2.6. The Mid-Atlantic States: Depression, War and Cultural Nationalization (1925-1965)


Population (1000s), rank

1920

(48 states)

1940

(48 states)

1960

(50 states)

New York

10,385,227

1st

13,479,142

1st

16,782,304

1st

New Jersey

3,155,900

10th

4,160,165

9th

6,066,782

8th

Pennsylvania

8,720,017

2nd

9,900,180

2nd

11,319,366

3rd

Total population

% of US pop.

 

21.0%

 

 

20.8%

 


19.1%

 



 Mid-Atlantic cities among U.S.'s 10 largest cities:

1920

1940

1960

New York City

5,620,048 (1st)

7,457,995 (1st)

7,781,984 (1st)

Philadelphia

1,823,779 (3rd)

1,931,334 (3rd)

2,002,512 (4th)

Pittsburgh

588,343 (9th)

671.659 (10th)

Not in top 10


Key events that shaped law and culture:

  • The Great Depression (1929-1941) struck the mid-Atlantic states hard.  Mid-Atlantic legislatures passed a broad variety of relief measures such as mortgage “moratoriums” and laws creating new agencies designed to regulate business competition, encourage labor unions, and improve the economy in other ways.
  • The mid-Atlantic region regained prosperity after the Depression and World War II.  New Jersey in particular benefited from the rapid postwar growth of the New York and Philadelphia metropolitan areas; and its tradition of friendliness to large corporations paid dividends as those companies played a dominant role in postwar growth. 
  • Many regions of America struggled to adjust to an increasingly complex and diverse world after 1925.  The mid-Atlantic states had less trouble with this process than other regions because they had a longer tradition of diversity.  The region was not a racial utopia, but mid-Atlantic legislatures steadily liberalized civil rights laws and the courts vigorously enforced those laws.  But some pockets of retrograde law remained, most notably legislative malapportionment.  All of the mid-Atlantic states had long traditions of giving rural areas more legislative representation than urban areas; when the U.S. Supreme Court declared such apportionment unconstitutional in the early 1960s, the New York and New Jersey courts accepted the new order only with great reluctance.     
  • American culture became increasingly nationalized during this era, due to unifying events such as universal military service and a strong sense of national solidarity during World War II; the educational opportunities the federal G.I. Bill (1946) offered to veterans after the war; the rise of national radio and television networks; and not least, the development of air conditioning, which transformed Southern life and helped bring that region into the national economy.  Elements of nationalization also appeared in American legal culture:  for example, the Uniform Commercial Code was adopted by every state except Louisiana.  Mid-Atlantic states participated fully in the cultural nationalization process.  
Franklin D. Roosevelt (Governor of New York, 1929-1933; President of the U.S., 1933-1945) - courtesy New York Public Library




World War II poster urging Pennsylvanians to volunteer for home service - courtesy Wikimedia Commons






Constructing the New Jersey Turnpike (1951) - courtesy Wikimedia Commons