, others not. Individuals such as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth aided escaping slaves at considerable risk to their own safety. The underground railroad, a system of transportation and safe-houses conducted by Free Blacks and sympathetic whites, offered further assistance. Slave patrols, the assurance of severe punishment for the escaping slave, and legal penalties for anyone offering assistance, made such efforts especially dangerous. And then there was abolitionist John Brown and his associates who set out from a rented farm in Frederick County in 1857 to foment a slave revolt by capturing the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry.

The fact that Maryland was a border state, whose allegiance was essential for the preservation of the Union, compromised any possibility that slavery would be eradicated early. President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 freed slaves whose masters were in rebellion against the United States, leaving those unfortunate enough to be owned by "loyal" Americans still slaves. As the inevitability of the defeat of the Confederacy became obvious, slave-owners unsuccessfully advocated some sort of compensation scheme for their property.

It is important to recognize the contributions African Americans made in the Civil War effort. As soon as the union permitted black enlistments into the armed forces, Free Blacks rallied to the cause. This proved to be controversial in that some abolitionists advocated conscripting slaves and others argued that allowing Free Blacks to enlist actually strengthened slavery in Maryland. Throughout the state, there were reports of Southern sympathizers impeding Union efforts to enlist black soldiers.

Even after the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery, blacks were not given full rights of citizenship. By the Constitutions of 1864 and 1867 the franchise was restricted to white males. Black males obtained the franchise only with the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. The adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment clarified civil rights for African Americans that had been uncertain since Chief Justice Roger B. Taney's infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857. The state adopted an apprenticeship law which allowed former masters to indenture African American children. The assumption behind the law was that parents would not leave their children and would remain in the area as "free" agricultural labor. This blatant example of discrimination was stricken by the courts.

Freedom brought a harsh new reality to blacks. If Free Blacks had been "slaves without masters" before the Civil War, the prevailing assumption among most whites after emancipation was that all blacks had been slaves. Whatever accomplishments Free Blacks had made were all but forgotten. Within the black community, however, there was a new emphasis on education, assisted by the federal Freedman's Bureau, which, along with various black churches, established formal and informal schools to teach the rudiments of reading and writing.

Maryland, like other Southern states, adopted laws which enforced racial separation and segregation in the late nineteenth century. Long before the Supreme Court accepted the doctrine of "separate but equal" as the standard for racial accommodations in Plessy v. Ferguson, the norm in nineteenth-century Maryland was "separate and unequal."

VI. Baltimore City: "Mob-town" or "Monumental City"?

In many ways, the experience of Baltimore City embodies the major trends of the nineteenth century. Established in 1752, but not incorporated until 1796, Baltimore City's development paralleled Maryland's agricultural transformation from tobacco to grain and the commerce associated with it. Strengthened by its proximity to mills, Baltimore merchants shipped flour and other commodities on a fleet of sailing ships, including the famous Baltimore Clippers. During the Revolution and again in the War of 1812, they outfitted privateers to prey on the trade of the enemy, while they also aggressively sought to expand their trading opportunities in the Caribbean. Many of these merchants were active in various internal improvements projects which would guarantee Baltimore's commercial prosperity and domination.

Following the revolution, Baltimore City supplanted Annapolis as Maryland's most important city. While Annapolis remained the state capital, despite efforts to relocate it to Baltimore, the state legislature incorporated numerous banks and insurance companies, which added vitality to the new urban center. These institutions stimulated commercial expansion, internal improvements, and forays into industrial development.

Baltimore City's sheer size reflected its new importance. A modest city by modern standards of 26,514 in 1800, its population grew to 212, 418 in 1860, and 508, 957 in 1900. Baltimore represented 8 percent of Maryland's total population in 1800, 31 percent in 1860, and 43 percent in 1900. Immigration contributed to this growth. Those who settled in Baltimore included French refugees from Haiti arriving in the late 1790s, Irish and Germans in the antebellum period, and other European groups after the Civil War. Their muted presence in the modern city may be seen on street signs, historic structures, and churches.

Internal improvements and the new industrial technology left its imprint on this nineteenth century city. The B&O railroad was everywhere in the city. The Mount Clare works arose on its western periphery and tracks soon criss-crossed the city, linking commercial sites and the new Camden street station. Other lines, yards, and stations developed in other sections of the city. These railroads stimulated industrial development wherever they were. Soon immigrants would arrive at the B&O's massive Locust Point facility and board trains directly to the mid-west. Now Fells Point, once a distant mile and a half from the central business district, was incorporated into Baltimore City and continued as a major shipping center, and Canton, on Fells Point's eastern border, emerged as an industrial center in its own right, specializing in canning, among other activities.

Baltimore's Inner Harbor was revitalized in the nineteenth century. Commerce had concentrated earlier in Fells Point because of its deeper harbor, but with the advent of steam power the Inner Harbor teemed with activity. Light Street wharf, the present site of James Rouse's Harborplace, was the main thoroughfare for passenger transportation on the Chesapeake Bay via the Old Bay Line from 1840 well into the twentieth century.

Technology itself left an imprint on the nineteenth century city. Steel framing and iron front buildings, promising ease of construction and greater protection against fire, revolutionized construction techniques. The urban skyline was no longer dominated by church steeples or the domes of the Merchant's Exchange and the Basilica; now modern buildings pushed higher than earlier structures constructed of brick. Few of these new structures survived the Fire of 1904 or revitalization efforts in the twentieth century, however.

Two labels have been associated with Baltimore City--"mob-town" and "the monumental city"--which have special resonance with the nineteenth century. The first, despised by city boosters, is important to understand. The "mob-town" moniker represents the apprehension that democracy was debasing and corrupting the political system.

Beginning in the city election of 1798, where there were reports of physical intimidation, Federalists argued that democracy was eroding the social structure resulting in mob rule, not unlike that experienced in France during the French Revolution. The infamous Baltimore Riot of 1812 reinforced this fear. All of this seemed to come true in the 1850s when Know-Nothing mobs terrorized city elections. Popular attacks on the Massachusetts troops as they marched from the President Street Station to the Camden Station in 1861 was a factor in the decision to billet federal troops in the city. One of the reasons that mobs controlled the streets was that the popularly elected government refused to restrain its constituents.

If popular government was becoming more associated with violence, political bossism was corrupting it. Baltimore City, like other urban centers with large immigrant populations, was increasingly influenced by political bosses over the century. They won the electoral support of immigrants by promising them jobs in city government or on public works projects. Private contractors, hoping to win governmental contracts, were more than willing to hire workers recommended by the bosses. There was a great deal of money to be made when the new city hall was built between 1867 and 1876. Isaac Freeman Raisin, working behind the scenes, was able to influence Baltimore City government after the 1870s by controlling the city council and working with United States Senator Arthur Pue Gorman to dominate state politics. He would be succeeded by John J. "Sonny" Mahon into the twentieth century. The Baltimore Reform League, under the leadership of patrician Charles J. Bonaparte at the end of the century, was formed to purge the bosses from politics and purify the political process.

Baltimore's reputation as the Monumental City was established in the nineteenth century. The majestic Washington Monument (1829) dominated the skyline and became the core of an affluent residential neighborhood as the wealthy sought refuge from work. Battle Monument (1815), designed by Maximilian Godefroy with unusual Egyptian motifs, made a bold democratic statement by listing everyone who died in the defense of Baltimore in 1814.

The architectural diversity of nineteenth century Baltimore City reflected trends found elsewhere in Maryland. The century began with an emphasis on the Classical style. Benjamin Henry Latrobe's monumental Basilica of the Assumption (1821), represents a statement of the importance of the Catholic Church in Maryland's history, and can be seen in almost every contemporary painting of the city. Less prominent, but no less interesting examples, are the McKim Free School (1833), built to educate poor Irish boys, and the Lloyd Street Synagogue (1845), both of which are in the poorer sections of east Baltimore. By mid-century the Gothic style was gaining importance. Robert Cary Long, Jr., created Green Mount Cemetery (1845), which offered a new way of contemplating the importance of death, and the brooding Franklin Street Presbyterian Church (1847), which is close to the Basilica. Another example of this style is the Baltimore City Jail (1859) which was designed to instill a respect for authority. By mid-century other city builders followed the highly ornate Italianate style, represented in the Camden Street Station (1857). Perhaps the most interesting trend was the creation of Roland Park as the century ended. Linked to the city by electric streetcars, it was a planned suburban residential community of elegant English style houses which was built to take advantage the rolling contours of the countryside, designed in part by the famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.

VII. The Past as Prologue

Maryland by 1900 was very different from what it had been in 1800. Although agriculture was still an important part of the economy, the industrial revolution had become its driving force, and the Bethlehem steel works taking shape on Sparrows Point would be an indicator of the health of the new economy in the next century. Slavery had been eradicated; yet African Americans had been relegated to a second class citizenship that would not be challenged for decades to come. Railroads and steam ship lines dominated commerce. Only a few canals were still in use; with the exception of the Cross-Cut Canal, they had failed to fulfill the promise their boosters had foretold. One of the more significant changes was the centrality of Baltimore City. It now reigned as the center of wealth, commerce and population, whose zenith had yet to be reached. Significant too were the residential suburb of Roland Park and the impact of electrified street car lines. With the advent of the automobile much more would change in the new century.

Read another essay
Search the bibliography

© 2001 Maryland Humanities Council
Created by Amber