Getting to Union

Navigating Differences in the Constitutional Convention

Part I. Citizens of Our Fragile New Country were Deeply Divided by Their Differences.

Part I. Step 3. Deep Differences Among the States

Learn about the differences among the states. Prepare to answer the question below. 

Different Economies

  • New England States
  • Middle States
  • Southern States

The American states were divided into three groups with similar economies:

The New England States: Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire

  • Many citizens in these states cultivated small farms to feed themselves and their families. Then they sold any surplus crops. Additionally, these states relied on their access to forests for trapping furs as well as access to the sea for fishing and shipping.

The Middle States: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey

  • Many citizens in these states cultivated small farms to feed themselves and their families. Then they sold any surplus crops. These states mostly produced manufactured goods in factories, including iron and textiles.

The Southern States: Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia

  • The large plantation economies of the Southern States relied heavily on the labor of enslaved people to cultivate and harvest crops, such as tobacco, wheat, sugar, rice, and indigo. These crops were most often shipped abroad, sometimes for use as raw materials in manufacturing

Societies with Slaves vs. Slave Societies

These states were societies with slaves:
  • Rhode Island
  • Connecticut
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Delaware
  • Pennsylvania
  • New York
  • New Jersey

These states were slave societies:
  • Maryland
  • Virginia
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Georgia

In 1776, slavery was legal in all 13 colonies from New England to Georgia. Before the American Revolution, very few people questioned using violence to keep commoners in their place in society. Seventeenth century American colonists lived in a pre-modern world, meaning they feared witches, believed in religious compulsion, and upheld the savage repression of lower members of society. By the 1770s, a modern movement began. Educated people began to talk about natural rights, political liberty, freedom of religion, and equality before the law. This was the first-time literate Americans, beyond some Quaker communities, began to question if slavery was justifiable.

Though slavery began to be questioned in the 1770s, by that time the colonies had already built economic reliance on the labor of enslaved people. The New England and Middle States developed to be societies with slaves, while the Southern States had become slave societies. This means that in New England and the Middle States, enslaved people of African descent were forced into labor as domestic servants, farm hands, and factory laborers, but a large portion of the economy did not rely on enslaved labor. However, in the Southern States, large plantations relied heavily on the labor of enslaved people. Without this critical labour source, the economies of these states would collapse and require restructuring. 

Differences in Religion

  • Congregationalists
  • Anglicans
  • Baptists
  • Quakers
  • Jews

Each American colony developed uniquely in terms of religion. Most of the colonies created established churches–or churches run by tax money–but not all the established churches were the same denominations. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire established Congregationalists churches, after the tradition of the Puritans. Virginia and the Carolinas established the Anglican Church, also known as the Church of England. New York, Maryland, New Jersey and Georgia each had established churches, but which faith tradition ran the established church changed over time. Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Delaware never had established churches. Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn, an English Quaker who created a haven for Quakers and others who were religiously persecuted. Rhode Island was founded by a radical Puritan turned Baptist preacher, Roger Williams, who believed in an extreme version of freedom of conscience, allowing anyone to worship as their mind and heart led them to do. Strong Jewish communities thrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Newport, Rhode Island because these colonies respected religious diversity.

On your own paper, respond to this question:

In your opinion, which of the differences noted here is the most divisive? Explain your answer.


Learn more about how to promote the 3Rs — rights, responsibility, respect — in your school and community.