During the Great Famine Pennsylvania emerged as the second most important state for famine relief in 1846–47. Philadelphia became the second-largest port shipping aid to Ireland. Relief supplies from all over the United States were channeled to the Philadelphia Irish Famine Relief Committee, the nonpartisan citizens committee, and to Philadelphia Quakers who organized their own relief operation under the leadership of Thomas P. Cope. Pennsylvanians joined in a national cause of philanthropy, and members of all denominations gave to relief aid—Roman Catholic, Methodist, Quaker, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Moravian, and Jewish. In 1847 the people of Pennsylvania put aside sectarian differences because of shared values of common humanity with the suffering Irish. Pennsylvanians portrayed themselves as a people of plenty with an obligation to help, the Irish as worthy of that aid, and international voluntary aid as an expression of American republican values. Political leaders, whether Whig or Democrat, embraced this responsibility by encouraging citizens to raise funds for Ireland. In a movement spearheaded by Governor Francis Shunk, who persuaded the state legislature to pass legislation allowing toll free shipping of relief aid, citizens throughout the state organized town and county meetings to raise money, food, and clothing for famine relief and joined in a national movement to aid the starving Irish.

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