The City-State of Boston: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Power, 1630-1865

Cover of the book titled "The City-State of Boston."

Mark Peterson, the Edmund S. Morgan Professor of History 

(Princeton University Press)

In the annals of America’s founding, Boston has long been held up as an exemplary “city upon a hill” and the “cradle of liberty” for an independent United States. Wresting the city from these clichés, “The City-State of Boston” highlights Boston’s overlooked past as an autonomous city-state, and in doing so, offers a new history of early America. Following Boston’s development over three centuries, Mark Peterson discusses how this self-governing Atlantic trading center began as a refuge from Britain’s Stuart monarchs and how — through its bargain with slavery and ratification of the Constitution — it would lose integrity and autonomy as it became incorporated into the greater United States.

Drawing from archives, and featuring unfamiliar figures alongside well-known ones, such as John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, and John Adams, Peterson explores Boston’s origins in 16th-century utopian ideals, its founding and expansion into the hinterland of New England, and the growth of its distinctive political economy, with ties to the West Indies and southern Europe. By the 1700s, Boston was at full strength, with wide Atlantic trading circuits and cultural ties, both within and beyond Britain’s empire. After the Revolutionary War, “Bostoners” aimed to negotiate a relationship with the American confederation, but through the next century, the new United States unraveled Boston’s regional reign. The decision to ratify the Constitution undercut its power, as Southern planters and slave owners dominated national politics and corroded the city-state’s vision of a common good for all.

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