What is the “codfish aristocracy”?

Codfish aristocracy is now often applied to persons who, lacking in real culture, make a vulgar display of recently acquired wealth. Sometimes the term is also applied to families who were once rich and who still “put on considerable dog,” but who actually are so poor that they must live economically to support their pretensions. Originally codfish aristocracy was applied particularly to families who were supposed to have become rich from the fisheries of Massachusetts, a state noted for its codfish. On March 17, 1784, John Rowe, a Boston merchant, a motion in the legislature that “leave be given to hang up the representation of a Codfish in the room where the House sits, as a memorial of the importance of the Cod-Fishery to the welfare of the Commonwealth.” The motion carried and the effigy of a codfish, made of pine, was hung up opposite the speaker’s chair in the chamber of fhe House of Representatives in the Massachusetts statehouse in Boston, where it hangs to this day. In the fall of that same year Francisco de Miranda, the South American soldier and revolutionist, visited Boston and wrote that in the old statehouse he found the “figure of a cod-fish of natural size made of wood and in bad taste.” Many years later an aluminum codfish, emblem of the state’s fishing industry, was placed in the senate chamber.