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David_Hackett_Fischer_-_Albion's_Seed_Four_British_Folkways_in_America.jpeg There has been lots of comment on Mormons and politics recently. I think the key aspect which is underemphasized in these pieces are the deep differences within Anglo-American cultural streams (as opposed to the short-term reasons for Mormon disaffection from the conservative coalition, such as their internationalism). If you haven’t read Albion’s Seed, you should. If you have read Albion’s Seed, also read The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, And The Triumph Of Anglo-America, and American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. The Cousins’ Wars in particular frames Albion’s Seed into a global context.

51FGXEssAhL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ The major insight from these works of narrative history is that a model which incorporates the genealogical origin of Anglo-American subcultures hundreds, and even thousands, of years into the past can be quite fruitful. In David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed the biggest chasm is arguably between Yankees and the Scots-Irish. Geographically distinctive today, even their origins in the British Isles were disparate (mostly East Anglia toward London, and borders of England and Scotland, respectively).

The cultural elites of the Yankees ultimately gave rise to a large portion of the Northeastern WASP ascendancy (including the Bush family) in a direction fashion, or influenced immigrants who assimilated into that subculture (including the Kennedy family). The ~30,000 settlers who took root in New England in the 1630s ultimately became the ~750,000 colonials in the New England colonies at the cusp of the Revolutionary War. The Scots-Irish in contrast are identified not by their elite families, the ‘backcountry ascendancy,’ but their marginalized position as a subculture in comparison to the other Anglo-American streams. When they arrived in the mid-18th century from Ulster and the English-Scottish border region they were termed “crackers.” Here is the Wikipedia entry explaining the origin of the term:

A 1783 pejorative use of “crackers” specifies men who “are descended from convicts that were transported from Great Britain to Virginia at different times, and inherit so much profligacy from their ancestors, that they are the most abandoned set of men on earth.”[3] Benjamin Franklin, in his memoirs (1790), referred to “a race of runnagates and crackers, equally wild and savage as the Indians” who inhabit the “desert[ed] woods and mountains.”[4]

The differences between the Yankees and Scots-Irish redound down to the present. In 1850 Arkansas and Michigan were two states of roughly similar population settled at the same time, by Scots-Irish and Yankees respectively, in the main. While Arkansas hardly had any public schools, Michigan had hundreds. The differences between Yankees and Scots-Irish emerge over and over in the cultural fissures of “mixed” states such as Ohio, Illinois, and Kansas.

How does this tie in to Mormons? The early cultural history of Mormons is directly rooted in the Yankee Diaspora. The Yankees of New England were a fecund lot in the years around 1800, and they spilled over into upstate New York, and across a vast swath of the Midwest ringing around the Great Lakes. The original Mormons were by and large Yankees, and their migration west took them into the lands of the Scots-Irish, who descended upon them like wolves to the slaughter, as was often the case when Yankees faced Scots-Irish in an unorganized fashion.

Below the fold is a post from 2008 that I wrote which I think is now relevant again. So I am reposting it. The Mormon position within the Religious Right is one driven by sincere and genuine alignments of values, but on a deep level it will always be tactical individually, because this is an alliance of two very different groups in their mores and history. That means that one shouldn’t expect individuals from one group to die on the hopeless hill for the other.

Post from 2008:

A few friends have emailed me some objections to the four culture model of american history. In short, though New England Puritans, Highland South Scotch-Irish and Lowland South Cavaliers are reasonable cultural entities which are easy to put a finger on, the Mid-Atlantic is a hodge-podge which to a great extent is simply thrown in a bin together for simplicity. In 1750 Pennsylvania was the first American colony where people of British descent became a minority. This sort of diversity makes it rather peculiar to speak of a Mid-Atlantic cultural folkway in which Germans, Dutch, Quakers, Roman Catholics, Swedes and Long Island Yankees can be thrown together into one pot. It’s somewhat like assigning the term “environmental” to all the components of variance in quantitative genetics of a phenotype which can not be attributed to genetics. You know what it isn’t, but what is it?

But that’s just an aside. You might infer from the image above that the point of this post is not to explore what the term “Mid-Atlantic” can tell us in any model of social history. Instead, I want to focus on one aspect of American coalitional politics which might be of interest in the next four years: Mormon America is a representative of the New England Puritan cultural tradition in “Red America.” The map above is going to be more informative here than words. “English America” in the American West is really Mormon America.

When I say Mormons are “Puritan,” I’m not saying this as a figure of speech; Mormon America is to a great extent both a direct cultural and genetic descendant of New England Puritanism. The proportion of “English” ancestry in Mormon America is somewhat exaggerated by the fact that missions were sent to England and so you had direct migrants from Europe to Utah. But this can’t explain the whole of the phenomenon, American Mormonism began as a religion of Greater New England. First in upstate New York, and later in northern Ohio. Its relocation to the Midwest was problematic for a host of reasons, but the fact that they were often neighbors of people whose origins were in the South and they were quite clearly Yankees probably exacerbated tensions.

Mormonism is a very communitarian religion, not unexpected from a faith with Puritan origins. Mormon settlements in Utah were laid out like New England towns, as opposed to isolated yeoman farmsteads. Brigham Young socialized water usage to optimally allocate resources for irrigation. A tendency toward campaigns for temperance and high fertility were features of New England society. Mormons are famously fertile (relatively) and do not drink. In Wisconsin administrators preferred Yankee settlers because they were more likely to be willing to raise money for pubic goods such as schools than migrants from the South. Mormons may be low-tax Republicans, but those in good standing tithe a very large proportion of their income obligately in their private life (10% from what I recall), while the church runs itself like a corporation which has economies of scale.

Unlike evangelical Christians in the South, Mormons do not accept with resignation that many youth may “raise hell” before settling down. Mormons do not accept the Protestant contention that salvation is through faith alone. Behavior matters. Social pathologies and the personal disorder which has been a feature of Southern cultural life since its inception are not features of Mormon America, which reflects Puritan fixation on public order as a check on private liberty.

Over the past generation Mormons and Southern Protestants have entered into a de facto alliance because of their social traditionalism. The recent controversy over Proposition 8 in California will likely result in even more esteem for the Mormon church from structurally suspicious evangelicals (they do not believe Mormons are Christian, and resent that they claim that they are Christian). In other ways Mormons have come to identify themselves with conservative Protestant America, which to a great extent means Southern America. There are data which show that while 70% of Brigham Young University students rejected Creationism in 1930, 70% now accept it. I believe this is due to cultural influence from evangelical Protestantism, with whom Mormons are now politically allied.

But I believe that the differences between Puritan Mormon America and Southern evangelical America need to be kept in mind. Some of Mitt Romney’s supporters were irritated that some conservative kingmakers (e.g., Richard Land) were leaning to Fred Thompson because of cultural affinities. Culture matters. Mormons may be aligned with the South, but the alliance will always play out in the framework of differences in cultural priors. Mitt Romney is a social conservative, and likely was before he had to lie to become governor of Massachusetts. But he is not a Southern social conservative, and that matters, and when he pretended to be he seemed phony.

Addendum: One can encapsulate what I’m trying to get at by considering an even more extreme case: Jews & black Americans. These two groups are most Left-leaning and Democratic demographics in American society, but, they obviously aren’t equivalent and there are qualitative differences in their liberalism. This doesn’t mean that the position of both these groups on the American Left is in question, but there will always be a tension within the alliance.

• Category: History • Tags: American History 
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A comment below inquired about “good books” on American history. Unfortunately I don’t know as much about American history as I do about Roman or Chinese history. But over the years there have been several books which I find to have been very value-add in terms of understanding where we are now. In other words, these are works which operate with a broader theoretical framework, and aren’t just a telescope putting a spotlight on a sequence of facts.

Albion’s Seed. I read this in 2004, and it was a page turner.

The Cousins’ Wars. I had thought of Kevin Phillips as a political writer, but this was a very engaging and deep cultural history. My prejudice resulted in my not reading this until 2009.

What Hath God Wrought. This book focuses on the resistance of the Whigs and Greater New England to the cultural ascendancy of the Democrats and their “big-tent” coalition which included most of the South, the Mid-Atlantic, and much of the “Lower North” (e.g., the “butternut” regions of the Midwest settled from the Border South).

The Rise of American Democracy. This is a good compliment to the previous book, in that it takes the “other side,” that of the Democrats. In many ways this is the heir to Arthur Schlesinger’s Age of Jackson.

Throes of Democracy. A somewhat “chattier” book than the previous ones, it is still an informative read. It covers a period of history with the Civil War as its hinge, and so gives one the tail end of the Age of Sectionalism.

Freedom Just Around the Corner. By the same author, but covering a period of history overlapping more with Albion’s Seed.

The Age of Lincoln. This is not a “Civil War book.” It is of broader scope, though since the the war is right in the middle of the period which the book covers it gets some treatment. I’d judge this the “easiest” read so far of the list.

Replenishing the Earth. This is about the Anglo world more generally, but it is nice to plug in America into a more general framework. North America is not sui generis.

The English Civil War. This is obviously not focused on America, but it is a nice complement to Albion’s Seed, as it shows the very deep roots of the division between two of America’s folkways. The Cousins’ Wars serves as a bridge between the two, shifting as it does between both shores of the Atlantic.

I’m game for recommendations! I had a relatively traditional education in American history, and did very well in my advanced courses, but I knew very little before I read books like this.

• Category: History • Tags: American History, Culture, Geography, History 
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1936 presidential election, blue = F.D.R.

Walter Russell Mead has a fascinating blog post up, The Birth of the Blues. In it, he traces the roots of modern American “Blue-state” liberalism back to the Puritans, the Yankees of New England. This is a plausible argument. I believe that many social-political coalitions and configurations in contemporary America do have deep historical roots. But assertions and models must be tested. It is for example absolutely correct that early New England was the redoubt of American statism. First the Federalists, and then later to a lesser extent the Whigs, took refuge in New England during the long phase of anti-government Democratic ascendancy which led up to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. But New England statism has its limits; the map above shows that it is in Greater New England that resistence to FDR seems to have been deepest. I don’t necessarily chalk this up to “flinty Yankee” anti-government sentiment. Rather, I think we need to consider that the ideological content of social-political coalitions and configurations sometimes matter less than long persistent affinities across cultural networks and domains.

Very few Americans for example are aware today that in 1800 New England was the region with the strongest adherence in the United States to orthodox Protestant Christianity. In contrast, Deism was firmly rooted among the Southern planter aristocracy. As late as 1850, even after the Second Great Awakening transformed the religious landscape of the South, the conservative Carolina aristocrat John C. Calhoun remained a Unitarian. And it was in the South than support for Revolutionary France ran strongest, while New England favored the United Kingdom and its allies. I suspect most modern Americans would be taken aback by such affinities simply based on the substance of what New England and the American South represent in terms of ideology at any given moment.

Until a few years ago I was very ignorant of American history. And therefore I was totally innocent of many important patterns which span the generations in our nation. Scholars such as Walter Russell Mead would have impressed me with their erudition, but I didn’t have the data base to evaluate the plausibility of their claims. In everyday discourse we often bandy about history learned when we were teenagers as if they can serve as robust frames for the sorts of inferences we make. Alas, they can not. There is no substitute for genuine knowledge. Albion’s Seed is a good start, but many accessible books which cover the first period of American sectionalism are filled with much relevant insight.

• Category: History • Tags: American History 
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Over the past few days a website which maps American English dialects has gone around the blogs (I found it via Kevin Zelnio). Michelle has some suggestions for improvements of the map in Ohio. Here’s a cropped and resized dialect map:

One thing that immediately stood out is the latitudinal banded pattern of the dialects. They seem to follow migrations from the east coast inland, and reflect sectional divisions which go back to the 19th century. Below is a county by county map of the results for the 1856 presidential election.

Notice how closely the votes for the Republican, John C. Frémont, align with the Northern dialects. In 1856 the Republicans lost the Lower North, and so the election, to the big-tent coalition of the Democrats who had been ascendant since Thomas Jefferson’s presidency. Frémont’s core was “Greater New England,” which consisted of New England and the regions of the North settled from New England and its outriders, such as western New York. This cultural pattern dates to the first half of the 19th century, and to some extent it has persisted even after the massive waves of German and Scandinavian immigration transformed the western portion of Greater New England so that it has one of the lowest proportions of English Americans in the United States. This may be a reflection of the “First Settler Effect” at the heart of David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed. But it also may be due to the cultural affinities between Scandinavians and Germans and Puritan Yankees (this certainly manifested in the anti-slavery sympathies of German social liberals who arrived after 1848 and the Yankees).

Here’s a map of settlement from The Expansion of New England: The Spread of New England Settlement and Institutions to the Mississippi River, 1620-1865:

Here are some books on American sectionalism and history which I’ve found very useful:

Albion’s Seed
What Hath God Wrought
The Rise of American Democracy
Clash of Extremes
The Cousins’ Wars
The Age of Lincoln
Throes of Democracy
American Colonies
The Scotch-Irish

Any good books on the topic you’ve read?

• Category: History, Science • Tags: American History, Culture 
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