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Baltimore

A Political History

Matthew A. Crenson

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How politics and race shaped Baltimore's distinctive disarray of cultures and subcultures.

Charm City or Mobtown? People from Baltimore glory in its eccentric charm, small-town character, and North-cum-South culture. But for much of the nineteenth century, violence and disorder plagued the city. More recently, the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in police custody has prompted Baltimoreans—and the entire nation—to focus critically on the rich and tangled narrative of black–white relations in Baltimore, where slavery once existed alongside the largest community of free blacks in the United States.

Matt…

How politics and race shaped Baltimore's distinctive disarray of cultures and subcultures.

Charm City or Mobtown? People from Baltimore glory in its eccentric charm, small-town character, and North-cum-South culture. But for much of the nineteenth century, violence and disorder plagued the city. More recently, the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in police custody has prompted Baltimoreans—and the entire nation—to focus critically on the rich and tangled narrative of black–white relations in Baltimore, where slavery once existed alongside the largest community of free blacks in the United States.

Matthew A. Crenson, a distinguished political scientist and Baltimore native, examines the role of politics and race throughout Baltimore's history. From its founding in 1729 up through the recent past, Crenson follows Baltimore's political evolution from an empty expanse of marsh and hills to a complicated city with distinct ways of doing business. Revealing how residents at large engage (and disengage) with one another across an expansive agenda of issues and conflicts, Crenson shows how politics helped form this complex city's personality.

Crenson provocatively argues that Baltimore's many quirks are likely symptoms of urban underdevelopment. The city's longtime domination by the general assembly—and the corresponding weakness of its municipal authority—forced residents to adopt the private and extra-governmental institutions that shaped early Baltimore. On the one hand, Baltimore was resolutely parochial, split by curious political quarrels over issues as minor as loose pigs. On the other, it was keenly attuned to national politics: during the Revolution, for instance, Baltimoreans were known for their comparative radicalism. Crenson describes how, as Baltimore and the nation grew, whites competed with blacks, slave and free, for menial and low-skill work. He also explores how the urban elite thrived by avoiding, wherever possible, questions of slavery versus freedom—just as wealthier Baltimoreans, long after the Civil War and emancipation, preferred to sidestep racial controversy.

Peering into the city's 300-odd neighborhoods, this fascinating account holds up a mirror to Baltimore, asking whites in particular to reexamine the past and accept due responsibility for future racial progress.

Reviews

Reviews

This is a magnificent study, sweeping in scope and rich in detail... There is much to learn from the Baltimore experience, and this gracefully written volume tells the tale well. Highly recommended.

Matthew A. Crenson takes readers on an exhilarating ride through more than two centuries of American history. With lucid prose, rapid pacing, and a parade of dramatic incidents, he addresses the critical issues that have confounded citizens and historians since the nation's founding.

A comprehensive look at the manifold forces that influenced and impeded city government for more than 300 years. Crenson also possesses a keen eye—and nose—for the two-way traffic between politics and the body politic. He scrapes away charm (and myth) to expose less savory features of civic history.

A sweeping history of Baltimore written by a true master of this subject. A political scientist by training with considerable skill as a writer and historian, Crenson is also a long-time observer and commentator on the Baltimore scene. In addition to its academic virtues, this gripping book would make a wonderful gift for readers in Baltimore or with a Baltimore attachment.

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Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
7
x
10
Pages
632
ISBN
9781421436333
Illustration Description
37 halftones
Table of Contents

Prologue
Part I
1. Settling
2. Government in the Streets
3. Revolution
Part II
4. Baltimore at War
5. From Town to City
6. "Calamities Peculiarly Incident to Large Cities"
Part III
7. Trial by Combat
8

Prologue
Part I
1. Settling
2. Government in the Streets
3. Revolution
Part II
4. Baltimore at War
5. From Town to City
6. "Calamities Peculiarly Incident to Large Cities"
Part III
7. Trial by Combat
8. Baltimore Triumphant
9. Public Debt and Internal Improvements
Part IV
10. Working on the Railroad
11. Corporate Challenge to Equality and an Educational Response
12. Road Hogs
13. Policing the Disorderly City
Part V
14. Racial Borders
15. Between Mobs and Corporations
16. Pigs and Politicians
17. Know-Nothings
Part VI
18. American Party Reckoning
19. Baltimore in the Divided Nation
20. City at War
21. Democratic Resurrection
Part VII
22. Ex-Slaves, Ex-Confederates, and the New Regime
23. The Ring
24. Fin de Siècle
25. Political Economy
Part VIII
26. Fire, Smoke, and Segregation
27. Metropolitan Morality
28. World War and Municipal Conquest
29. Civil Service and Prohibition
Part IX
30. Boom to Bust
31. Relief, Repeal, New Deal
32. Democratic Harmony, RepublicanVictory
33. D'Alesandro and His Democrats
Part X
34. I'm All Right, Jack
35. Slow-Motion Race Riot
36. Racial Breakdown
Part XI
37. Baltimore's Best
38. Driving the City
39. Turning Point
Afterword
Acknowledgments
Appendix A
Appendix B
Notes
Bibliographic Essay
Index

Author Bio
Matthew A. Crenson
Featured Contributor

Matthew A. Crenson

Matthew A. Crenson is a professor emeritus of political science at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of Neighborhood Politics and a coauthor of Downsizing Democracy: How America Sidelined Its Citizens and Privatized Its Public.