Northeastern United States

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the Northeast

Red states show the core of the Northeast, states shown as pink may or may not be included in the Northeast, and thus their inclusion or exclusion varies from source to source.

The Northeastern United States is a region of the United States of America defined by the US Census Bureau. The Northeast is bordered to the north by Canada, to the west by the Midwest, to the south by the South, and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. Its largest city, New York City, is also the largest city and metropolitan area in the United States.

As defined by the Census Bureau, the Northeast region of the United States covers nine states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Many unofficial classifications of the region add Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia, Virginia, and West Virginia to the region (especially Maryland and Delaware), while others limit the Northeast to only New England, the New York City Area, the Philadelphia Area, and the Baltimore-Washington Area.

The Northeastern Region is also the wealthiest part of the United States. Four out of the five wealthiest states in the union are found in the Northeast. They are Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York.

New York City alone accounts for more than 5% of US Gross Domestic Product as of 2005.



The Northeast 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 Brunswick, Canada border begins 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. Between Cape Cod in Massachusetts and Cape May in New Jersey are a series of large islands including Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, Block Island, Long Island, Manhattan, and Staten Island.

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 river extends over one hundred kilometers past Augusta, Maine and into the thick pine forests of Maine. The Hudson empties into New York Harbor in the New York Metropolitan Area and extends north between the Berkshires and the Catskill Mountains before it terminates in Upstate New York at its source in the Adirondack Mountains. The Mohawk River flows eastward from its source near Syracuse, New York between the Catskills and the Adirondacks before merging with the Hudson north of Albany.

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 east 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 Delaware River flows from its source between the Pocono Mountains and the Catskills down through the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, through the Bethlehem/Allentown, 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 in the U.S. South and emptying into 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 one of the most famous waterfalls in the world, Niagara Falls. To the south, flowing out of the Allegheny Plateau is the Ohio River which flows through Pittsburgh and on into the U.S. Midwest where it ultimately merges with the Mississippi River.


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 18th century to the mid to late 19th 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 Harvard, Yale, MIT, Tufts, Brown, Dartmouth, Wellesley, Smith, Williams, Amherst, and Wesleyan—is unequaled by any other region. America's first college, Harvard, was founded at Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1636. A number 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, the area being relatively lacking in natural resources, besides "ice, rocks, and fish". True to their enterprising nature, New Englanders have used their brains to make up the gap, for instance, in the 19th century, they made money off their frozen pond water, by shipping ice in fast clipper ships to tropical locations before refrigeration was invented.

As some of the original New England settlers migrated westward, immigrants from Canada, Ireland, Italy, and eastern Europe moved into the region. Despite a changing population, New Englad maintains a distinct cultural identity. It can be seen in the simple woodframe houses and quaint white church steeples that are features of many small towns, and in the traditional lighthouses that dot the Atlantic coast. New England is also well known for its mercurial weather, its crisp chill, and vibrantly colored foliage in autumn. The region is a popular tourist destination. As a whole, the area of New England tends to be progressive in its politics, albeit restrained in its personal mores. Due to the fact that the area is the closest in the United States to England, the region often shows a greater receptivity to European ideas and culture in relation to the rest of the country.

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 due to its very close proximity to New York City.

The 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 New York City on the Hudson River, and Philadelphia on the Delaware River.

The Mid-Atlantic region was settled by a wider range of people than New England. Dutch immigrants moved into the lower Hudson River Valley in what is now New Jersey and New York State. Swedes went to Delaware. An English Protestant sect, the Friends (Quakers), settled Pennsylvania. In time, all these settlements fell under English control, but 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 home to 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.


Language, Ethnicity, and Religion

Culturally, the Northeast is somewhat different from the rest of the United States. While some regions of the United States, such as the U.S. South, are predominately Protestant, half of the states in the Northeast are predominantly Catholic, with Rhode Island having the highest percentage of Catholics in the U.S. The Northeast is also home to many other religious groups. For example, New York has the highest percentage of Jews in the nation, followed by New Jersey. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Maryland also have a significant percentage of Jews relative to most other U.S. states.

There are many different accents in the Northeast, including:

The Northeast is one of the most ethnically diverse region in the U.S. It has high populations of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, although it has a generally low number of Native Americans. The high level of diversity has much to do with New York City, which was and still is an entry point for many immigrants, however, the other major cities of the region have significant ethnic diversity as well. The three largest cities in the census-defined Northeast (New York, Philadelphia, and Boston) have the same four largest ancestries: African American, Italian, Irish, and Puerto Rican.

As is the case in much of the United States, people from many European American backgrounds live in the Northeast, although white Northeasterners frequently identify with their ethnic background more strongly than do whites from other U.S. regions. Massachusetts, particuarly in the Boston area, is regarded as the Irish capital of the US. Brooklyn, New York has long been known for its many Italian-Americans (many of whom have moved to outlying suburban areas). The New York City borough also historically is a major center of the Jewish-American population; while a significant community still lives there, in the mid-20th century Jews made up over 50% of the borough's white population (the city as a whole also contained over 50% of the entire country's Jewish population at the time). Lancaster County, Pennsylvania is home to the famous Pennsylvania Dutch (who are actually of German descent). Overall, the Northeast has high percentages of people of Jewish, Italian, Irish, German, and French-Canadian descent. The cities of New Bedford, Massachusetts and Newark, New Jersey both have high populations of people of Portuguese descent; increasingly so does Mount Vernon, New York, a small city that borders New York City to the north which also has a significant African American and CaribbeanWest Indian community.

Urban, Suburban, and Rural

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. Some view the cities places of economic opportunity for this reason. In major northeastern cities, gay villages and ethnic enclaves aren't uncommon and most of the cities have large, at times provocative, artistic and theatrical scenes. In the past century or so, religious and ethnic factionalism have become less and less of a concern. At the same time, the major cities are expensive and have wide disparities between rich and poor, often giving them a reputation for 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 due to loss of manufacturing include Yonkers, Utica, Buffalo, Syracuse, and even parts of New York City in New York; Newark in New Jersey; Baltimore in Maryland; Lowell in Massachusetts; Hartford in Connecticut; and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. However, examples dot the entire region and much of the neighboring region of the American Midwest.

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 where all houses and streets look pretty much the same. The suburban spawl of New Jersey is, likewise, famous, as is New Jersey's reputation for urban decay.

Today, suburbanization is a rampant trend in United States housing development driven by widespread use of the automobile and de-emphasis on mass transit and commuter railroads as a viable form of transportation. Nonetheless, the subway of New York City is widely used and iconic, and the New York City metropolitan area's Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad 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 utilize mass transit. Systems include Philadelphia's SEPTA and Boston's T. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey operates the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) mass transit system between New Jersey and Manhattan. Syracuse's OnTrack transit service makes Syracuse the smallest city in the United States to have its own transit system, though its not widely used. Further, New Jersey Transit operates commuter rail throughout New Jersey and Maryland's MARC Train system provides that state with rail transportation.

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 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 three primary metropolitan regions. It is linked largely by the I-95 Interstate, which runs from Florida, through Richmond, 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 suburbs of Washington as far south as Orange County, Virginia are arguably all part of Bosnywash.

Some argue, notably political scientists Ruy Teixeira and John B. Judis in their book The Emerging Democratic Majority, that city and suburb 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 demagraphic patterns of city and suburbs to make their arugment. However, it is also evidenced in increasing population density and tightly-linked infrastructure. Along the Gold Coast, the area across the Hudson River from New York City, of New Jersey, 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 could see it go to Staten Island in New York City. Similarly, Boston's transit system links Boston with the surrounding suburbs very seamlessly. Further, much of the Northeast region is heavily linked by state-run commuter trains and Amtrak.

Despite the heavy urban/suburban characteristics of the region, many rural characteristics survive. Much of Upstate New York, and even as far south as Westchester County have decidedly rural characteristics. Both Long Island and northern New York have relatively well-known wine producing regions. New York is a heavily agricultural state, and even New York City's borough of Queens had farm production well into the late 20th century. Small towns and cities dot western Massachusetts' Berkshire region, as well as Vermont, Pennsylvania, western Maryland, and New Hampshire. While formerly important rural industries like farming and mining have decreased in importance in recent decades, they persist.


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 and Washington, DC sub-regions are more complex; the fortunes of the former are heavily (but far from completely) dependent on the financial industry and the stock market, the latter's economy is heavily reliant on the U.S. Federal government and related services.

As the service sector is less dependent on heavy labor than the formerly dominant industrial sector, the incentive unskilled immigrants and unskilled laborers once had to move to the Northeast has largely 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 region is known for its political liberalism. For example, every state in the region voted for John Kerry in the 2004 election.

Historical Politics

Traditionally, the Northeast was the stronghold of the United States Republican Party. During the late 19th century and early 20th century, the Republicans were economically and socially liberal, advocating open markets and endorsing the concept of free labor (a belief that laborers have the right to sell their labor in exchange for wages); therefore, the Republicans of the time generally opposed labor unions and slavery. From the American Civil War until the Great Depression, American politics were largely dominated by Northeastern Republicans and their business interests. The wealth and power of the Northeast during this period generated a great deal of animosity in other regions of the country with more agrarian interests in part because of Republican domination. Some of that animosity still persists today.

The major cities were more likely to be supportive of the rival Democratic Party and often were under the control powerful political machines that dished out patronage (the most famous of these machines was Tammany Hall in New York City, which even held some political power into the 1960s). Immigration to Northeastern cities rapidly pushed the population of the region upwards from the 1790s until World War II and the Democratic Party often won the support of these immigrants through political patronage. The Democratic Party was also the prevailing party in the American South; despite occasional disagreements between the regional party factions, there was little interference between the two even if there were at times vast differences in ideology. The coalition between the cities of the North and the agrarian South was perhaps ironic in the sense that the Northern Democratic Party was made up of ethnic interests (often Irish Catholic) and unions while the Southern Democratic Party was the party of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant and enforcer of Jim Crow laws designed to keep blacks from advancing after the Civil War. What the two factions shared were distaste for the Republicans. Southern Democrats, as well as counterparts in western farming states, wanted to pursue populist and agrarian policies in opposition to Republican industrial interests. Their Northern counterparts wielded vast control over political machines controlled at times by ethnic interests, particularly the Irish in New York and Boston, and supported policies that weren't necessarily anti-industrial, but ostensibly designed to alleviate working class poverty. (Racism was sometimes a shared trait between Northern and Southern Democrats as well. While the South promoted slavery and later Jim Crow laws, the ethnic labor force of the North feared African Americans would threaten their employment if they migrated to the cities and took their jobs.)

From the 1930s to the early 1990s, despite the power of labor unions, the Democratic Party was regarded as too economically illiberal (that is, supportive of heavy government interference in the economy and overly supportive of social programs) for a region that had a large professional class. After World War II, many professionals relocated to suburbs, causing them to take on decidedly Republican leanings 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. Much of the remainder of the country was heavily supportive of the Democrats from the 1930s until Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy sundered 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 affliates in much of the Northeast remain more socially permissive than their counterparts in other regions of the country. As of 2005, the governorships of many of the northeastern states are still controlled by the Republican Party; this is due in part to tradition and in part to the party's heightened social liberalism in the region.

Northeastern Politics Today

Since the late 20th century, the region's politics have 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, Boston, and Philadelphia and the Ivy League; 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 conservative South that has existed since the founding of the United States. Within the Northeast, there are great political rivalries between the cities and the suburbs that surround them. This is particularly prominent in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York City (which even has a secession movement), where the cities must compete with the suburbs and rural areas for state funding.

However, due to the increasing integration of the BosWash megacity combined with the Democratic Party's increased willingness to appear pro-business, ideological differences have lessened between city and suburb in recent decades and they often appear to have a broadly united political stance, at least as far as federal politics are concerned. Over time, residents of the suburbs have begun facing problems once regarded as uniquely urban, such as gangs, urban crowding, and drug problems. At the same time, the suburbs have become increasingly ethnically diverse.

After the Civil War, and certainly before World War II, the Northeast had a large enough population to be the dominant political power in the United States. From the 1790s until the Second World War, most immigration to the United States at least came through the Northeast, and many of the new immigrants settled there to work in labor-intensive industries. The chief recipient of immigration was New York, which had the largest population of any state from the 1800s to the 1960s. Post-war migration patterns weakened the Northeast's power considerably. Industry left the region for other parts of the country that were less expensive, less crowded, and where labor unions had less influence. Many industrial activities found homes overseas. People not only left cities for the suburbs, but also left the region entirely for the West Coast and South. 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. Today, the Northeast is one of the three regions of the country that is reliably Democratic in elections. 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 region, such as Buffalo, never regained their economic foothold after the decline of industry, though larger and more famous cities such as New York and Boston developed sophisticated service economies.

Today, along with the West Coast and upper Midwest, the Northeast is one of three regions dominated by the Democratic Party.

Some Famous Northeasterners

Geographic regions of the United States
Central | Coastal States | Deep South | East | East Coast | Gulf Coast | Mid-Atlantic | Midwest
Mountain States | New England | North | Northeast | Northwest | Pacific | South | South Atlantic
South Central | Southeast | Southwest | Upper Midwest | West | West Coast
Multinational regions: Border States | Great Lakes | Great Plains | Pacific Northwest

See also

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