Ethnic America, 1830

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

One of the most frustrating things about modern American models of ethnicity is that they are so focused on the racial aspect, and to a lesser extent on the white ethnics who arrived after 1840. Albion’s Seed is great because it elucidates in such detail the different British strains which settled the Americas, but unfortunately it doesn’t push the story beyond the colonial period. Other works of history hint at the fissures in Anglo-America, but few explore the divisions explicitly. The political ramifications of race, or the arrival of the Irish, are relatively prominent in the public consciousness, but I think it is arguable that the differences between the Puritans and Scots-Irish have had a more important effect on the trajectory of the American republic and our history. From page 50 of Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War:

Northern-born settlers (and more particulary New Englanders) and Southern-born migrants had distinct work habits and their own approaches to entrepenurial activities. Michael Chevalier, a French official who came to America in the 1830s to study pblic works, remarked upon the differences: “In a village in Missouri, by the side of a house with broken windows, dirty in its outward appearance, around the door of which a parcel of ragged children are quarreling and fighting, you may see another, freshly painted, surrounded by a simle, but neat and nicely whitewashed fence, with a dozen of carefully trimmed trees about it, and through the windows in a small room shining with cleanliness you may espy some nicely combed little boys and some young girls dressed in almost the last Paris fashion. Both houses belong to farmers, but one of them is from North Carolina and the other from New England.”

This vignette is simply an illustration of scattered quantitative data you see in some of these works. In short New Englanders were wealthier, more well educated and more fertile than immigrants to the West from the South. Because of easier movement up the Mississippi-Ohio valley the original settlers in much of the Midwest were of Southern origin; but with the opening of the Erie canal and the rise of the Great Lakes economy fertile and industrious Yankees added much of the northern Midwest to Greater New England. Much of American history can easily be modeled as a clash of civilizations.

Labels: ,


  1. In my experience, I think most people, in common language, would label this as “culture” instead of ethnicity. (Even though it is correct to label it as ethnicity. And probably sloppy thinking not to recognize this as ethnicity.) 
    (Let me tell a little story to elaborate the point….) 
    Mainly growing up in a particular suburb of Vancouver and now living in the city of Vancouver, I know that the people in that suburb have a different culture than that of the people in the city of Vancouver. (For one, it’s a much more martial culture in that suburb. But that’s not the only thing that makes them different. There’s a lot more to it.) It’s also common for people in each of the groups to think of themselves as being different from the other groups. (I’m also aware of the slurs, jokes, and sentiments that each group has perpetuates regarding the other group.) 
    I think it would be accurate to identify 2 ethnicities here. One being the people in that particular suburb. And the other people the people in the city. (Probably it’s more complex than that… in that there’s probably more than 2 ethnicities here, but lets keep things simple.) However, I don’t think it would be common for members of the populations to identify these as ethnicities. Even though that’s what they really are. They’d just say they have different cultures (or even different sub-cultures). 
    For a little extra information…. From a morphological point of view, the groups are even seen different. (Although I haven’t gone out and done any kind of survey or formal study) my personal observation is that mesomorphs are much more common in the suburbs, while ectomorphs are much more common in the city. Even though both are derived from mainly European stock.

  2. Somewhat peripheral: All through the Mississippi valley there was a strong French influence until 1850 and even afterwards; there were French-speaking enclaves in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota even in the 20th century. They came from both the north (Canada) and the South (Louisiana). There are still a scattering of French names all through the area, and are usually from very old families, often rustic and poor, and often with some Indian descent. (In MN politics ca. 1850-1860 the term “French vote” sometimes just meant half-breeds and perhaps enfranchised Indians). 
    The Yankee-planter-Appalachian-Midlands divide in America has been known for a long time, for example in dialectology, but to place too much weight on the area of British origin strikes me as forced, especially when it seems to involve neglect of local factors (Appalachian agricultural poverty, Southern planter economy, Midland urbanization and relative multicuturalism), 19th c. European migrations, and specific frontier/Western influences. 
    I suppose, much as I dislike the book, I should read it.

  3. There was a strong French Huguenot influence in the South as well, especially SC. It looks like there are several French ethnicities also. 
    I’ve already placed the book in my Amazon basket and look forward to reading it. I get a lot of flack for saying that there was more to the Civil War than slavery, so I should find it interesting. 
    In self-defense, due to such flack, this disclaimer: I am in no way saying slavery was moral.

  4. Kevin Phillips traces the broad cultural differences between the opposing sides of the US Civil Warall the way back from the English Civil War through the American Revolutionary period in his book The Cousins? Wars: Religion, Politics and the Triumph of Anglo-America. 
    He interestingly identifies the losers in the conflict to be not Southern whites but Indians, Irish, ex-slaves, and mid-western German settlers.

  5. Now the trend is reversed, w/ the Southerners having more kids. Supposedly, liberals are stereotyped as messy and conservatives as neat, so I wonder if that’s flipped regionally, too?

  6. If you like tracing where different ethnic lastnames entered and settled in the US, then try out this Surname Locator, which has 1850, 1880, 1920, 1990 census data on lastnames. 
    It’s fascinating to see some names become widespread, and some remain localized.

  7. Razib, from your post it seems you haven’t read Thomas Sowell’s Black Rednecks, White Liberals. Do. It’s good.

  8. …although, having just read some amazon reviews, i have to say that at least some of the one-star reviews do have a point.

  9. I put part of Sowell’s book online here.

  10. He interestingly identifies the losers in the conflict to be not Southern whites but Indians, Irish, ex-slaves, and mid-western German settlers. 
    From 1860 to 1932 the Midwest was the outsider of American politics, and for that reason the source of almost all the innovations. The two parties were patronage (graft) machines which ran errands for various financial interests, especially Eastern finance. Both parties were conservative by present standards; what we call “liberalism” entered the party with W J Bryan, rather unsuccessfully, had some influence under Wilson, but really only became influential under FDR in a disaster situation. FDR always had conservative opposition within the Democratic Party, and it wasn’t on race (where he basically cut a deal with the South). 
    Northern Midwesterners were Republicans because of the Civil War, but the Republicans did nothing for them. As a result Midwestern politics was dominated by dissident Democrats, dissident Republicans, third parties, and non-party political movements.  
    There’s one Congressional district in Tennessee that’s been Republican since the Civil War. They were Unionists who hated the planters but also the slaves. They were anti-planter Republicans for decades, and then when the Republicans moved South they became generic Republicans.