Tuesday, February 16, 2016

How Massachusetts Became a “Blue State”

Patrick Joseph Kennedy,
shown here as a state
representative serving
Boston in 1888, was a
son of Irish immigrants
and grandfather to
John F. Kennedy.
When one thinks of the quintessential “blue states” in the U.S., Massachusetts is always on or near the top of the list.  This wasn’t always the case, however. The transition from a strong Republican state government to a strong Democratic state government began in 1928 and continued through 1958--with the Republican Party further weakening into the 1970s.  This shift is evidenced in the political complexions of the House and Senate, and the year 1958 marks the turning point in which the Democrats truly become the majority party in the General Court.  Although this change appears quite recent, the history leading up to it goes much further back in time.

James Michael Curley in 1901 during
 his campaign for Massachusetts
State Representative. He was the
son of Irish immigrants and served
multiple terms as Mayor of Boston
and in the U.S. House of
Representatives. Image courtesy
of Images of America: A Journey
Through Boston Irish
History by Dennis P. Ryan
The most important historical factors that contributed to the weakening of the Republican Party and the ascension of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts were immigration and birth rates, both which greatly changed the state’s population patterns.  Beginning in the early to mid-19th century  Massachusetts, which was once an “old-stock Yankee Protestant state,” saw the mass arrival of Irish Catholic immigrants escaping the potato blight and famine that was devastating Ireland.  Due to conflict with Republican Yankees, who had absorbed the anti-Catholic members of the dissolved Know Nothing Party, the majority of Irish and other Catholic immigrant groups largely identified as Democrats.  Over the course of thirty or so years, from the 1860s through the 1890s, the Irish also began to dominate local Democratic ward committees, municipal positions (police officers, firemen, etc.), and labor unions—which strengthened the group’s political clout in the state.  Immigrant groups also greatly increased birth rates and tended to have larger families than the Yankee Protestants.  These changes in the state’s demographics also affected the once polarized party ideologies:  the Democratic Party became “de-radicalized” and the Republican Party became less conservative.

While this blog post touches upon what are considered to be the biggest historical influences, there were other factors that also played a part in the political shift.  Here are some suggested resources for further reading, all of which are available in the library:

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department