Maine Labor and Radical History Online Library

Analysis of the 1848 Vote on the 10 Hours Law

Will Chapman
October 2021

In a recent installment of Radical Mainers, Andy O'Brien and I discussed an 1848 law which made ten hours, "a legal days work," in the state of Maine. The text of this law, as originally proposed, may be found here, and the amended bill, as enacted, may be found here. The most notable difference is the insertion, at the end of the first section, of the phrase "provided the provisions of this section shall not apply to monthly labor or agricultural employments." This is unsurprising given the influence that agricultural interests would have had in the state at the time, and indeed, as shown below, by far the most common profession among members of the Maine House of Representatives was "farmer." Many of these men probably relied themselves on hired labor on their farms.

In researching this vote, I conducted an analysis to determine the partisan affiliations of the legislators who voted for and against it. As the Augusta Age reported on August 10, 1848, when the bill was voted on in the House it was split into two sections. The Age included a full list of which legislators voted for and against the first section of the bill, which passed 67-39, while it included only the whole vote on the second section, which passed 72-41. Therefore, I was able to analyze data only for the vote on the first section. (It is not clear to me why seven legislators who were apparently present to vote on the second section abstained on the first section.)

To determine partisan affiliations, I used a list published in the April 29, 1848, edition of the Gospel Banner newspaper, published in Augusta. The party structure was less formalized then, and I did not find these affiliations listed in any official state documents. (If anyone knows of a better source of this data, please let me know.)

The conclusion was that the split was partisan, but not exclusively so. Of those legislators whose party can be determined, Democrats favored the bill by a 53-to-20 margin, while members of the Whig party opposed it 19-to-12.

I also used data from the 1850 United States census (or substitutes where this was not found) to attempt to determine the professions of the legislators whose votes were recorded on the first section, to see if any interesting patterns emerged. I did find some relatively strong occupational influences. Some general observations include:

  • About half of the legislators were farmers or probably farmers. They voted in favor by 31 yea to 21 nea. So they still supported the bill by a large margin, but were less likely to support it than others.
  • The twelve I identified as lawyers opposed it 7-5.
  • Those listed as "traders" or "merchants" were in support 9-2.
  • There were five clergymen and every single one voted in favor.
  • Unsurprisingly, the only two listed as "laborers" both voted in favor. Also on the yea side were a handful of carpenters, joiners, a blacksmith, a brickmason, and other tradesman, and two sailors/mariners. A tanner, a miller, and one blacksmith voted against.

This data set is freely available without restriction to anyone who wishes to carry it further.

Download spreadsheet