Boston: A place steeped in a history of political insurrection that now has terror thrust upon it


For conservatives these days, it is the East Coast command centre of an alien socialism. For liberals by contrast – or "progressives" as they now prefer to call themselves – the city is a lodestar. Unarguably however, Boston in its many manifestations has shaped the country's history, as much or perhaps more than any other US city, even New York or Washington. The city, it should be said, has not let others forget the fact.

The self-regard began back in 1630 when John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony, talked of its role as "the shining city on a hill", a phrase that Ronald Reagan, three and a half centuries later, used to define his vision of America. In the 19th century, the writer Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., jokingly referred to his native city as the "Hub" (as in "of the universe"), and for headline writers the epithet endures to this day.

Almost from its foundation, Boston and its surrounds were a hotbed of ideas (Harvard University was founded in 1636), of insurrection (the Tea Party of 1773 set a match under the American revolution), and then of the revolutionary war itself whose first engagements were two years later, in the villages of Lexington and Concord a few miles west of Boston proper.

This was the crowning glory of the old Boston and its orginal ruling caste whose members, many of them descended from the first settlers, Holmes dubbed the "Boston Brahmin". They were a white, protestant elite that ran not only Boston and Massachusetts, but much of the country as well – WASPs in their purest, most venerable form.

But gradually Boston changed, above all with the arrival of the Irish. The newcomers also had insurrection in their blood, and also against an English oppressor. But unlike the Brahmin, they were poor, Catholic and Democratic. Theirs was the Boston of the Fitzgeralds and later the upstart Kennedys. It was also the Boston of the Fenian Movement, a 19th-century version of the IRA, and an ancestor of Noraid, the Boston-based organisation that would serve as Irish Republicanism's US arm during the 20th-century "Troubles".

Closer to home, Boston became the epicentre of the abolitionist movement that helped set the American civil war ablaze. As the Irish dug in, the Italians began to arrive. In 1993, Thomas Menino was elected Boston's first Italian-American Mayor, the first non-Irishman to hold the job in 60 years.

Later new immigrant waves from new countries arrived – including, very fleetingly in early September 2001, the 10 Arab hijackers who commandeered the two planes that took off from Boston's Logan Airport and crashed them into the Twin Towers. The terrorist or terrorists who perpetrated Monday's bombings not only struck at one of America's oldest and most multi-layered cities. They also raised very recent ghosts.

As with New York 12 years before, the carnage at Boston marathon has summoned an outpouring of national sympathy for a city about which the country normally has distinctly mixed feelings. For Americans, Boston may be a cradle of their history, the home of people glamorous and beloved, from JFK to Rocky Marciano. But for many of them, it is also arrogant, elitist and over-intellectual, with, seemingly, a university for every citizen and an exaggerated sense of its own importance, not least where its over-achieving sports teams are concerned.

The truth, as with most great cities, is that Boston is many things at once. It is home of high-tech whizzes and hot-shot fund managers. But it is also a cauldron of tribal local politics, a tapestry of utterly distinct neighbourhoods, of wonderful green spaces and higgledy-piggedly streets. For many Europeans, it feels the most European city in the US.

Its charms are insidious and eternal. Perhaps John Updike caught it best, in his immortal New Yorker essay of 1960 on the last appearance for the Red Sox of the baseball legend Ted Williams, aka the "Kid". Entitled "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu", it is a small jewel of modern American writing – and not just sports writing. In it Updike described Fenway Park, where the Red Sox play, as "a compromise between Man's Euclidean determinations and Nature's beguiling irregularities". He was writing about a baseball stadium. In fact, he was describing a city.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
peopleGerman paper published pictures of 18-month-old daughter
Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicKate Bush set to re-enter album charts after first conerts in 35 years
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams' life story will be told in a biography written by a New York Times reporter
arts + ents
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
peopleJustin Bieber accuses paparazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Merger and Acquisition Project Manager

£500 - £550 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN TAWe are looking to recrui...

Technical Manager – Heat Pumps

£40000 Per Annum dependent on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: They ...

Test Job

TBC: Test Recruiter for iJobs: Job London (Greater)

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis