| Antebellum Pennsylvania was an
exciting time in history. The war with Mexico, the anti-slavery
movement, a growing industrial economy and increased immigration
are all characteristics of pre-Civil War Pennsylvania. Pennsylvanians
generally supported the annexation of Texas and the Mexican-American
War. More Pennsylvanians signed up for the Armed Forces than
could be accepted.
There was also a strong anti-slavery movement happening in
Pennsylvania. In 1846 David Wilmot of Bradford County earned
himself a place in anti-slavery history after presenting to
Congress, the "Wilmot Proviso" opposing the expansion of slavery.
As a group, the Quakers were the first to oppose slavery in
Pennsylvania. The Gradual Emancipation Act was passed in 1780,
which slowly eradicated slavery in Pennsylvania, and many
Pennsylvanians were opposed to returning fugitive slaves back
to their masters. After the Compromise of 1850, it became
law that fugitive slaves must be returned to their masters.
The city of Christiana, Pennsylvania rose up in opposition
of the Compromise, rioting to prevent the law from being implemented.
Many prominent Pennsylvania women were active in the antislavery
movement, some of which were Anna Dickenson, Lucretia Mott,
Ann Preston and Jane Swisshelm. Thaddeus Stevens, infamous
anti-slavery Congressman, was a native of Pennsylvania as
well. Infamous black abolitionists also hailed from Pennsylvania,
including James Forten, Robert Purvis and Underground Railroad
workers Robert Porter and William Still.
Industry thrived in Antebellum Pennsylvania. Post 1840 saw
a shift from home manufacturing to factories and machines,
and by 1860 there were over 200 textile mills in operation.
Leather making, lumber, shipbuilding, publishing, tobacco
and papermaking continued to flourish. Pennsylvania produced
half of the nations iron, and laid claim to more railroads
than any other state by the time of the Civil War. With industrial
growth came the rise of unions. One of the earliest unions
was the Workingmen's Party that formed in Pennsylvania in
the 1840s. The party demanded the end of imprisonment for
debt, fought for a free public school system. The party also
fought heavily against the decline of their wages due to increasing
factories and machinery.
Heavy immigration was also characteristic of Antebellum Pennsylvania.
The Irish Potato Famine of 1845 was responsible for a large
increase of new immigrants from Ireland. A deadly blight hit
the potato crops in eastern Ireland and within the next year
the potato famine swept across the country. Ireland's population
became malnourished and sickly, and a million Irish died of
starvation and illness. Between 1845 and 1855 an estimated
1.5 million Irish immigrated to America, settling mostly in
New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Boston and Baltimore.
Another 600,000 left Ireland for England, Canada and Australia.
The bulk of these immigrants were working class, contributing
to Pennsylvania's industrial growth.
Pennsylvania had always been a religious state, and in the
antebellum period religion grew even stronger as new religions
formed in addition to the existing Protestant and Catholic
religions. The African Methodist Episcopal Church was formed
in 1816, the Church of God was formed in Harrisburg in 1830,
and while living in Susquehanna County from 1827-1830, Joseph
Smith developed his Mormon theology.
University of California, Santa Barbara
© Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent by the author.