The City-State of Boston: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Power, 1630-1865

The City-State of Boston: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Power, 1630-1865

by Mark Peterson


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A groundbreaking history of early America that shows how Boston built and sustained an independent city-state in New England before being folded into the United States

In the vaunted annals of America’s founding, Boston has long been held up as an exemplary “city upon a hill” and the “cradle of liberty” for an independent United States. Wresting this iconic urban center from these misleading, tired clichés, The City-State of Boston highlights Boston’s overlooked past as an autonomous city-state, and in doing so, offers a pathbreaking and brilliant new history of early America. Following Boston’s development over three centuries, Mark Peterson discusses how this self-governing Atlantic trading center began as a refuge from Britain’s Stuart monarchs and how—through its bargain with the slave trade and ratification of the Constitution—it would tragically lose integrity and autonomy as it became incorporated into the greater United States.

Drawing from vast archives, and featuring unfamiliar figures alongside well-known ones, such as John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, and John Adams, Peterson explores Boston’s origins in sixteenth-century utopian ideals, its founding and expansion into the hinterland of New England, and the growth of its distinctive political economy, with ties to the West Indies and southern Europe. By the 1700s, Boston was at full strength, with wide Atlantic trading circuits and cultural ties, both within and beyond Britain’s empire. After the cataclysmic Revolutionary War, “Bostoners” aimed to negotiate a relationship with the American confederation, but through the next century, the new United States unraveled Boston’s regional reign. The fateful decision to ratify the Constitution undercut its power, as Southern planters and slave owners dominated national politics and corroded the city-state’s vision of a common good for all.

Peeling away the layers of myth surrounding a revered city, The City-State of Boston offers a startlingly fresh understanding of America’s history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691179995
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 04/23/2019
Pages: 784
Sales rank: 248,054
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.30(h) x 2.20(d)

About the Author

Mark Peterson is the Edmund S. Morgan Professor of History at Yale University. He is the author of The Price of Redemption: The Spiritual Economy of Puritan New England.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction 1

Book I Render Unto Caesar 25

Chapter 1 Boston Emerges: From Hiding Place to Hub of the Puritan Atlantic 27

The Disappointments of Silver and Gold 32

The Insufficiency of Fish and Furs 38

Wampum Troubles 43

The West Indian Solution: Triangle Trade for a Settler Society 55

Trouble with Trade: Atlantic Commerce and Commonwealth Values 61

Atlantic Competition and the Challenge of Diplomacy 66

The Birth of the Commonwealth, 1643 82

Chapter 2 The World in a Shilling: Building the City-State's Political Economy 85

Two Dowries: Boston and Potosi 90

The Big Problem of Small Change 96

The Trouble with Pieces of Eight 100

From Spanish Silver to Boston Shillings 104

The Virtues of Boston's Shillings 110

Captain Hull, "Entreprenour" 117

Financing King Philip's War 122

Dealing in the Spoils of War 129

Independence and Allegiance in the Land of the-Shilling 134

Chapter 3 Boston Pays Tribute: The Political Trials of an Expanding City-State 139

Absorbing the Eastern Frontier 144

Restoration, Rendition, and Tribute 144

Fending Off the Crown's Agents 149

Financing the Colony's Agents 156

The Lure of the "Wracks" 163

Fighting the Dominions Kleptocracy 166

The Apotheosis of William Phips: Silver Makes a Bostonian 173

From Silver to Paper: Moving the "Mountains of Peru" 183

Book II The Selling of Joseph 189

Chapter 4 Theopolis Americana: Boston and the Protestant International 191

Samuel Sewall and The Selling of Joseph 195

Jonathan Belcher's Wanderjahr 206

The Local Politics of Universal Truth 217

Cotton Mather's Journey to Pietism 234

Theopolis Americana 242

Chapter 5 "God Deliver Me and Mine from the Government of Soldiers" 247

Boston and Acadia: Nos Amis, les Ennemis 250

An Accidental Bostonian: Paul Mascarene 257

A Soldier by Convenience: William Shirley 265

Something Shocking: The Ordeal of Abijah Willard 278

The Government of Soldiers and The Selling of Joseph 290

Chapter 6 Cutting Off the Circulation: Phillis Wheatley and Boston's Revolutionary Crisis 294

Locating Phillis Wheatley in Theopolis Americana 300

Phillis Wheatley's Connections: The Making of an Eighteenth-Century Celebrity 303

Circulation and Salvation in Wheatley's British Empire 310

Circulation Interrupted: The Destruction of Phillis Wheatley's World 320

Chapter 7 John Adams, Boston's Diplomat: Apostle of Balance in a World Turned Upside Down 326

The Limited Reach of John Adams's Connections 331

John Adams Reads History 335

The Search for Stability within Crisis 343

The Massachusetts Constitution: Restoring Balance to the Kingless Commonwealth 352

Shays's Rebellion: The Massachusetts Regulation of 1786-87 356

Diplomat to the American Republics: Fear of the "Eternal Yoke" 363

International Disappointments: Constitutions in Need of Defense 366

Book III A New King Over Egypt 377

Chapter 8 The Failure of Federalism: Boston's French Years 379

Federalism and federalism 381

Fisher Ames and the Frenchified Politics of the American Confederation 387

The French Revolution and Greater Virginia 400

Ames, the French Revolution, and the Rise of Bonaparte 403

Josiah Quincy and the Lure of Secession 408

The Embargo 414

Louisiana and the Breaking of the Federal Compact 422

The War of 1812 and Pressure for Separation 429

"A Great Pamphlet" and the Demise of Federative Politics 436

Chapter 9 From Merchant Princes to Lords of the Loom: Remaking Boston's Political Economy 444

France Comes to Boston, and Boston Goes to France 446

French Commerce and the House of Perkins 452

Property and Theft: Industrial Espionage and the Rise of the Mills 461

Lords of the Loom and Lords of the Lash 473

Black Dan's Dilemma 478

Chapter 10 On the German Road to Athens: Boston at a Crossroads 486

The Lure of Germany 489

A Southern Interlude 492

Gottingen 494

Byron, Goethe, and Greece 502

Literal Greeks: Edward Everett, Samuel Gridley Howe, and the Greek Revolution 507

Figurative Greeks: German Reform in the Athens of America 515

Philanthropy and Its Limits in the Age of Cotton 523

Die Unbedingten: The Unconditionals in Boston 530

Chapter 11 Dismembering the Body: Boston's Spatial Fragmentation 540

Separating City from State and Citizen from City 542

Defortification: Dismantling the City's "Honor" 548

Immigration and Ethnic Segregation in the Corporate City 564

The Great Hunger and the Collapse of Christian Charity 569

Chapter 12 "There Was a Boston Once" 578

"Extravasat Blood": Racial Segregation in the Corporate City 579

"The Body Comprehends Men and Women of Every Shade and Color" 588

A Phrenological Solution? 597

Violent Renditions 605

Conclusion The Making of US History and the Disappearance of the City-State of Boston 623

Coda Looking Forward to Looking Backward 633

Notes 639

Illustration Credits 721

Index 725

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"[A] richly detailed history."New Yorker

"Boldly original."—Alex Beam, Wall Street Journal

"The most detailed and entertaining history of Boston that’s been written so far."—Steve Donoghue, Christian Science Monitor

"An ambitious work based on prodigious research."—Virginia DeJohn Anderson, Times Literary Supplement

"Mark Peterson’s story of the rise and fall of the city-state of Boston over nearly three centuries is a remarkable achievement."—Gordon S. Wood, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and author of Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson

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