Mirror for Gotham: New York as Seen by Contemporaries from Dutch Days to the Present

By Bayrd Still | Go to book overview

4. NEW YORK IN THE EARLY NATIONAL PERIOD

IN THE LONG VIEW, the most dramatic development in the history of New York between the achievement of independence and the close of the War of 1812 was its supplanting of Philadelphia as the most populous city of the United States. When the French reformer La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt visited America in 1797, New York still had to yield first place to the Quaker City as "the largest and best town" in the young Republic. But by 1815, the situation had obviously changed. To his compatriot, the Baron de Montlezun, a visitor at the close of the war, New York had the "appearance of a large city more than Philadelphia." The latter appeared to have "reached the peak of its splendor," he reported in his Souvenirs des Antilles, an account of a trip to America in 1815 and 1816. New York's population had overtaken that of its Pennsylvania rival; and in the Frenchman's opinion the more northerly city was "evidently destined to become the most frequented port and most flourishing city of the New World." 1

The records of visitors of the period are more helpful than those of the census takers in assessing the relative size and prestige of these two urban rivals of the Atlantic coast. In separating the population of Philadelphia city from the thickly populated "liberties" which adjoined it, the census leaves the impression that New York was the more populous city as early as 1790, with a count of 33,131 to Philadelphia's 28,522. But from contemporary comment, it is clear that Philadelphia and the contiguous liberties were regarded as an urban unit, and that, on this basis, it was not until shortly after 1810 that New York, to contemporaries, surpassed Philadelphia in size. The rivalry between the two neighboring cities was especially intense in these years. "New York and Philadelphia dislike one another with an indescribable hatred," wrote the German military authority, Dietrich von Billow, who made two trips to America in the 1790's. "If Philadelphia should become extinct, everybody in New York would rejoice, and vice versa. New York is the vilest of cities, write

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Mirror for Gotham: New York as Seen by Contemporaries from Dutch Days to the Present
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Illustrations xiii
  • Excerpts from Contemporary Descriptions xv
  • 1. When New York Was New Amsterdam 3
  • 2. New W York Under British Rule 15
  • 3. Resistance, Revolution, and Reconstruction (1765-1789) 37
  • 4. New York in the Early National Period 54
  • 6. a Bustling City (1845-1860) 125
  • 7. New York in the Sixties 167
  • 8. the Emergence of the Modern City (1870-1900) 205
  • 9. the Golden Generation (1900-1930) 257
  • 10. the Maturing Metropolis: World Capital 300
  • Notes 341
  • Bibliography 373
  • Index 401
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