Maryland State Archives
350 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, MD 21401 Phone: (410) 260-6400
by Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse, State Archivist
By 1900 the population of Maryland was three and a half times what it had been in 1800, reaching a total of 1,188,044, of whom 20% were African American. The most striking change in the intervening 100 years was the urban and new immigrant character of a population free of slavery, with nearly 43% of the total living in a thriving Baltimore city.
All of the counties as we know them today were in existence by 1900, the last being Garrett in 1872, although its western boundary was in dispute with West Virginia and Baltimore City would acquire several square miles of Baltimore County by 1918.
The General Assembly met every two years with Opening Day of a new Legislature falling on January 3, 1900. The previous November a new Governor, Walter Smith, a Democrat, was elected, replacing Lloyd Lowndes, a Republican. The Democrats were in control of both houses after an absence of four years. The total debt was placed at just under $2.6 million dollars, with a positive balance in the Treasury of $707,926, reflecting what Governor Lowndes reported as 'a substantial reduction in the State debt ... in the face of greater appropriations for educational and charitable purposes ... made during any previous administration." According to Governor Lowndes he was leaving office at a time when "the revenues of the State are steadily growing, and with this continuance of increase, which should come under a wise and economical conduct of State affairs, there is no reason why the tax rate of 17 3/4 cents should not be materially lessened, and within a few years, the public debt paid off."
The legislature of 1900 would consider over 1400 bills with slightly over half (747) enacted into law. Roll calls, a rarity reserved for only the most contentious issues in 1800, occurred on almost every bill and amendment.
The State renewed its support for what had once been called “internal improvements,” but with a new focus on public benefit from industrialization and limits on corporate power. The government became a partner in power plants and communications systems for cities and towns by authorizing, funding, and then monitoring industrial development. At the same time, the General Assembly also sought to protect the state’s natural resources. Whereas some measures were continuations of previous trends, such as limits on oystering and crabbing, new efforts were authorized to protect fish, wildlife, and the state reptile – the terrapin turtle. Articles of Incorporation often contained clauses limiting development and protecting the environment.
Reform was the central concern of the day, with the Legislature focusing on the improvement of government and quality of life. New laws countered corruption in local governments. Investigations led to changes in laws throughout the state, but particularly dealing with the center of industrialization and “boss politics” – Baltimore City. On a state-wide scale, employers were instructed to give their employees time to vote, and the public at large was to have a voice in state constitutional amendments. New laws regulated the food industries (especially dairy, butter and the new product margarine) to insure healthy and accurate labeling. Public health and disease control in urban areas were particular concerns. Allocating public funds to private charitable organizations proved the major tactic in combating poverty of an era in which there were wide disparities and inequities in the distribution of wealth. Alcohol production was heavily taxed to reduce consumption, although the principal consequence seemed to increase revenue. To prepare for the future, the State invested heavily in public schools.
1900 was also a year in which the General Assembly displayed a deepening interest in history, balanced with a curious mix of the past and an eye to the future. Marylanders had need for laws to restrain pigs from wandering in towns, but also to stop new machines called bicycles from running down pedestrians on sidewalks. Laws dealing with dogs attacking sheep are recorded along with the authorization of type-written documents as legal records. With one foot in a traditional agricultural world and another in the era of industrialization, the State saw the need to understand the past and to record well for posterity. Legislation funded indexing projects of “ancient” county records and of the State Library’s holdings. To document its actions, the General Assembly called for annual funding of the Maryland Manual, what would become the premier handbook and historical record of State government.
What the year 2000 will bring in the aftermath of its opening day on
January 12, remains to be seen. The challenges are formidable.
The Treasury appears bounteous. Given its long and commendable record
of past accomplishments, illuminated by the sessions of 1700, 1800, and
1900, the least that might be said, however, is that prospects for the
future are bright as long as heed is paid to the lessons of the past, to
the principles of responsible and responsive government, principles which
can be traced with great pride back three hundred and sixty-eight years
Charter of 1632.
The Archives of Maryland Documents for the Classroom series of the Maryland State Archives was designed and developed by Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse and Dr. M. Mercer Neale. This packet was prepared with the assistance of Lynne MacAdam, Kathy Beard, Greg Lepore, Nancy Bramucci, R. J. Rockefeller, and other members of the Archives staff. MSA SC 2221-27. Publication no. 2078.
For further inquiries, please contact Dr. Papenfuse at:
Phone: MD toll free 800-235-4045 or 410-260-6401
© Copyright January 2000 Maryland State Archives.