American Nations – A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America – by Colin Woodard – A Book Review – Part 2

(The first part of this review is found here)

 

In the second and third parts of the review I’ll go in depth about how the characteristics of the more important “nations” influenced how the political and social divisions in the later history of the United States would align.

Although the Spanish, French and even the English at Jamestown colonized earlier than the New England colonists, the Pilgrims and the Puritans were the biggest influence on early American life.  The Puritans left England, en masse, from mostly East Anglia to found a populous religiously intolerant Calvinist “heaven on Earth’ that they could run their own way.  They despised the aristocratic Norman noblemen and believed that a tightly knit town life run by selectmen who all agreed with the Puritan values would give them the social cohesion and resources needed to flourish and spread their way of life to the surrounding communities and eventually the other nations.

The abiding characteristic that marks the Yankee is his desire to interfere with anyone else who does not live life the way the Puritan thinks it should be lived.  They are inveterate busybodies who cannot abide anyone enjoying life except on their terms.  This was notable in the 1600s and is equally true today.  Even with the demise of their belief in God they have turned their social justice proclivities into a cult that invests much of their time and energy in policing everybody else’s business.

As a practical consequence of their numbers and their organized approach to life they quickly spread in all available directions.  They spread north and east into New Hampshire, Maine and even the Canadian Maritime Provinces.  They went west and south into Connecticut, Long Island and eventually most of New York State.  Later when the western areas of the continent became accessible, they migrated to the Great Lakes region essentially colonizing all of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and parts of Ohio and even northwestern Pennsylvania.  And much later, in the mid to late 1800s, they even colonized the Pacific Northwest forming the core of Oregon and Washington and even areas of northern California.

One very exceptional branch that emerged late from Yankeedom (as Woodard names the New England founding) was the Mormons.  They were a radical sect founded by a Yankee from New York state named Joseph Smith.  Their extremely unorthodox beliefs and community couldn’t hope to be accepted in the confines of orthodox New England so they eventually fled the United States for Utah.  But it is interesting that their New England heritage of religious communalism is probably the only way that they were able to survive the high desert of the Far West.  Their cooperative lifestyle allowed farming in an area where all other small farmers eventually failed and left.

Diametrically opposed to the culture and the approach of the Puritans of Yankeedom were the landed gentry who colonized Virginia and later the Carolinas.  These men were landed gentry who utilized indentured farmers and later on, black slaves to become wealthy from tobacco, rice and sugar estates that they were given by their aristocratic connections in England.  In Virginia, the Carolinas and later in Georgia, the local government was a closely held enterprise of the wealthy few who did not even permit the common men to vote and certainly not hold office.  And once the system of farming was worked out, these men accumulated great wealth and lived more sumptuously than their patrons back in England ever dreamed of.  The colony of Virginia never expanded much beyond its original borders but the deep south plantations of the Carolinas moved steadily west through the gulf state areas of Alabama, Mississippi, and eventually into Florida.  Later when cotton became the great cash crop, areas of Tennessee, Arkansas and even Texas were also included in this plantation society.  These aristocrats were the spiritual descendants of the landed nobility of England and felt that they were owed obedience by the common people and should answer only to themselves in the way they transacted business and lived their lives.  Woodard compares the rivalry between the Puritans of New England and the Cavaliers of the Deep South as an analogue to the sides of the English Civil War where the puritan roundheads under Cromwell fought to the death against the cavalier gentlemen of King Charles.  And indeed, the documents of the time show that both sides saw it in the same terms.

At all times and even during the American Revolution when these opponents were allies and even countrymen a rivalry and a bitter hatred existed between these two “nations.”

In the next installment I’ll talk about how the other nations and especially the Appalachians figured into this wrestling match for control of North America.

6 thoughts on “American Nations – A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America – by Colin Woodard – A Book Review – Part 2

  • March 31, 2019 at 6:06 am
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    Much like Amazon, etc. operate today. Some of the conditions to which Amazon subjects its warehouse workers resembles indentured servitude, if not outright slavery i f one can believe the reports. The great companies and families buy political influence (relatively cheap) and their owners and scions act as if they are not just landed gentry, but demigods (eg the Waltons). Their spoiled children even refer to ordinary citizens as peasants (Paris Hilton, Tori Spelling, et al). This is certainly different from the original landed gentry of the US/colonies who pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to the cause of liberty. Today’s gentry would most likely lick the arse of a foreign conqueror until they found out who could be bought in the new regime, and are afraid of breaking a nail or missing a spa appointment or being inconvenienced by being forced to rub elbows with the deplorable masses in “fly over” country.

    What happened to the great families sending their sons off to war? The Kennedys, the Rockefellers, the other great families all sent their sons off to WWII. Also the celebrities who served? Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, Ted Williams, etc. Today’s celebrities mostly seem to avoid not just military service but any sort of public service – but they complain a lot.

    • March 31, 2019 at 3:19 pm
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      The social contract in the United States has become muddled and I believe we are going to have to renegotiate the terms of our associations with each other along new lines. In fact it’s probable that there will be several different parallel organizing hierarchies around us. There may soon be collections of states that have closer relations with each other than they have with the federal government. And other states that do not even recognize the practices carried on in other states. Dark times ahead but still it may be worth going through to end the stalemate we find ourselves in now.

  • March 31, 2019 at 3:29 pm
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    As long as it doesn’t lead to bloodshed. History has shown us that when Americans face Americans, it is horribly bloody as we are insensate fighters when fully aroused. Ask the Japanese who fought us in the Pacific Theater. I would take up arms if it came to that, but I pray it does not. And there are many veterans who are still skilled who would make it a relatively short, if very bloody, conflict. I worry that Antifa will move from yelling to fists to bicycle locks to guns. Antifa is, you know, backed and aggravated by the Russians every bit as much as the antiwar protests over Vietnam were. I say we should turn about and foment unrest and rebellion in Russia using the same tactics Putin is using against us.

    • March 31, 2019 at 5:28 pm
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      Let’s hope that whatever conflict there is happens in the Courts and State Houses. But who knows? We live in troubled times.

  • March 31, 2019 at 6:22 pm
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    True. The US public would not tolerate things as they are in Venezuela today. There would be violence for sure.

    • March 31, 2019 at 9:23 pm
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      But I’m starting to believe that half our problem with Republicans has been falling for the old line “we have to vote for the safe candidate otherwise we’ll give the election to the Democrats.” I think from now on the candidates are going to be a little more afraid of us than before Trump. I think if we make a little more noise we’ll get more of what we want. And we don’t have to be afraid of saying what we mean. Correct or incorrect.

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