James Michael Curley was a colorful figure in the history of Boston and he left a mark, good or bad in the history and culture of that state during his political carrier, which lasted for fifty years. He was elected governor, mayor, congressman, and alderman of the state during his political life. He did not have any neutral supporter. Either some people used to consider him as a hero, or some used to consider him as a worst villain of the century. He was the only mayor in US who was thrice indicted and jailed twice. (McDonough, 1)
For this reason, Jack Beatty has described him in his book as “The Rascal King”. Beatty has tried to find out the reason that why, in spite of being such a worthless person, he was elected by the people of Boston over and over again. Beatty has described Curley in the book as “The Rascal King”. During his political carrier, Irish people were migrating to the United States and settling down in Boston area. The book reflects the complexities of the urban politics of that time. “For the Irish Americans…he was a political and cultural hero, an axial figure in their annals…the main thread in Curley’s public life: doing little things for little people who repaid him in votes and gratitude, who as the years went by and they tasted something of the world’s indifference, magnified manifold the value of the little things Curley had done for them” (McDonough, 1)
Describing the rule of Curley, Beatty has actually covered a journey, describing hundred years of Boston history and in the process, he was always critical about the activities of Curley. The book deals with Irish immigration into the US and their history.
Irish Protestants started arriving in the United States in the mid 18th century as they were becoming frustrated by the difference of the Presbyterians in Ascendancy Ireland. Their numbers increased after the failed revolt of Wolf Tone in 1798. On the contrary, Irish Catholic immigration started from the beginning of the 19th century. But their immigration greatly increased towards the middle of the century when the Great Famine occurred in Ireland. It forced about a million and half people to leave the island. Thomas H. O’Connor has mentioned these in his article The Boston Irish: A Political History.
Thomas H. O’Connor has also mentioned in his article that the Protestant immigrants left Ireland and migrated demanding land and political rights. As they used to speak English it became very easy for them to adjust in any new place that offered land and opportunity. Hence, many of them became well settled soon in the lands occupying the Western Frontier.
Irish Catholics on the other hand were not so fluent in English and were forced to leave Ireland and immigrate because of economic reasons and physical hunger. They were very much socially dependent on each other in this new found world and suspicious about everything around them. Their level of suspicion was same as they used to have towards the English speaking landlords and government officials in their native home. This wave of economically backward immigrants settled in ethnic ghettos in the northeastern cities. Thomas H. O’Connor has mentioned these in his article The Boston Irish: A Political History.
It has also been stated in the article by Thomas H. O’Connor that massive presence of Irish Catholic population led to a conflict for the first time in the history of the US between the natives and legal ethnic immigrants. To quote from the website, “Based in the ghetto network of churches, clubs and bars, the sometimes ruthless and always populist ethnic class politics of Irish party bosses would turn out to be an effective strategy against Anglo-American ‘brahmins’.”
Thomas H. O’Connor was very much critical in his article to mention that just with their vast numbers and well oiled infamous political machinery, their aim was to capture political power and in the process, getting their various interests served from the municipal government and also forcing the Irish Protestants yield to their political power. With a like minded Mayor Curley in office, their aim was to use the political power for further “social and economic aspirations”.
Thomas H. O’Connor has mentioned in his above mentioned article that for nine decades the Irish enjoyed a massive political monopoly in Boston, like Americans in any other American city. In this unbroken reign of Mayors, there arrived ghetto populists like James Curley who dominated the political scene in Boston during the first four decades of the twentieth century.
Jack Beatty has described in his book The Rascal King this urban politics of Boston and how it helped an inefficient person James Curley to get elected so many times by the voters of this region. To quote from the Chapter The Shin of a Sparrow Page 21 of the book, “The instrument of their remembrance would be James Michel Curley, who would reach back beyond his father’s generation to reclaim for politics the ethnic bitterness stemming from the events of the fifties that had been kept out of politics for decades. It would be what lent them the sullen psychology of an aggrieved minority long after they had become a majority.” (Amazon.com book reading section)
Thomas H. O’Connor has also stated in his article that these Irish Catholics used to live in their ethnically insulated neighborhoods and had very limited social exposure. Out of these, they would feel betrayed at some things and created an objection on the path to development. They used to protest against the urban development policies initiated by their elected Mayor based on the fear that it may come as an attack on their ghettos which once had given them some identity and the force and security to live as a group. The author has mentioned in his article that they tried to enforce racial integration in municipal schools by sending their children in buses from the ethnic ghettos.
Describing the generation that Curley belonged to as someone who “look back to pick up”, Beatty feels that it is the generation that never progressed and it is because of this reason that they prevented from going forward. Beatty has also stated in the Page 22 of his book that this “Famine Irish” people were undigested and indigestible and they came in a city where they were not asked to come. These words are a reflection of the fact that Beatty has openly expressed his hatred towards the Irish community as a whole.
It can be seen that Beatty has stated in Page 22 of his book that before the arrival of these Irish Catholics, Boston was a clean and ‘salubrious’ place and after they came, it became dirty and noisy. He has also stated that before their arrival, Boston was a unified lot and after these people arrived, the question of social divisions arose. To quote from the text on page 22, “Boston had stood for religion and politics; now it is a home to reactionary religion whose official organ, The Pilot, called the sacred cause of abolition ‘niggerology’.”
McDonough has stated in his article that in a democracy, a nation gets the politician it deserves. To quote from his article, “At the same time–paradoxically–the opposite is also true: society is a mirror of its politicians. Politicians are indeed a mirror of their society, and a kind of embodiment of its potential. ” That is exactly what Jack Beatty has tried to describe in his book The Rascal King.
Describing the urban politics of a place for a specific time period, it is better to be narrative while describing the events and leave the conclusion in the hands of the readers. The way Beatty has expressed his words against the Irish Catholic, is very much unwanted from a writer of his stature. I was getting confused at some places, feeling that Beatty is a political opponent of Curley. You can blame the policies of a particular ruler or a mayor or a politician, but it is always unwise to blame an entire community for the misdoings of Curley.
After Second World War, many modern politicians like John B. Hynes, John F. Collins and Ray Flynn became the mayor of Boston and succeeded in developing a new Boston. The same Irish people voted them. It is always unfair to blame an entire community for that.
- The Boston Irish: A Political History, Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1995, Thomas H. O’Connor: Nordic Irish Studies Network: 10th March 2009 : http://www.hum.au.dk/engelsk/nisn/reviews/oconnor.html>
- The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley. – book reviews, Feb 12, 1993, John E. McDonough: Bnet Network : 10th March 2009 : <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1252/is_n3_v120/ai_13434671>
- Amazon.com book reading section: Look Inside Category : 10th March, 2009 <http://www.amazon.com/reader/0306810026?_encoding=UTF8&token=1ED1aEZdZpactj7ztckChMJhoy02k1gymx0qxRZIygjWfDXHpbSMRw%3D%3D&query=urban%20populist&page=132>