The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. With a population approaching 6.5 million in a relatively small area, it is mostly urban and suburban in its eastern half but still primarily rural in the west. It is the most populous of the six New England states and contains the region's main urban center, Boston.
The first Europeans to settle New England landed in present-day Massachusetts. These settlers were Pilgrims and Puritans from England seeking religious freedom. The majority of early settlers came from within 60 miles of Haverhill, England. They founded Plymouth, Salem, and Boston, which soon became the hub of the region. A century and a half later, Massachusetts became known as the 'Cradle of Liberty' for the revolutionary ferment in Boston that helped spawn the war of the Thirteen Colonies for independence.
During the 19th century, Massachusetts transformed itself from a mainly agricultural economy to a manufacturing one, making use of its many rivers for power to operate factories for shoes, furniture, and clothing. Its economy declined in the early twentieth century when industry moved south in search of cheaper labor. A revitalization came in the 1970s when, nourished by the graduates of the area's many elite institutions of higher education, the Boston suburbs (particularly those around Route 128) became home to dozens of high-tech companies.
Massachusetts' colleges and universities, as well as its technology sectors, continue to thrive. The state is also considered a haven for progressive, liberal thought and often sends political candidates to the national scene. Massachusetts was the home state of US Presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John F. Kennedy and George H. W. Bush; however, two of its last presidential aspirants, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, were unsuccessful.
As of 2006, Massachusetts is the only state in the union to legalize marriage of gay and lesbian couples.