Overall History of Delaware

In colonial days Delaware was the subject of an aggressive land feud between Dutch, Swedish and British settlers. The former imported classically northern European middle-class concepts, the latter a plantation-based aristocracy, which is partly why Delaware remains a typically mid-Atlantic cultural hybrid today.

The little state’s big moment came on December 7, 1787, when Delaware became the first state to ratify the US Constitution and thus the first state in the Union. It remained in that union throughout the Civil War, despite supporting slavery. During this period, as throughout much of the state’s history, the economy drew on the chemical industry (originally a gunpowder factory) set up by French immigrant Charles DuPont in 1802. Low taxes drew other firms (particularly credit card companies) in the 20th century, boosting the state’s prosperity.

Pro- and Anti-Slavery Factionalism

Prior to the Civil War, Delaware was a slave state, but in the early 19th cent. the number of slaves in the state declined, while the number of free blacks increased. Many citizens of Delaware favored manumission of slaves and belonged to the American Colonization Society, but there were few who sympathized with the growing abolitionist movement and there was strong sentiment for separation of whites and blacks. In the Civil War, Delaware remained loyal to the Union, but pro-Southern feeling increased rather than diminished during the course of the war. Delaware refused to accept an emancipation proposal made by Lincoln in 1861 and did not ratify the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution until 1901. Delaware Democrats subsequently became divided, and the Republican Party emerged in 1905 to assume a leading political role for some years.