Portland, Maine, and the growth of urban responsibility for human welfare, 1830-1860
Murray, Constance Carolyn
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Traditionally, the years from 1830 to the Civil War have been characterized as the high point of individualism in America. One could act with little restraint from government, and self-reliant citizens worked to develop the potentiality of each man. To men of Portland, Maine, a typical, small New England city, this view might have seemed neither accurate nor desirable, for as its population almost doubled so did the power of the government expand to regulate more closely the lives of the citizenry. The freedom of the individual was not the goal of this generation's activities. It appeared much more important to insure the prosperity of the city, to train the people for citizenship, to maintain morality and to further the welfare of the whole society. To attain desired goals, group action and the authority of the government were essential. City records, newspapers, municipal reports and the writings of the citizens show little concern over the rising power of the city. The inhabitants, although expressing some dismay over the tax burden, accepted the changes as justified if they contributed to the betterment of all. Protection of the citizens was a prime responsibility of the city, a first care the problem of fire. Traditional volunteer companies gave way to a city-equipped and paid department, headed by a Chief Engineer, a full time employee. Good behavior and discipline were exacted of members and by 1860 the only right retained by the individual was the privilege to volunteer to serve. As mobs appeared, delinquency increased and old patterns of behavior broke down, a feeling of helplessness led to an end to the volunteer citizens watch and the institution of a police force. Pressure from the city led to a state reform school and a truancy law, the expression of a hope that early treatment might restore the youth, so the city would not be deprived to their potential contributions to its economic and social well-being. A drive to protect citizens against the ravages of disease led to legislation to insure cleanliness of the streets and the proper disposal of garbage and wastes. A city hospital, however unsatisfactory its use, was added to the institutions under the city's care. Even after death, laws, ever more strict, governed the burial of the citizens. Desire for services, as well as for protection, added to the authority of the government. Portland's reputation demanded that it provide lights, paved and numbered streets that were orderly and safe for pedestrians. People also asked for parks for rest and refreshment of mind in the midst of the hustle of an urban community. The services cost money and required the supervision of experts. A traditional responsibility was to care for the poor. Portlanders saw no gain to the city in providing change for the hopeless poor. Unfortunates who might be aided with profit were helped by private organizations increasingly professional in methods. A City Mission and a Ministry at Large, working with the city, approached a modern welfare department in techniques. Before 1860, two major reforoms stirred the city. The temperance groups moved towards prohibition under the leadership of Neal Dow, whose practices, as Mayor of Portland, showed little respect for the individual. Freedom of opinion was not encouraged as anti-slavery groups developed. The city would educate negro citizens for civic purposes, but the government, aware of vital commercial ties with the South, did not dare to do otherwise than check the radical tendencies of the reformers, so that the welfare of the city might not suffer. Thus city growth led to laws, institutions and personnel who increasingly restricted familiar freedoms of the small Maine town.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University
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