– Lowell Politics and History

“Lowell in late April 1865″ by Jim Peters

Here’s another post by Jim Peters about events in Lowell 150 years ago this month:

The Lowell Courier has been my main source of information for the reaction of the people of Lowell, who lost many soldiers on the Union side, in the War Between the States.  If it is true, as is written in John Quincy Adams’ statement to the Supreme Court, that there was little choice but going to war over slavery, then the war was fought by a Lincoln who had to protect slavery in the four states that did not secede.  If the war was fought over secession, then a whole new luster is placed on our efforts.  The statements of the President often seemed to state that the war was over secession, not slavery.  But, right in the middle of this anamoly was the 13th. Amendment banning slavery.  So, the war was fought over both of these issues.

 Lincoln said, in his first Inaugural Address:
    “Unanimity is impossible; the rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left.” (1st. Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861)
    It was obvious that anarchy and despotism was not something that this President was going to tolerate.  The war was going to be fought partially over secession, which was totally inadmissible in this President’s eyes, and slavery as the secondary issue.
    So, where was Lowell in this fight.  Right in the middle of it.  Lowell sent more men per household percentage, than other cities in the Commonwealth.  Our favorite citizen, Benjamin Butler, delivered so many men to Governor Andrew that he was appointed a General in the Army.  He was destined to not be very effective, but he was also destined to be looked upon affectively.  He was partially loved by the people of Lowell.
    Between April 22, 1865 and May 1, 1865, there was still some fighting by Confederates who did not belong to Lee’s beloved Army of Northern Virginia.  They were, more or less, guerilla fighters.  They fought for Jeb Stewart and fought the Army forces of William Tecumseh Sherman.
    On April 24, 1865, the Courier noted that the “Mob spirit, when excited, is dangerous in all countries and expecially so in a free country.  The only salvation or safety of this country, under God, is in the supremacy of the law and the law can only be excuted by its chosen officers.”  (Page 2)  Speaking about Lincoln, the newspaper stated that, “No unworthy spirit of revenge ever found a pace in his heart; there was manifested in his life no want of courage, manliness, vigor, or sense of justice; but all these were tempered with a mildness, kindness, and friendliness toward all the people of the country. (Ibid)  It then compared his pull on the heartstrings to be like George Washington’s.    ”…others, under the excitement of the moment, interpret the death of Mr. Lincoln as a visitation of Divine Providence upon him because his policy was not sufficiently severe upon the rebels.” (ibid)
    Upon his death, there were those who said that Andrew Johnson would be harder on the rebels than Abraham Lincoln and that was to be a good thing.  That is exactly what the newspaper was alluding to; and the argument did not necessarily fall upon deaf ears.  Some people wanted to exact revenge.  Lincoln had said in his Second Inaugural Address, “With malice towards none.”  Some peope wanted malice.
    The Lowell Courier continued to print the first page full of advertisements, most dealing with lotions and spirits designed to cure any illness.  Again, Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Supreme Court justice and a medical doctor, stated that all medicines extant at that period of time could be loaded onto a ship and sunk at sea and no harm would come to those people who took that medicine.  The paper also had a huge obituary for the Honorable George S. Boutwell, who died on April 19th, 1865.  It was quite an obituary.
    Returning to Lincoln, in the Boutwell obituary it said, “He recognized the obligation to return fugitives from slavery, and it was no part of his purpose to interfere with slavery in the States where it existed…His purpose was the supression of the rebellion.” (April 27, 1865).  Negro troops made a spirited fight with guerillas along a line.  They drew fire from four forts.  They were in the zone in forty five minutes “This was a sight seldom seen in a lifetime before this bloody war.  Generals Andrew and Steele were among the killed.”  In small skirmishes the war continued on.  Not all of the Confederates immediately laid down their arms.  ”Do not know where we are to go, but were put under marching orders at one o’clock.” (ibid)
      The “Montreal Gazette” stated on April 25th. that the “opinion…(is)…that when the Confederates get their 300.000 slave soldiers in the field, fighting for freedom, they will astonish the Federals.  We think so too.” (April 25, 1865)  On April 27, 1865, the Courier again took the time to welcome less than benevolent treatment of the Confederate States by Andrew Johnson.  Specifically, it said that we tender “…to Andrew Johnson…our cordial and hearty support in the discharge of the duties charge to him in the dispensation of Providence have so suddenly devolved upon him.” (ibid.)  In the same page, under another headline, we learn by Telegraph
“J. Wilkes Booth  Killed.”  Apparently, he hid in a barn in St. Mary’s County, Maryland and was fired upon by Colonel Baker’s forces.  His companion, named Harold, was captured and Booth was reportedly killed.  ”The body of Booth and Harold are now in Washington.” (ibid)
    On Friday, April 28, 1865, the Lowell Preacher Dr. Davis cited that it was difficult making sense of worldly news, especially when it was as heavy-hearted as the death of a beloved President.  ”Nothing  can be accomplished in the way of right progress, without calm consideration,” he said.
    He continued, “The first state of mind was surprise.”   Then the imagination takes over and envisions the dark telegraph story.  ”Down leaps th murderous Booth and flies across the stage, while the screams of the wife draws all attention to the iron ball…” (ibid).  Our nation stands not in a President, it has survived the death of a Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson, and it will outlive the violent death of President Lincoln.”  He wished that Lincoln could have seen the triumph of his cause.
    We were about to take ourselves to glory, he says, and not give the glory to God.  The April 29th. and 30th. editions speak of a typhus scare.  They are worried about a mosquito-borne disease.  They do note the surrender of Confederate guerilla General Johnston.  The war is finally over.
    Other issues divided the country and still do.  Patriot’s Day is celebrated only in Massachusetts, while Jefferson-Jackson Day is celebrated in the South.  Jefferson and Jackson were both noted slaveholders.  Slaves were emancipated but did not know what to do or where to go.  Congress began the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands in March, 1865, before the end of the war.  You could take advantage of the Homestead Act and garner Forty Acres and a Mule, to allow you to farm your own forty acres.  The Freedman’s Act gave out 17 million dollars in food and clothing to worthy Caucasians and African Americans.  It was an amount unheard of up to that time.

That is where Lowell was at the end of the Civil War, which really ended with the surrender of General Johnston.  Lowell looked forward to re-establishing its  cotton cloth-making mills in the future.  By the 1880′s, the steam driven power looms would replace the canal-run looms.  Soon, the south would take over its manufacturing of its own cloth, signalling the end of an era in Lowell.  World Wars would keep the looms running through the late 1940′s and early 1950′s.  A trolley and bus strike, augmented by the use of the automobile, would end organized labor in Lowell’s mills.  They would become historic by the 1970′s, when Paul Tsongas,  a little-known Congressman from Lowell would make them into the first Urban National Park.

Buzzy Farm Market-Day at Mill No. 5

Rosemary and I had a lively swing through the Farm Market at Mill No. 5 this afternoon, which was busy with people. The Purple Carrot bakers made 54 loaves of bread this morning and sold all of them. The bakers want to open an artisanal shop in Lowell. Right now they bake in Haverhill. At least one of them lives close to downtown. We enjoyed the variety of products and table-runners. Along with a round loaf of wheat bread, we got the local flavored popcorn, a bag of rosemary-roasted cashews, soft cookies, and more. Tory Germann was holding down the vinyl fort at Dave Perry’s record shop where I met a young Beatles fan. “I love the classics,” she said, holding up a used “Sgt. Pepper’s.” All the fresh produce looked tasty, especially a couple of baskets of apples. People were buying soap, coffee, candy, starter plants, and other items. A bluegrass band pumped up the volume right outside the elevator. The place was happening. These bazaars and pop-up markets are bringing in an array of people who want this kind of experience in Lowell. Down the end of the corridor Luna Theatre had a show this afternoon. Outside, the Lowell 350 climate-change campaigners were getting signatures in favor of the City of Lowell’s divestment from fossil fuel companies. One activist was a former UMass Lowell student. Bottle what we have at Mill No. 5 and Lowell will go a long way to accomplishing its marketing aspirations.


Photo by Tony Sampas

Lowell City Council Meeting: April 21, 2015

I visited Nashville, Tennessee this week (I’ll have a post about that later today) so I had to step away from the rhythms of Lowell and its politics.  Last night I did watch a replay of Tuesday night’s council meeting and have posted my notes below:

Lowell City Council Meeting: April 21, 2015

Abandon Eaton Street

Vote to abandon a portion of Eaton Street (which is part of the Tanner Street relocation).  Councilor Kennedy says some of the business owners in the vicinity continue to question this.  Manager Murphy has Craig Thomas of DPD speak on this.  He says he has met with the businesses and that they are supportive of the final plan but they have some questions about how it will work in the interim before the final relocation of Tanner Street.  One of the business owners speaks: He says the Tanner Street project might take up to 10 years so there needs to be an interim solution.  He says by working with the city, he thinks they’ve found such a solution.  Councilor Martin says he hopes Tanner St doesn’t take 10 years to get done; asks for an estimate.  Thomas says design is already underway and says the road construction will probably take 18 months.  That doesn’t include the time it takes to put together the financing.  He says that worse case that could take up to 10 years.  Councilor Mercier asks about the car wash.  Thomas says that the road will go behind the car wash and won’t adversely affect it.  He says the VFW has decided to tear down their existing building and construct a new one on another portion of their lot so that will all be compatible with this.  Council refers this to the Clerk for a week when it will be returned for a final vote.

Public Hearings

Establishment of a Veteran’s Council

Speaking in favor are John MacDonald and Bob Page.  No one speaks in opposition.  Mayor Elliott speaks on the ordinance: Reads a letter to him from Francisco Urena, state Secretary of Veterans Affairs, commending the city for creating such a commission.  Passes unanimously.

Vote for a $8.9mil Loan Order 

Armand Hebert of Wilder Street speaks in favor but expresses concerns about a lack of a residency requirement on city jobs.  Says if Councilors don’t think there are qualified people to do the work, then they should resign.  Says money spent by the city should go to city residents.  Says there is no prohibition on such a requirement.  Tom Bellegarde, City Parks Commissioner, also speaks in favor the loan order.  Passes unanimously.

Motion Responses

Susan Winship of Greater Lowell Community Foundation shows a non-verbal fire prevention video that was produced for multilingual audiences in response to the Branch Street fire.

Councilor Kennedy moves that a motion response on Life Sciences focus for JAM area be referred to the Economic Development Subcommittee.

Councilor Kennedy brings up the status of a development of a new restaurant at Mammoth Road and East Meadow Road in Pawtucketville.  Several councilors and city manager all indicate they don’t like the lack of parking for the project.  Some members of the Pawtucketville Citizens Council speak strongly in opposition to this.  City Solicitor cautions everyone that since this matter is pending before the Board of Appeals it might be unwise to continue arguing substantively about this matter before the council.  The council moves on to the next issue.

Councilor Rourke moves that the council vote on the City Manager’s recommendation that four more police officers be hired.  Manager Murphy explains the intent was to hire them in FY16, however, the police academy class begins on May 18 so this will allow the city to hire these officers now so they can enroll in this academy class and be on the streets prior to Thanksgiving.  Motion passes.

Vote authorizing the filing of legislation to make non-civil service Fire Chief

Councilor Kennedy immediately moves to refer this to the Personnel Subcommittee.  Says he has spoken with someone at the Civil Service Commission explained that they existing civil service process can be modified to give the city manager more say in who becomes the fire chief.  Kennedy says he thinks they should consider these other options before taking this vote.  Councilor Belanger says he agrees the process if flawed but he wants the city manager to have a much bigger say in who gets appointed.  Says it should be similar to the process for appointing the police chief.  Says he’s ready to vote on this tonight and will not support the delay.  Councilor Milinazzo says he will support the delay.  He agrees the process was tainted but he believes “the brotherhood” of the fire department is different than the police department and that promoting from within is important.  So he will support sending it to the personnel subcommittee.  Councilor Samaras says he’s willing to listen to alternative approaches as long as the city manager has the final say in who is hired.  Says he sees no harm in getting more information.  Councilor Rourke commends the city manager for bringing this up.  Says he will support getting more information about this.  Councilor Leahy says he will also support sending it to the subcommittee.  Mayor Elliott says he’s prepared to vote on this tonight; that it’s time to make a change and we have to move this down the road.  Kennedy, Leahy, Martin, Milinazzo, Rourke and Samaras vote to send it to the subcommittee.  Mercier, Belanger and Elliott vote not to send it to the subcommittee.

Petition to Address the Council

Corey Robinson, president of Local 1705 (various city employees).  Criticizes the city for changing practices that have been in place for more than ten years.  Says this changed interpretation of the contract which originated with the city auditor and since the auditor works for the council, the council should be involved in this.  Councilor Mercier says she is curious about what is taking place here.  (Seems that the employees have been being paid overtime even if they take vacation time but that has changed so that vacation time is no longer counted towards calculating eligibility for collecting overtime).  Councilor Mercier wants answers to what has changed.  Councilor Martin says he’s heard varying accounts of what has happened but he thinks there should be, at some point, an official explanation given to the city council on what has occurred.  Councilor Kennedy asks the manager if the grievance has been resolved?  City Manager Murphy says no, it’s still pending.  Says city made a “very generous” offer of settlement earlier today but that it was summarily rejected so they continue to negotiate but he will get the council a detailed memo explaining what has happened.

City Council Motions

By Councilor Samaras to have DPD review the South Common Improvement Plan and give a timeline for when it will be implemented.  Says he and Councilor Belanger recently walked the South Common and it needs a lot of work.  He also says that the South Common should be addressed in conjunction with the Lord Overpass work because the South Common is a gateway into the city.  Councilor Kennedy thinks this is an excellent motion.  Says the South Common is very important to the future of the JAM area.  Councilor Belanger says there’s been a plan in place since at least 2011 to improve the South Common.  He says it is a mess now but it’s unfair to get upset about that due to all the snow we received.  Nevertheless, he says the South Common is a gem and we should pay a lot more attention to it.  It has a great deal of potential to be a four season venue and it’s on one of the main gateways into the city.  Councilor Martin also supports the motion and says it would be great to do an outdoor skating area there.  Motion passes.

Council adjourns.

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