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Why Is Pennsylvania Called the Keystone State?

Pittsburgh is the second-largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Thomas Jefferson referred to Pennsylvania as the "keystone of the federal union" in 1802.
To avoid religious persecution, William Penn and other Quaker colonists formed the settlement of Pennsylvania, sometimes called the Quaker State.
The Liberty Bell is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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  • Written By: Dee S.
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Images By: Gino Santa Maria, Vacclav, George Eastman House, n/a
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2014
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Each state in the United States has at least one state nickname. One of Pennsylvania’s nicknames is the Keystone State. Although no one knows the exact reason behind the nicknaming Pennsylvania the Keystone State, many people believe it originated from Pennsylvania’s key vote to move the states toward independence from Britain. Other people believe it refers to Pennsylvania’s geographic location. Regardless, the Keystone State has been one of the accepted nicknames of Pennsylvania since the 1800s.

It may be helpful to understand what a keystone is before delving into the reasons behind Pennsylvania’s nickname as the Keystone State. A keystone is the main, center wedge in an architectural arch. It is the piece that locks all the other pieces into place — all the pieces depend on the keystone, and without the keystone, the arch would crumble. The common theme amongst all the reasons for nicknaming Pennsylvania the Keystone State is related to this supportive piece.

Some people believe the nickname, the Keystone State, originated from the time when the states were voting for their independence from Britain. Pennsylvania had nine delegates in the Continental Congress. Some sources hold that the Pennsylvania delegates were divided: four delegates were for independence and four delegates were against becoming independent. The final vote went to John Morton, and he voted in favor of independence. His vote, and consequently, Pennsylvania’s vote to move toward independence have been called the keystone vote or the vote in support of the new government.

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Pennsylvania’s nickname was reportedly used in a toast during the victory speech when the Republican presidential candidate, Thomas Jefferson, defeated his democratic rival. He referred to the state as the “keystone of the federal union” in 1802. A newspaper stated that Pennsylvania was a “keystone in the democratic arch” in 1803. Even in modern times, Pennsylvania is believed to have an impact on the politics of the United States by many people.

A few people believe that Pennsylvania’s nickname originated based purely on its location amongst the original 13 colonial states. There were six states above and six states below Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania was the state that literally held the other 12 states together, much like the keystone holds together an arch.

Pennsylvania has several other nicknames, as well. Many people refer to it as the Quaker State because it was originally founded by William Penn, a Quaker. He moved to Pennsylvania to avoid hostility toward his religious beliefs. It has also been nicknamed the Steel State, the Chocolate State, the Oil State, and the Coal State based on the industries that were prevalent through Pennsylvania at various times in history.

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