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Northeastern United States

The Northeast is a region of the United States. As defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, it covers nine states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

The coastal corridors of Delaware and Maryland are included in the BosWash megalopolis, but the Census Bureau classifies the states as part of the South Atlantic region, part of the South or Southern United States. They had a colonial history associated with the Chesapeake Bay Colony, similar economy for years, and more extensive slavery that contributed to a different culture and demographic pattern for centuries from that of most of the Northeast. Between the American Revolution and the eve of the Civil War, however, because of changing agricultural needs, Delaware freed most of its slaves, and close to half the blacks in Maryland were also free by 1860. Subsequent to the American Civil War in which both Maryland and Delaware fought with the Union (the North), Maryland began to mirror the states of the Northeast economically and politically, and is now more often associated with the Northeast than the South.

The Northeast is the richest region of the United States, including four states with the highest median household income: Maryland (1st), New Jersey (2nd), Connecticut (3rd), and Massachusetts (5th)

Together the region accounts for approximately 25% of U.S. gross domestic product as of 2007. The region is also home to all eight Ivy League schools, at the forefront of education. They generate income by knowledge industries. Only New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Massachusetts rank in the top 15 states in terms of population.

Geography

The Northeast is the smallest in area of the four Census Bureau-defined regions of the US. The region has a landscape varying from the rocky coast of New England to the fertile farmland of the Ohio River Valley behind the Allegheny Front in Pennsylvania. The Isles of Shoals near the Maine/New Hampshire border begin the rocky Atlantic coastline of the Northeast. Jagged cliffs rise up to a hundred feet above the ocean on Maine's northern coast; south of West Quoddy Head Peninsula in Maine, the eastern most point in the United States, the coastline subsides to sandy beaches which extend through the rest of the Northeast's Atlantic coastline.

Four major rivers mouths pierce the coastline to empty into the Atlantic: the Delaware at the New Jersey/Delaware border, the Hudson at the New York/New Jersey border, the Connecticut in Connecticut, and the Kennebec in Maine. The Kennebec River extends over one hundred kilometers from the thick pine forests of Maine past Augusta, Maine to the Atlantic. The Hudson rises in the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York, passes between the Berkshires and the Catskill Mountains, then empties into New York Harbor in the New York metropolitan area. The Mohawk River flows eastward from its source near Utica, New York between the Catskills and the Adirondacks before merging with the Hudson north of Albany. Two of the Great Lakes, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, also border the region. The St. Lawrence River, flowing northeast through Canada to the Atlantic, borders northern New York.

The Connecticut River flows south, running along the border of New Hampshire and Vermont between the Green Mountains and White Mountains, before flowing through Springfield, Massachusetts, and Hartford, Connecticut, on its way to empty into Long Island Sound. In the White Mountains of New Hampshire is Mt. Washington, the tallest mountain in the Northeast and the windiest location in the United States. The White Mountains were also the location of the famous geological formation called the Old Man of the Mountain, which collapsed in 2003. To the west of the Green Mountains on the New York/Vermont border, and extending into Canada, is the glacier-formed Lake Champlain, where Vermont's largest city Burlington is located. The Lake Champlain area drains north into the St. Lawrence river valley.

The Delaware River flows from its source between the Pocono Mountains and the Catskills down, forming the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and passing through the Lehigh Valley, Trenton, and Philadelphia areas before emptying into Delaware Bay on the Delaware/New Jersey Border. The Susquehanna River begins in the Catskill Mountains of New York and winds down a valley between the Allegheny Plateau and the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania before crossing the border into Maryland, and emptying into the Chesapeake Bay.

To the North and West of the Susquehanna are the Finger Lakes of New York, so called because they resemble human fingers, and the Northeast's borders with the Great Lakes of Lake Ontario in New York and Lake Erie in both Pennsylvania and New York. On an isthmus between the two Great Lakes on the New York/Ontario border near Buffalo is Niagara Falls, one of the most famous waterfalls in the world.

To the South, flowing out of the Allegheny Plateau to the southwest is the Ohio River, formed by the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers at Pittsburgh. It flows west and becomes the border between Upper South states such as Kentucky and Midwestern states such as Ohio, then merges with the Mississippi River.

Climate

Despite being geographically one of the smallest regions of the United States, the northeastern states possess a wide range of climates. Rainfall varies from over annually in some coastal areas, to in the western part of Pennsylvania and New York. Snowfall can range from over per year in Upstate New York to only trace amounts in the coastal areas of Maryland.

Generally, northern New England, the parts of New York north of the Mohawk River, highland areas in the Appalachians and some coastal areas possess a warm summer humid continental climate (Koppen climate classification Dfb), with warm, humid summers and snowy, often bitterly cold winters. Cities in this zone include Syracuse, NY; Burlington, VT; and Portland, ME. Portland's winters are softened because it is on the coast.

Below this line, much of the region (except for the higher elevations) has a hot summer humid continental climate (Koppen Dfa), with hot, humid summers and cold, snowy winters. Much of New England and the northern part of the Mid-Atlantic States have this climate. Boston, MA, New York, NY and Pittsburgh, PA have this climate. Extreme southeastern Pennsylvania including Philadelphia, PA has a humid subtropical climate (Koppen Cfa), with hot, humid summers and more mild winters.

Overview

New England

New England is perhaps the best-defined region of the U.S., with more uniformity and more of a shared heritage than other regions of the country. New England has played a dominant role in American history. From the late 17th century to the mid to late 18th century, New England was the nation's cultural leader in political, educational, cultural and intellectual thought. During this time, it was the country's economic center.

The earliest European settlers of New England were English Protestants who came in search of religious liberty. They gave the region its distinctive political format — town meetings (an outgrowth of meetings held by church elders), in which citizens gathered to discuss issues of the day. Town meetings still function in many New England communities today and have been revived as a form of dialogue in the national political arena.

Education is another of the region's strongest legacies. The cluster of top-ranking universities and colleges in New England—including four of the eight schools of the Ivy League, as well as MIT, NESCAC schools, Boston College, Northeastern University, and numerous other elite colleges and universities—is unequaled by any other region. America's first college, Harvard, was founded at Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1636, and its second, Yale in Connecticut in 1701. Many of the graduates from these schools end up settling in the region after school, providing the area with a well-educated populace and its most valuable resource, as the area is relatively lacking in natural resources other than "ice, rocks, and fish". Soon after many descendants of original New England settlers migrated westward in search of land, new waves of immigrants from Canada, Ireland, Italy, and eastern Europe moved into the region to take industrial jobs. Many of their descendants became educated and joined the middle classes. Despite a changing population, New England maintains a distinct cultural identity. As a whole, the area of New England tends to be progressive in its politics, strongly supportive of education and community-building, and has had a much lower rate of homicides than the South.

Certain architecture and sights have come to stand as New England icons: the simple woodframe houses and white church steeples that are features of many small towns, and lighthouses that dot the Atlantic coast. New England is well known for its mercurial weather, its crisp chill, and vibrantly colored foliage in autumn. In colonial times, the colder weather killed off germs and gave the region a healthier environment than that of the Chesapeake Bay Colony, where settlers suffered from summer illnesses and mortality was much higher. The region is a popular tourist destination.

The extreme southwestern part of the region (that is, the western third or so of Connecticut) is sometimes considered culturally and demographically to be more like the Mid-Atlantic region because of its proximity to New York City.

Mid-Atlantic

These areas provided the young United States with heavy industry and served as the "melting pot" of new immigrants from Europe. Cities grew along major shipping routes and waterways. Such flourishing cities included Philadelphia on the Delaware River and New York City on the Hudson River. By Anastasiya Dutch immigrants moved into the lower Hudson River Valley in what is now New Jersey and New York State. An English Protestant sect, the Friends (Quakers), settled Pennsylvania. In time, all these settlements came under English control. With the great shipping ports of Philadelphia and, secondly, New York City, the region continued to be a magnet for people of diverse nationalities.

Early settlers were mostly farmers and traders, and the region served as a bridge between North and South. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania midway between the northern and southern colonies, was the site of the Continental Congress, the convention of delegates from the original colonies that organized the American Revolution. The same city was the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the U.S. Constitution in 1787.

The Mid-Atlantic, with two of America's largest cities, New York City and Philadelphia, has been an industrial powerhouse and major center for international trade. With New York as the center of finance, it continues as important economically. A major center of finance, pharmaceutical industry, technology, universities (including four of the eight Ivy League universities), business, media, education, the arts, and cuisine, the area is one of America's most prominent regions. Many immigrants are attracted to the region. New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey are rich in immigrant culture. Still rich in cultures influenced by European heritage, the region has recently attracted more Asian and Hispanic immigrants. African immigrants also have many centers in urban and suburban areas.

Culture

Language, ethnicity, and religion

Culturally, the Northeast is somewhat different from the rest of the United States. In contrast to the South which has been predominantly Protestant, since the 19th century, the Northeast has developed into a region with a high percentage of Catholics in seven of nine states. Each Northeastern state has a plurality of Catholics, with Rhode Island having the highest percentage of Catholics in the United States at 63%. This is chiefly due to substantial immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries from Ireland, Italy, Poland, Hungary, southern Germany, Quebec, Puerto Rico and Latin America. The Northeast states contain the highest concentration of Irish Americans and Italian Americans in the nation.

The Northeast is home to many other religious groups. For example, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have the highest percentage of Jewish Americans in the nation, descended from late 19th and early 20th century immigrants from Germany and eastern Europe. Their tradition of social activism and education has strongly contributed to the region's leadership. Connecticut and Massachusetts also have a significant percentage of Jewish Americans relative to most other U.S. states.

The Northeast contains the greatest accent diversity in the country, including:

The Northeast is an ethnically diverse region, with numerous African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, though it has generally low numbers of Native Americans. The high level of diversity has much to do with the magnet of New York City, which was and still is an entry point for many immigrants. The other major cities of the region have significant ethnic diversity as well. The three largest cities in the Census-defined Northeast: (New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston) have the same four largest ethnic groups: African American, Italian, Irish, and Puerto Rican.

People of many European-American backgrounds live in the Northeast. White Northeasterners frequently identify with their ethnic heritage more strongly than do U.S.-born whites from other U.S. regions. Massachusetts, particularly in the Boston area, is regarded as the Irish capital of the United States. New York City, Philadelphia, and New Jersey have long been known for their many Irish Americans and Italian Americans (most of whom have moved to suburban areas since World War II). The New York City borough of Brooklyn also historically was a major center of Jewish-American population. While a significant community still lives there, many of their descendants moved to the suburbs or other cities. In the mid-20th century Jewish Americans made up over 50% of the borough's white population, but their proportion has decreased markedly since then. Residential succession happens in most areas.

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania has traditionally been the location of the famous Pennsylvania Dutch, descended from Reform Protestant German immigrants. In recent decades they have been joined by a large, vibrant Hispanic population.

Overall, the Northeast is especially noted for having a high percentage of Italians, but also has high percentages of people of Irish, Jewish, German, Portuguese, and French-Canadian descent. The cities of New Bedford, Massachusetts, Fall River, Massachusetts, Kearny, New Jersey, and Newark, New Jersey each have high populations of people of Portuguese and Brazilian descent. Mount Vernon, New York, a small city just to the north of New York City has attracted Brazilian immigrants, as well as a significant African-American and CaribbeanWest Indian-American community.

The Northeast has the second largest Asian-American population in the nation, after the West Coast. The most numerous of these groups are Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Filipino, in that order. There are also significant numbers of Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Cambodians.

Almost all the Asian Americans are concentrated in four states: New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. However, Connecticut has recently attracted more Asian immigrants and migrants as well.

The Northeast has the third largest Hispanic population, after the West Coast and the Southwest. Unlike the West, Northeast Hispanics are chiefly of Puerto Rican heritage. They live mostly in the states of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. In 2006, the population of Lawrence, Massachusetts, a city of approximately 70,000 people, was estimated to be 72.3% of Latino descent, chiefly Dominican or Puerto Rican. The Northeast has the most people in the nation of "Other Hispanic" heritage: the majority from the Dominican Republic, other Central American nations, and Colombia.

The Northeast has the second-largest population of Cuban Americans outside of the South. They are dispersed through the region, but many originally immigrated through New York. Hudson County, New Jersey has the largest Cuban-American population outside South Florida.

While the Northeast has one of the smallest populations of Mexican Americans, the number of migrants are increasing at a rate faster than that of any region in the country. Many cities and towns have significant populations of Hispanics, attracted to jobs in the area.

The Northeast also has the largest population of African-Americans outside the South. Most of the black population resides in New York, Pennsylvania, or New Jersey. New York has more Blacks than any other state; Pennsylvania is ranked tenth in number of African Americans; and New Jersey is ranked fifteenth. Massachusetts and Connecticut also have large black populations.

The Northeast also contains most of the more recent African and West Indian immigrants. The largest neighborhood in Boston, Dorchester, has a surging Cape Verdean-American population. Dorchester, along with Brockton, Fall River and New Bedford in Southeastern Massachusetts, is the capital of the Cape Verde Diaspora. Rhode Island has the highest percentage of Cape Verdeans in the nation; Massachusetts has the highest population and second highest percentage of Cape Verdeans.

The Northeast has the largest concentration and percentage of Jewish Americans in the nation. They are most notable in the areas of Philadelphia, New York City, and southern New England. The region also has the highest number of Hindus and Sikhs in the nation, with slight more than the West. The Northeast has attracted more people of Indian descent than any other part of the country, and it has the highest number in the world outside India.

The region is also home to many residents who are Muslim, Buddhist and other faiths. Due to increased immigration from eastern European nations in the last three decades, the region has the highest number of Eastern Orthodox Christians in the nation.

While much of the region is highly diverse, the Northeast also contains the three states with the highest percentage of European Americans: Maine (96.9% white), Vermont (96.9%), and New Hampshire (96.2%). Most are descendants of colonial and 19th century immigrants from the British Isles and Europe; these three states also have have high concentrations of French Canadians.

Cuisine

The Northeast has from colonial times had a strong fishing and seafaring tradition.

The result has been an intensely developed seafood sector, which today booms with two centuries of experience behind it and produces some of the most famous dishes in the world. Maine's excellent lobster is shipped around the nation. Boston, one of the oldest seaports in America, makes what the locals consider the finest clam chowder in the United States. New England is also famous for fried and steamed clams.`

Philadelphia's large immigrant population has contributed to a large mixture of tastes to mingle and develop. This city is known for its soft pretzels, cheesesteaks, and hoagies, but also has many fine Italian and continental restaurants, supplemented by more recent Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants who have added new flavors to the mix. From an earlier period, Pennsylvania and New Jersey are also known for their citizens' traditionally enthusiastic consumption of scrapple, a breakfast food mostly unknown outside of the region. Philadelphia has also been ranked as one the top restaurant cities in the U.S.

Urban, suburban, and rural

The entire population of the northeastern United States is estimated at 54,680,626. Much of the history of the Northeast is characterized by archetypical medium and large manufacturing cities. The sometimes urban character of the region gives it a strange mix of reputations, and many view Northeastern cities as places of economic opportunity. In major Northeastern cities, ethnic enclaves aren't uncommon. Most of the cities have large, and at times, provocative, artistic and theatrical scenes.

Older religious and ethnic factionalism have become relatively minor concerns. At the same time, the major cities are expensive and have large economic disparities, often giving them a reputation of being impersonal and aloof. The decreased importance of manufacturing has left many of the cities without an economic base, giving some of them a reputation for urban decay. Notable examples of cities left damaged and often severely depopulated from loss of manufacturing include Yonkers, Utica, Buffalo, Syracuse, and even parts of New York City in New York state; Newark, Trenton and Paterson in New Jersey; Lowell, Lawrence, Worcester and Springfield in Massachusetts; Hartford and Bridgeport in Connecticut; and Pittsburgh, Scranton, and Harrisburg in Pennsylvania; Providence in Rhode Island. However, examples dot the entire region and much of the neighboring region of the American Midwest.

Some of these cities, though, have enjoyed revivals in recent years, replacing their economic reliance on manufacturing with job development in the medical, technical and educational industries. Pittsburgh, for example, now counts only 23% of its workforce in blue collar occupations according to a 2005 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The last of the city's steel mills closed in 1998.

Though it generally is seen as having a very urban character, at least in its most populated areas, the Northeast was one of the first regions to undergo heavy post-World War II suburbanization. The most notable of these early suburbs was Levittown in the Long Island region of New York, east of New York City; Levittown is often regarded as the archetype of the "cookie-cutter" suburb. The suburban spawl of New Jersey is, likewise famous, as is New Jersey's reputation for urban decay, despite the region's having the lowest murder rate in the United States.

Today, suburbanization is a rampant trend in United States housing development outside of the Northeast, driven by widespread use of the automobile and de-emphasis on mass transit and commuter railroads as popular forms of transportation. Nonetheless, the iconic New York subway system is widely used, as is the PATH system connecting Newark, Hoboken, Jersey City, and Manhattan. The New York metropolitan area's Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad, and New Jersey Transit commuter rail are the three largest regional rail systems in the country and together transport about one-third of commuters who use rail transportation in the United States each day.

Many of the major and secondary cities in the region also utilize mass transit. Systems that provide both rail and bus service include Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), Buffalo's Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA), Philadelphia's SEPTA and PATCO, and Pittsburgh's Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT). Many other smaller cities have smaller, bus-only systems. In Pennsylvania, new commuter rail projects, such as CorridorOne, are being undertaken to expand service between Harrisburg and Lancaster. Three states - Connecticut, New Jersey, and Rhode Island - have public transit providers that cover much or all of their respective states.

Rank Metropolitan Area State(s) and/or Territory July 1, 2007
Population Estimate
1 New York CT, NJ, NY, PA 18,815,988
2 Philadelphia DE, MD, NJ, PA 5,827,962
3 Washington DC, MD, VA, WV 5,306,565
4 Boston MA,NH 4,482,857
5 Baltimore MD 2,668,056
6 Pittsburgh PA 2,355,712
7 Providence MA, RI 1,600,856
8 Hartford CT 1,189,113
9 Buffalo NY 1,128,183
10 Rochester NY 1,030,435

Rank City State(s) and/or Territory July 1, 2007
Population Estimate
1 New York NY 8,274,527
2 Philadelphia PA 1,449,634
3 Baltimore MD 637,455
4 Boston MA 590,763
5 Pittsburgh PA 311,218
6 Newark NJ 280,135
7 Buffalo NY 272,632
8 Jersey City NJ 242,389
9 Rochester NY 206,759
10 Yonkers NY 199,244

The Northeast as a megalopolis

Today, the coastal Northeast is said to resemble a megalopolis, or megacity, an interdependent network of cities and suburbs that blend into each other. Economically, the region provides many of the financial and government services the rest of the country and much of the world depends on, from New York's Wall Street to Boston's academia to Washington's K Street lobbying firms. The megacity is called BosWash, for Boston-Washington describing the width of the region from one metropolitan area to another, or Bosnywash, for Boston-New York-Washington, describing the northern and southern anchor cities and most important metropolitan region in the middle. It is linked largely by the I-95 Interstate, which runs from Florida, through North Carolina, Virginia, around Washington, D.C., through Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and up to Boston and into Maine. By rail, the cities are linked by Amtrak's Northeast Corridor. Suburbs of Boston as far north as New Hampshire and even Maine, as well as Washington's suburbs in northern Virginia are all part of BosWash.

Political scientists Ruy Teixeira and John B. Judis in their book The Emerging Democratic Majority argue that city and suburbs in Bosnywash and in other regions of the country are moving towards a state of economic and cultural seamlessness. Teixeira and Judis use the increasingly similar voting and demographic patterns of city and suburbs to make their argument. It is also evidenced in increasing population density and tightly linked infrastructure. Along New Jersey's Gold Coast, the area across the Hudson River from New York City, population density has become so great that the state built the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system to decrease traffic congestion. This system complements the PATH system, New Jersey Transit commuter bus and rail service, a complex highway transportation system, and Port Authority Airports. Future expansion of Hudson-Bergen Light Rail may go to Staten Island in New York City to the south, and throughout Bergen and southern Passaic Counties to the north and northwest. Similarly, since the 19th century both Boston's and Philadelphia's have connected their cities with surrounding suburbs by rail and bus. Further, much of the Northeast region is heavily linked by state-run commuter trains and Amtrak.

Despite the heavy urban/suburban characteristics of the coastal region, many rural areas survive. Much of Upstate New York, and even parts of Westchester County closer to New York City, have decidedly rural characteristics. The Pine Barrens and the part of northwestern New Jersey known as the Skylands are known as retreats from the urban areas of the Northeast. In fact, New Jersey is more rural than most people realize despite its stereotype of urban and suburban sprawl. Both Long Island and western New York have well-known wine-producing regions. New York is a heavily agricultural state. Even New York City's boroughs of Queens and Staten Island had farm production well into the late 20th century. Small towns and cities dot western Massachusetts' Berkshire region, as well as Vermont, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire.

While formerly important rural industries like farming and mining have decreased in importance in recent decades, they persist. Artisan dairy and cheese producers and organic farmers are becoming more important in upstate New York and New England, where they are building relationships with major universities and urban farmers' markets. Pennsylvania also emphasizes programs for farmers' markets and community-supported agriculture in the "Buy Fresh; Buy Local" movement.

Economy

Until World War II, the Northeast's economy was largely driven by industry. In the second half of the 20th century, most of New England's traditional industries have relocated to states or foreign countries where goods can be made more cheaply. In more than a few factory towns, skilled workers have been left without jobs. The gap has been partly filled by the microelectronics, computer and biotech industries, fed by talent from the region's prestigious educational institutions.

Like New England, the Mid-Atlantic region has seen much of its heavy industry relocate elsewhere. Other industries, such as drug manufacturing and communications, have taken up the slack. The economy of the New York City sub-regions is more complex; its fortunes heavily (but far from completely) dependent on the financial industry and the stock market.

As the service sector is less dependent on heavy labor than the formerly dominant industrial sector, the incentives unskilled immigrants and unskilled laborers once had to move to the Northeast have diminished. They lack the skills to compete in, for example, the financial, technical, educational, and medical markets. However, the Northeast remains a magnet for skilled workers from around the world.

The Northeast area is the wealthiest region of the country. The Upper East Side of the New York City borough of Manhattan hosts the largest concentration of individual wealth in the world. Connecticut and New Jersey are the wealthiest states in the union in terms of both per capita and household income. Also, in history, the Northeast was always known for its trading because of its location on the Atlantic Ocean, and its abundance of harbors.

Politics

The Northeast region has been known recently for its political liberalism. For example, every state in the region had a majority vote for John Kerry in the 2004 election. However, Pennsylvania is considered a battleground state, meaning that either a Republican or Democratic Presidential candidate could win Pennsylvania. In 2000, Pennsylvania voted 51-47 for Al Gore; in 2004, it voted 51-49 for John Kerry. New Hampshire, with its unique tradition of libertarian politics, has also recently been considered a battleground state. In 2000, it went to George W. Bush 48-47, but in 2004, John Kerry won New Hampshire 51-49.

Colonial to 1960s

Traditionally, the Northeast was a Whig and Republican stronghold of culture related to Puritan and Yankee New England. What historians have described as Greater New England culture extended across the Northern tier, including the Upper Midwest, to the settlement of Washington and Oregon. Pennsylvania has culturally sometimes shared more with Mid-Atlantic states, as this region had a different pattern of early immigration and settlement.

Since the early 19th century, the Republicans were economically and socially progressive, advocating public education, freedom of movement, entrepreneurial solutions, and open markets. They spurred industrialization and endorsed the concept of free labor (a belief that laborers have the right to sell their labor in exchange for wages). In part because the North developed a different labor market, its residents were able to abolish slavery locally with little economic impact, although its wealth had been built on trading, shipping and manufacturing linked directly to the slave economy. As part of numerous progressive movements in the 19th century, abolitionists became active in the Northeast. Republicans generally opposed labor unions and slavery. The Greater New England region had consistent voting patterns in Presidential elections from 1856 until the 1960s, which marked major cultural and political realignments across the nation. The Republican regional identification was even stronger at the Congressional level.

From the American Civil War until the Great Depression, Northeastern and Midwestern Republicans and their business interests dominated American politics. The wealth and power of the Northeast during this period generated animosity in regions of the country with more agrarian interests, in part because of Republican domination.

Most immigrants and working class residents of major cities were more likely to support the rival Democratic Party and often became linked to powerful political machines that dished out patronage (the most famous of these machines was Tammany Hall in New York City, which continued to be powerful into the 1960s). Immigration to Northeastern cities rapidly pushed the population of the region upwards from the 1790s until World War II. It was not until the 1920s and 1930s that ethnic voters became more important to the Democratic Party in the north. The Democratic Party often won the support of immigrants through aid and political patronage.

In the 20th century, there were major demographic changes from two waves of the Great Migration of African Americans, from 1910-1970 overall. In multiple acts of resistance, African Americans left the lynchings, segregation and disfranchisement of the South to move to northern and midwestern cities for new industrial jobs and better opportunities for education. During this period, half the African-American population went from being rural to becoming urbanized. They joined and greatly expanded black populations that had increased after the Civil War in cities like New York and Boston, and also migrated to such cities as Philadelphia, Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, Hartford, New Haven and Pittsburgh. In the 1920s New York's Harlem became a center of black intellectual and artistic life for the nation. A total of seven million blacks migrated to the North, Midwest, and West, especially to California. From the administration of FDR during the Great Depression on, many African Americans became Democrats. Before that they had been allied with the Republicans, the party of Lincoln.

By the late 1870s, the Democratic Party had regained power as the prevailing party in the American South. There were some Republican and Populist coalitions that threatened their dominance in the late 1880s and 1890s, but the Democrats solved that by disfranchising most African Americans and many poor whites. Despite occasional disagreements between regional party factions, the two did not interfere in each other's region despite distinct differences in ideology. The coalition between white ethnic residents of Northern cities and those of the agrarian South was paradoxical since the Northern Democratic Party had many union and European ethnic members, while the Southern Democratic Party was the party of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. There had been much more immigration to the North rather than the South in the late 19th and early 20th century, as that was where the industrial jobs and strong economies were. This included the northern tier of the Midwest.

In the 20th century the party in the South was anti-union, many of its members were hostile to Irish Catholics and other recent immigrants, and it both created and enforced racial segregation through late 19th century Jim Crow laws designed to establish white supremacy. In addition, by effectively disfranchising most African Americans and many poor whites through statute and constitutional changes, the white Democrats established one-party rule in the South that lasted in most states until after passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s. Members of the party in both regions did share opposition to the Republican Party, but for different reasons.

Northern Democratic parties in some cities controlled political machines that were avenues to power for ethnic groups, particularly the Irish in New York and Boston. They supported policies that were designed to alleviate working-class poverty. (Racism was a shared trait between some Northern and Southern Democrats as well. While the South promoted segregation and later Jim Crow laws, the ethnic labor force of the North feared African Americans would threaten their employment when they migrated to the cities. Ethnic Irish were chiefly responsible for racial violence against blacks in cities such as New York and Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th century, and during Red Summer of 1919.)

From the 1930s to the 1960s, despite the power of labor unions in the Northeast, the professional and middle class stayed chiefly loyal to the Republicans. They regarded the Democratic Party as too supportive of government interference in the economy and overly supportive of social programs. After World War II, many middle-class and working class people joined earlier movements to the suburbs. Railroads had spurred the development of commuter suburbs by the late 19th century for major Northeast cities. For years second and third generation immigrants became Republican as they entered professional ranks rather than taking the Democratic Party with them. This caused the suburbs to become Republican as the cities remained largely Democratic enclaves. As a result, the Republicans remained competitive in the northeast during much of the remainder of the 20th century.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's leadership during the Great Depression and World War II expanded Democratic loyalty in many regions from the 1930s until the 1960s.

1960s to present

Supreme Court of the United States decisions that struck down southern laws for disfranchisement and segregation, together with Federal intervention during the Civil Rights Movement under President Kennedy, and President Lyndon B. Johnson's leadership in helping gain passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, were all catalysts in southern white Democrats beginning to turn to the Republican Party in the late 1960s and 1970s. Added to that was social unrest sparked by opposition to the Vietnam War and far-reaching cultural changes.

Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy built on the wedge of southern discontent with civil rights activism to sway regional party loyalty. When the Democrats began softening their economic policies in the early 1990s, suburban northeastern voters responded favorably and became more supportive of them. On the federal level, many northeastern voters have abandoned the Republican Party, sometimes associating it with reactionary and oppressive policies and other times merely preferring Democratic economic solutions (see New Democrats). However, the local Republican Party affiliates in much of the Northeast remain more socially liberal than their counterparts in other regions of the country.

Since the late 20th century, the region's politics have been largely explained by a strong coalition of demographics predominant in the North that are overwhelmingly Democratic. These groups include the majority Catholic population with a significant urban, Democratic legacy (this would apply to the Jewish population as well), artists, educators, and intellectuals of New York City, Boston, New Haven, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, and Ivy League university towns; the large minority populations of those same cities; a large socially conservative but economically liberal blue-collar population throughout the region; and the often socially liberal suburbanites of New Jersey, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. Pro-business policies espoused by the national Democratic Party since the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 have drawn many upper-class white professionals into the Democratic fold who would have been Republicans as late as the 1980s.

This also continues its contrast and rivalry with the more conservative South, where a majority of white conservatives have supported national Republican candidates in recent decades. Within the Northeast, there are significant political and demographic differences between the cities and the suburbs that surround them, with even more differences from the more thinly populated outlying areas. This is particularly prominent in Philadelphia, and New York City (which even has a secession movement). Cities must compete with the suburbs and rural areas for state funding. New York gets back only part of the revenue it generates for the state.

However, because of the increasing integration of the BosWash megacity combined with the more centrist Democratic Leadership Council's appeal to free trade advocates, ideological differences have softened between city and suburb in recent decades, strengthening the Democratic Party overall. Residents of first-tier suburbs have begun facing changes once regarded as uniquely urban, such as gangs, urban crowding, and drug abuse, while becoming increasingly ethnically diverse. In addition, they often found that unbroken Republican Party leadership resulted in corruption and poor practices, as in Nassau County on Long Island. Both Nassau County and Suffolk County have elected Democratic County Executives in recent years.

Post-war migration patterns weakened the Northeast's power considerably. Industry often relocated to the West Coast and South since land was less expensive, the areas were less crowded, and they were little unionized. By the 1970s, California had surpassed New York as the most populous state, and by 1994 Texas had pushed New York to third place. By 2020, Florida is predicted to push New York to the rank of fourth most populated state. While New York City remains by far the largest city in the United States and a large recipient of immigrants, most immigration now comes from Latin America to border states such as Arizona, Texas, California, and New Mexico. Secondary cities in the northeast region, such as Buffalo, never regained their economic foothold after the decline of industry. Larger and more famous cities such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia have developed sophisticated service and knowledge industry economies.

Today, together with the West Coast and upper Midwest, the Northeast is one of three regions where the majority votes for the Democratic Party in Presidential elections.

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