An artist’s nostalgic conception of Connecticut in the 1830s shows agriculture and shipping slipping away in the background, while westward migration and the beginnings of industry dominate the scene.
The 1828 campaign of Andrew Jackson, the candidate of the “common man,” reshaped Connecticut’s political landscape. Jackson’s supporters called themselves “Democrats” and advocated personal liberty, limited government, and workers’ rights. Their more conservative opponents, the “Whigs,” supported moral legislation such as public observation of the Sabbath, restrictions on the sale of alcohol, and reform of education.
In 1847, failure of the potato crop, mass evictions and widespread starvation forced a million Irish to emigrate to the United States. Within three years, 16 percent of Hartford and 8 percent of Connecticut’s population were Irish-born.
Hatred of the Irish led to the formation of the American or “Know-Nothing” Party which took control of the General Assembly in 1855 and elected Thomas Minor governor. They quickly passed a tough anti-Irish program to restrict the Catholic Church, established a literacy test designed to keep Irish from voting, and expelled Irish units from the state militia.
A War to Set Men Free
Advocated first by a small group of ministers and other abolitionists, the anti-slavery cause took hold in Connecticut and across the nation in the 1850s with the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
After the death of General Thomas Williams early in the conflict, Colonel Thomas Cahill of Connecticut’s all-Irish 9th Regiment took command and led the Union troops to victory.
This article is a panel reproduction from An Orderly and Decent Government, an exhibition on the history of representative government in Connecticut developed by Connecticut Humanities and put on display in the Capitol concourse of the Legislative Office Building, Hartford, Connecticut.