2.3. The Mid-Atlantic States: The Antebellum Era (1825-1865)


Population (1000s), rank

1820

(24 states)

1840

(26 states)

1860

(33 states)

New York

1,372,812

1st

2,428,921

1st

3,880,735

1st

New Jersey

277,575

13th

373,306

18th

672,035

21st

Pennsylvania

1,049,458

3rd

1,724,033

2nd

2,906,215

2nd

Total population

% of US pop.

 

28.0%

 

 

26.5%

 

 

23.7%

 


Key events that shaped law and culture:

  • The Erie Canal, completed in 1825, made up New York the leading destination for Midwestern trade.  The Canal forged lasting economic and social bonds between the Midwest and the East.  Inspired by the Canal, Pennsylvania also engaged in extensive state-sponsored canal and railroad construction during the 1830s and 1840s.  
  • Between 1815 and 1840, New York City moved ahead of Boston and Philadelphia and emerged as the nation’s leading port and commercial center.  This was due in large part to the city’s adoption of the European system of auctioning goods brought into port rather than only accepting goods earmarked for particular merchants, and it gave the city an entrée to British and European markets that other cities could not match.
  • New York merchants were also the first to spot the potential opportunities for transporting immigrants to America.  New York City also became the major American port of entry for immigrants, millions of whom stayed in New York and ultimately transformed its population and society.
  • Philadelphia also continued to be a major port, and it forged strong trade ties with New York that benefited both cities – and the state of New Jersey, across whose territory such trade had to take place. 
  • New York state was an incubator for numerous religious and social reform movements, including:
    • The “Second Great Awakening,” a revival of religious fervor in the “Burned-Over District” of western New York which was closely associated with increased opposition to slavery and support for women’s rights.
    • The birth of the American women’s rights movement, which is generally considered to have begun began in 1848 at a convention held in Seneca Falls.  New York was home to many of the movement’s early leaders including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
    • New Yorkers such as newspaper editors William Cullen Bryant and William Leggett provided much of the intellectual foundation for Jacksonian reforms such as popular election of judges and homestead exemption laws.  Some of these reforms were incorporated in New York’s 1846 constitution, which served as a model for several new states in the Midwest and west.
  • The industrial revolution proceeded at full speed in the mid-Atlantic region during this era, particularly in Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania’s coal mining industry grew rapidly and gave birth to the state’s iron and steel industry, based in the central part of the state and the Pittsburgh area.  The first major oil discovery took place in western Pennsylvania in 1859; Standard Oil and several other large oil companies began their existence in the state.

Map of Erie Canal and New York state canal system, 1853 - courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Camden & Amboy Railroad stock certificate, 1834 - courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Port of Philadelphia, 1843 - courtesy New York Public LIbrary