There are various stories about how Pennsylvania became the “Keystone State.” The truth seems to be mostly hidden in the mists of time. There are a number of contending theories. But it’s not clear which has the real origin of the label. Most of these center on Pennsylvania’s literal centrality in the early United States. It was the keystone (the top-most stone) in the arch which spanned from the New England to the Southern colonies, the keystone of the union. Or it was the necessary keystone in the process of building sentiment in favor of the federal constitution of 1787. But it’s one of the later stories I want to focus on. In the Jacksonian Era — 1820s through the 1840s — Pennsylvania was often referred to as the “Keystone in the Democratic arch,” the sectional coalition made up of — using the jargon of the age — “the working men of the North and the planters of the South.” Let’s state with some understatement that the described coalition and language is rather dated. But the more I look at the numbers in the final stretch, Pennsylvania is the cornerstone. It remains the Keystone in 2022, albeit for other reasons and with a very different coalition.
Let me walk you through it.