THE GREATNESS OF the island city of New York was built upon its port. The construction of the Erie Canal in the 1820s gave New York a vital advantage over its rivals, Boston and Philadelphia, in the form of better communications with the interior. In the years immediately following, the port of New York established itself as by far the largest in the United States. Already in the 1830s, over two-thirds of the immigrants entering the United States came through New York, and by 1850 the port was handling over half of the nation's foreign trade. Everything else rested on this foundation: New York's position as America's financial and commercial capital; the concentration there of characteristically metropolitan industries; its status as the nation's main intellectual and cultural centre.
In 1898 New York became the first of the world cities to adopt reasonably realistic boundaries. The new city of Greater New York contained nearly three million people, and ranked second only to London in the world. It comprised the old city of New York on Manhattan Island (henceforth Manhattan borough) and the areas already annexed on the mainland, together with some other parts of Westchester County (now Bronx borough); Brooklyn, which had been the nation's fourth city; and two areas that were still largely rural, Queens County on Long Island (now the borough of Queens) and Staten Island (known as Richmond borough).
In 1791 the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibited the setting up of an established religion. Some states continued to privilege a particular church, the last to end such arrangements being Massachusetts in 1833. In