Monday, March 16, 2009

Ethnic America, 1830   posted by Razib @ 3/16/2009 12:58:00 PM

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: ,