Date of Award

Fall 12-2018

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Nathan Godfried

Second Committee Member

Richard Judd

Third Committee Member

Jacques Ferland


In 1923, Portland, Maine voters approved passed a ballot measure that jettisoned the nearly century-old Council-Mayor plan in favor of a Council-City Manager form of governance. This dramatic alteration was supported by the Portland Chamber of Commerce and the Ku Klux Klan; it allowed the centralization of political power in the hands of an appointed City Manager and a City Council dominated by business interests. Taking this campaign as its focus, the following study incorporates nativism, class conflict, and urban reform in Portland, Maine with a focus on the period of 1840-1923. It blends ethnic, political, and urban history to analyze several periods of heightened class conflict between the city’s largely Yankee business elites and the workers and ethnic communities which challenged their dominance. Special attention is given to the later portion of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era (1886-1916) as well as the subsequent backlash (1917-1923). During each crisis, Yankee business leaders maintained their dominant social and economic position by building cross-class alliances through religious and ethnic appeals to Yankee workers and professionals. These alliances proved necessary for business elites in their efforts to overcome challenges posed by radical workers and ethnic communities. One of the favored tools for suppressing increased demands for democracy on the municipal level was municipal charter reform. This study demonstrates that such reforms were aimed at suppressing the threat of radical democracy to preserve ethnocentric capitalist hegemony. The latter portion of this thesis focuses on increased xenophobia during World War I and the first Red Scare, before examining the rise of the Ku Klux Klan (1920-1923). Portland’s Ku Klux Klan was somewhat dissimilar from other incarnations of the Klan; rather than oppose big business and embark on a campaign of terror and violence, it preferred to engage in political struggle, often alongside the Chamber of Commerce. With the Chamber providing the policy and the Klan providing an emotional appeal to drive turnout, the two groups defeated a disorganized opposition to institute a Council-City Manager proposal in Maine’s largest city.