1.2 New England (1787-1833): The Early National Era



Population, rank

1780

(13 states)

1800

(16 states)

1820

(24 states)

Maine

49,100

 

151,719

 

298,335

12th

New Hampshire

87,800

10th

183,858

11th

244,161

15th

Vermont

47,600

 

154,465

13th

     235,981

16th

Massachusetts

268,600

3rd

422,845

5th

523,287

7th

Rhode Island

52,900

12th

69,122

15th

83,059

20th

Connecticut

206,700

7th

251,002

8th

275,248

14th

Region’s % of US pop.

25.6%

 

23.2%

 

17.2%

 


Key events that shaped law and society:

  • At the beginning of the early national era, New England’s economy was based almost exclusively on agriculture, fishing (in the coastal areas) and timber (in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont), and maritime commerce.  Boston was the second largest port in the United States and was a major center of trans-Atlantic trade.
  • Agriculture declined steadily between 1790 and 1825, as much of New England’s farmland wore out.  Many New Englanders migrated to other parts of the nation, particularly upstate New York and the upper Midwest in order to seek better opportunities.  Maritime commerce declined sharply as a result of an 1807 embargo imposed by the Jefferson administration against England and as a result of the War of 1812. 
  • New England states took advantage of their many rivers and large supply of water power to develop mills.  Samuel Slater and other Rhode Islanders became national leaders in developing mill-related technologies, and Massachusetts became a leader in organizing capital and labor to create production on a large scale.  Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island also developed many other small-scale industries.  New England mills also became the first major employers of young American women outside the home, thereby contributing to the steady change in women’s economic, social and legal status during the early 19th century.  As a result, by 1825 New England was the most heavily industrialized region in America.
  • Because New England relied more on commerce than most regions, it was always more strongly Federalist than other regions.  But during the early national period New England, like the rest of America, witnessed an erosion of Federalist influence and a rise in Jeffersonian strength.  .  Hostility to the 1807 embargo and the War of 1812, some of which was fought on the edges of New England, triggered a surge of anti-Jeffersonian sentiment.  In 1815, delegates from the New England states met in Hartford, Connecticut to discuss forming a regional confederation and, possibly, secession.  But the movement and, eventually, New England Federalism died with the end of the war and subsequent economic improvement.
  • Rhode Island continued the maverick path it had followed since its founding.   It was the only New England colony not to create a state constitution at independence:  it continued to use its colonial charter until 1843.  Rhode Island was the last of the colonies to ratify the U.S. Constitution and become a state:  it delayed ratification because it was reluctant to cede power over its state currency system to Congress and because the new Constitution did not contain a bill of rights.  


New states:

  • Connecticut – 1787
  • Massachusetts, New Hampshire – 1788
  • Rhode Island – 1790
  • Vermont – 1791
  • Maine - 1820


View of Boston Harbor (1841) - courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Slater's Mill, Pawtucket, Rhode Island - courtesy Doug Tone and Wikimedia Commons