Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia, published in 1979, seeks to understand what went wrong by examining the culture of the upper class. This is probably Baltzell’s most well-known and widely read book today, often seen as one of the all-time greatest works of urbanism.
A careful reader, however, will observe that Baltzell’s chief concern is not urbanism, or trying to understand why Philadelphia fell behind Boston economically or in prestige. Rather, Baltzell’s main focus is on diagnosing the crisis of leadership engulfing America in the 1960s and ’70s, which he had seen developing over the course of his entire career.
Baltzell observed that “Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia are more alike in surface ways than any other two cities in America.” But this superficial similarity disguised deep differences between their cultures, resulting from two vastly different founding religious traditions.
The Puritans were Calvinists, a highly intellectual strand of Protestant Christianity. Calvinism’s doctrines, such as that of election, promoted a strict and hierarchical view of authority, a deep respect for education, and a strong drive to achieve underpinned by a theology of vocation. Furthermore, because of the Puritans’ intolerance toward dissenting sects (including Quakers, who were rigorously persecuted, even executed), Boston was largely homogeneous in its early history.12 This promoted a shared set of values among all classes of society and an establishment possessed of traditional class authority.
Boston’s upper class came from families deeply rooted in the community through multiple generations of residence. They were encouraged to develop themselves (and their community) intellectually and economically, and took leadership positions in government and civic affairs. The validity of their leadership was in turn recognized by the other classes in the community. Boston’s upper class produced one of America’s greatest collections of statesmen, literary figures, scientists, and scholars. They invested heavily in public and community-wide institutions, with which they were deeply associated. The leaders of the city and state, for example, often attended Harvard, the country’s leading university since its founding as America’s first university. Boston residents were, and remain, extremely proud of their city. Even today, Massachusetts is America’s most educated state as measured by the share of the population with college degrees.
Philadelphia, by contrast, was founded by Quakers. Pennsylvania was a religious project but also a land speculation venture by William Penn. Penn himself spent little time in the colony, instead delegating leadership to others.
The Quakers who settled Pennsylvania were egalitarian, anti-hierarchical, and anti-intellectual. In contrast to the cold theology of Calvinism, Quakerism believed in the doctrine of “Inner Light” by which God guided man personally through the Holy Spirit within. This led to privileging experience over theology and valuing practical education over higher learning, of which they were skeptical. Quakers were also radical pacifists. This and other tenets of that faith led many to abandon Quakerism for Episcopalianism over time, especially during the Revolution, but Quaker values remained strong in Philadelphia. Penn allowed non-Quakers to migrate to his colony, especially Germans, who he believed held compatible beliefs, and from the start Pennsylvania was culturally pluralistic. But as it entered the era of the national, associational upper class, Philadelphia Society became extremely exclusive, even more so than Boston’s.
The Quaker elite and upper class, both in the United States and England, were often successful in business. They did not, however, take the lead in civic affairs. They ran their own sectarian schools but did not build up public education or public institutions to nearly the same extent as Massachusetts.
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