Philadelphia, where the U.S. Constitution was drafted in 1787, served as the nation’s capital for one decade in the 1790s. It was a decade of nation-building in many ways, from the drama of politics to the creation of a national culture. The U.S. Congress, meeting in the County Court House (Congress Hall), passed the Naturalization Acts, a Fugitive Slave Act, and the Alien and Sedition Acts. With so many of the young nation’s prominent citizens present, Philadelphia became a magnet for artists who arrived to paint portraits of politicians and other notables. The city also became a capital of African American community-building with the rise of leaders such as Absalom Jones, Richard Allen, and James Forten.
The first U.S. Census found the city of Philadelphia and its adjacent suburbs of Southwark and the Northern Liberties to be the most populous urban center in the new nation. Philadelphia’s fortunes — and misfortunes — extended beyond its boundaries. The city’s commercial ties extended to interior Pennsylvania with the construction of the Lancaster Turnpike in 1793-95. And when yellow fever hit in 1793, Philadelphians with the means to do so fled to the countryside of Grays Ferry, Germantown, and South Jersey.
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Remer, Rosalind. Printers and Men of Capital: Philadelphia Book Publishers in the New Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.
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—–. The “Lower Sort”: Philadelphia’s Laboring People, 1750-1800. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990.
Winch, Julie. Philadelphia’s Black Elite: Activism, Accommodation, and the Struggle for Autonomy, 1787-1848. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988.
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