2.2. The Mid-Atlantic States: The Early Republican Era (1776-1825)


Key events that shaped law and culture:

A battleground between Federalists and Jeffersonians: 

  • New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were central to the struggle between Federalists and Jeffersonians for control of America’s political and economic future. Federalists, centered in New York City and Philadelphia, wanted a strong central government that would encourage manufacturing and commerce; Jeffersonians wanted a more decentralized, agrarian society.
  • The two parties made vitriolic attacks on each other through the press and in the process helped define the rights of free speech and freedom of the press in early America.
  • Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican party eventually triumphed, but Federalist influence lingered in each state’s judiciary long after it had faded from other branches of government.  Resulting tensions led to the unsuccessful impeachment of two of Pennsylvania’s three supreme court justices in 1804.    

Emergence of the mid-Atlantic region as America’s financial and commercial hub:

  • New York’s construction of the Erie Canal (1817-1825) created a large commerce with the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes regions and allowed hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and Yankees to migrate to the upper Midwest, on which they placed a strong political and cultural stamp.
  • New York City replaced Boston as the nation’s leading port partly because of Erie Canal’s construction and partly because of other innovations, such as the auction system for selling imported goods and governmentally-encouraged development of the nation’s first steamboat service.  
End of the mid-Atlantic frontier:  New Englanders migrated to western New York in large numbers between 1800 and 1825, completing settlement of the mid-Atlantic region.

Slavery lingered in the mid-Atlantic states after the Revolution, but the process of abolishing slavery began in Pennsylvania in 1780 and was well advanced in all three states by the end of the early republican era.

Leader in the law:  In addition to becoming the nation’s economic leader, New York also became the leader among the states in shaping the law, due partly to its status as the legal publishing center of the United States and the profound influence of its chancellor, James Kent (1801-1823). 

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Martin Van Buren (as leader of the Bucktail faction of the New York Democracy) - courtesy New York Public LIbrary