Random Views On Anglo-American History, Culture, And Politics

“British researchers Iona and Peter Opie spent their lives documenting the games that children play when they are out of doors and out of the purview of parents and teachers. “If the present-day schoolchild was wafted back to any previous century,” said the Opies, “he would probably find himself more at home with the games being played than with any other social custom.” They found English, Scottish, and Welsh schoolchildren still playing games that date back to Roman times.”

Harris, Judith Rich (2011-10-25). The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do (p. 188). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

“For better or worse, the heirs of the rationalist rather than the sentimentalist Enlightenment now dominate both philosophy and social science. Enlightenment sentimentalism has long been underappreciated by comparison with Enlightenment rationalism—as the very notion of the eighteenth century as “the age of reason” will attest. Even philosophers today who are well aware of the centrality of moral sentimentalism to eighteenth-century intellectual life tend to define the Enlightenment in purely rationalist terms. John Rawls, for example, defines “Enlightenment liberalism” as a “comprehensive liberal and often secular doctrine founded on reason,” one capable of supporting political morality through a direct appeal to the rational faculties alone.6 Normative theorists and social scientists who are now rediscovering the importance of emotion in our moral and political lives have thus often been led to believe that they are refuting the philosophy of the Enlightenment, rather than lending support to one popular eighteenth-century view of reflective autonomy over another.”

Frazer, Michael L. (2010-07-21). The Enlightenment of Sympathy: Justice and the Moral Sentiments in the Eighteenth Century and Today (Kindle Locations 136-144). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

“Evidently Scotland and France in the eighteenth century were very different from each other, with the former, far more closely than the latter, respecting the ideals of religious and political toleration. But the two countries had this much in common, that they were main players in the European Enlightenment. As this book develops we shall see not only that they shared a host of intellectual interests and concerns, but also that they were in discussion and debate with each other throughout the century of Enlightenment. In preparation for a discussion of the relations between the two countries and cultures, I shall first focus on the fact that these close relations have a long history, and especially on the fact that for many centuries Scots have engaged in several crucial sorts of cultural activity in France. One small indication of the depth of these activities is the fact that by about 1600, at least seventeen Scots were rectors of the University of Paris. There may well have been far more.

“About the time of this David [sc. David I of Scotland] lived Richard of St Victor, a Scot by birth, a religious of the Augustinian order, and he was second to no one of the theologians of his generation; for both in that theology of the schools where distinction is gained as wrestler meets wrestler on the battlefield of letters and in that other where each man lets down his solitary pitcher, he was illustrious.”

“There is rich symbolism in the fact that the earliest known person to have been active in the Scottish philosophical tradition spent a large part of his life in France. He is Richard of St Victor (d. 1173), whose Latin name, which tells us his country of birth, is Ricardus de Sancto Victore Scotus.”

Broadie, Alexander (2012-11-05). Agreeable Connexions: Scottish Enlightenment Links with France (Kindle Locations 189-202). Birlinn. Kindle Edition.

“Scots and Irish left the British Isles in such numbers that three-quarters of that descent now live elsewhere. The effects of this migration within Britain-the voluntary and involuntary exodus of religious dissenters, political radicals, and discontented Celts-bolstered English influence and reinforced the United Kingdom’s internal balance of antirevolutionary sentiment and commercial preoccupation. We can only guess the probable politics of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century parliaments had Britain retained its high Irish and Scottish population ratios. Much less Conservative, certainly. Meanwhile, receiving much of this dispersal made the United States a notably different English-speaking, great world power: more democratic in its politics, more egalitarian in its culture, and more revivalist rather than traditionalist in worship. The new republic became a mecca for discontented populations from Catholic as well as Protestant Europe, a role that nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain could never have played. [ . . . ]

“The English pursued a policy of internal colonialism toward Wales, Scotland, and Ireland alike. In each case, London ordered a political union consummated to submerge the Celtic people and culture in question [ . . . ]

“Through all of these devices and circumstances-colonial charters for Protestant dissenters; occasional periods of Irish, Welsh, and Scottish ethnic persecution or flight; gathering of Europe’s Protestant refugees; German recruitment; relentless transportation of felons, debtors, military prisoners, and vagabonds; and a private “emigrant agent” business that ranged from serious recruitment to kidnapping-Britain turned a late entry in New World colonizing into the largest and fastest-growing clump of European settlement in the Western Hemisphere, with remarkably dual success. We have seen how this exodus made the population and culture of the British Isles less Celtic and more English, less revolutionary and antisocial and more deferential. It also positioned the fledgling United States of i82o, with a very different population, and already set on a very different track, to become the preponderant demographic and political force in the new world.”

Kevin Phillips. The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, And The Triumph Of Anglo-America (p. xxiii-586). Kindle Edition.

“Americans. Grateful, joyful, almost delirious were they as a people in 1783-intoxicated with newly won independence, ecstatic that the colonial yoke of Britain had been thrown off, and delirious with hopes for the future. They set out to establish the world’s first land of liberty, where men, women, and children would be governed not by the capricious decrees of governors and justices, but rather by laws. Laws, enacted by assemblies representing all the people, would enforce the principles most beautifully stated in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Indeed, governments “are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed” to “secure these rights.”

“High purposes. Lofty aims. Welcome promises. Written into poetry and song were these great principles. Recorded in paintings and books were these sweet ideals. Drama, oratory, sermons bristled with liberty, freedom, and equality for one and all. Merchants, captains, planters, yeomen, artificers, and stevedores shared the spirit, lauded this new land of liberty.

“And yet, by 1800, less than a quarter century from the time Americans declared these exalted ideals to the world, they had almost to a person rejected the very principles and ideals of their Revolution. By 1800 not only did most Americans not seek to perpetuate, expound, and practice the principles of the Revolution, they had entered into a process of attempting to supplant the values of the Revolution either with a political process that sucked all meaning out of those principles or with an alternative social and political philosophy that promised liberty-not through greater doses of freedom, but through a careful and meaningful structuring and ordering of the world. So disillusioned were they with the unfulfilled promises of liberty, they underwent a transformation that affected every segment of American society.

So thorough was this transmutation that fledgling attempts to make every American a citizen, to provide equal rights to all, to abolish slavery, and to incorporate women, African Americans, and new immigrants into American society were abandoned. Not only were these once-sacred goals deserted, the words used to describe these goals were also transformed and given new meanings. Liberty itself, once freedom from oppression, came to mean independence within a prescribed system. Freedom, once the absence of restraint, came to mean choice among defined options. Equality mutated from a philosophical description of a condition of nature to a notion of equal opportunity within one’s class or social condition. The vaunted rights of man devolved from a set of natural rights provided by God to a slate of prescribed rights established by men.

“And so went all of the precious symbols of the American Revolution until every word reflected a new meaning and value. Democracy came to connote a right to vote, not a fair division of property or equality of rights and treatment. Party came to describe an electoral machine, no longer a divisive faction subverting government. The republic itself stopped being a government by the people and became instead a government prescribed by a constitution devised precisely to keep the people from governing. But the most telling revision of all was the special new meaning reserved for revolution itself: chaos.

“By 1798 the deed was done. By 1800 what can only be called the American Counterrevolution had reached full tide. Hardly a step had been missed in the transformation from one set of values to another, from one set of aspirations to another, and from one set of rules for human interaction to quite another. So subtle was the shift that almost no one at the time recognized or understood what had taken place. Americans only knew, if they were among the original friends of liberty, that they were no longer welcome in American society; they knew that if they continued to preach the old gospel of liberty, they might be in danger of life and limb.

“If they happened to be proponents of revolution, they soon met threats, taunts, and challenges to settle scores on the field of honor. If they happened to be African Americans, they came to suffer a fate almost equal to imprisonment or death. If slaves, they saw virtually all systems of emancipation-manumission, purchase of freedom, and legislative emancipation or curtailments of enslavement-dry up. If free blacks, they saw in every state and territory of the nation a steady evaporation of rights and the erection of barriers prohibiting individual movement from state to state, as well as an aggressive expansion of inducements either to migrate back to Africa or to be colonized there. If women, they saw in every state and territory the banishment of invitations to seek independence and the issuance of commands to accept, practice, and teach domestic service as matrons of society.

“The abolition of liberty in America far preceded the abolition of slavery; the eradication of freedom much predated the rise of a new individualism that gave personal sovereignty to pursue adventure and wealth with little restraint to a relatively small class of white American men; the abandonment of the idea of natural equality among humans-intellectual or spiritual-far antedated any discussions of universal male suffrage; and all the glorious notions that there was a basic set of rights that should be enjoyed by all men (and, presumably, women) were canceled except for those few Americans-again, mainly white men, who clung to those rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights.”

Larry E. Tise. American Counterrevolution: A Retreat from Liberty, 1783-1800 (Kindle Locations 426-456). Kindle Edition.

“Amongst others that came with him, there was one Mr. Thomas Morton, who, it should seem, had some small adventure of his own or other men’s amongst them, but had little respect, and was slighted by the meanest servants they kept. They having continued some time in New England, and not finding things to answer their expectation, nor profit to arise as they looked for, the said Captain Wollaston takes a great part of the servants and transports them to Virginia, and disposed of them there, and writes back to one Mr. Rasdale, one of his chief partners, (and accounted then merchant,) to bring another part of them to Virginia, likewise intending to put them off there as he had done the rest; and he, with the consent of the said Rasdale, appointed one whose name was Filcher, to be his Lieutenant, and to govern the remainder of the plantation until he or Rasdale should take further order thereabout.

“But the aforesaid Morton, (having more craft than honesty,) having been a petty-fogger35 at Furnival’s Inn, he, in the other’s absence, watches an opportunity, (commons being put hard among them,) and got some strong drink and other junkets, and made them a feast, and after they were merry, he began to tell them he would give them good counsel. `You see,’ he says, `that many of your fellows are carried to Virginia, and if you stay still until Rasdale’s return, you will also be carried away and sold for slaves with the rest. Therefore I would advise you to thrust out Lieutenant Filcher, and I having a part in the plantation, will receive you as my partners, and consociates, so you may be free from service, and we will converse, plant, trade and live together as equals (or to the like effect).’

“This counsel was easily followed; so they took opportunity, and thrust Lieutenant Filcher out of doors, and would not suffer him to come any more amongst them, but forced him to seek bread to eat and other necessaries amongst his neighbors, till he would get passage for England. (See the sad effect of want of good government.)

“After this they fell to great licentiousness of life, in all prophane- ness, and the said Morton became lord of misrule, and maintained (as it were) a school of Atheism, and after they had got some goods into their hands, and got much by trading with the Indians, they spent it as vainly, in quaffing and drinking both wine and strong liquors in great excess, (as some have reported,) ten pounds worth in a morning, setting up a May pole, drinking and dancing about like so many fairies, or furies rather, yea and worse practices, as if they had anew revived and celebrated the feast of the Roman goddess Flora, or the beastly practices of the mad Bacchanalians.”

Thomas Jefferson describing Thomas Morton’s having wrongly and unlawfully saved some men from the fate of slavery
Letter to John Adams, Monticello, December 28, 1812
Bruce Braden. “Ye Will Say I Am No Christian”: The Thomas Jefferson/John Adams Correspondence on Religion, Morals, and Values (Kindle Locations 356-371). Kindle Edition.

“There appears to be such a mixture of real sensibility and fondly cherished romance in your composition, that the present crisis carries you out of yourself; and since you could not be one of the grand movers, the next best thing that dazzled your imagination was to be a conspicuous opposer. Full of yourself, you make as much noise to convince the world that you despise the revolution, as Rousseau did to persuade his contemporaries to let him live in obscurity.

“Reading your Reflections warily over, it has continually and forcibly struck me, that had you been a Frenchman, you would have been, in spite of your respect for rank and antiquity, a violent revolutionist; and deceived, as you now probably are, by the passions that cloud your reason, have termed your romantic enthusiasm an enlightened love of your country, a benevolent respect for the rights of men. Your imagination would have taken fire, and have found arguments, full as ingenious as those you now offer , to prove that the constitution, of which so few pillars remained , that constitution which time had almost obliterated, was not a model sufficiently noble to deserve close adherence. And, for the English constitution, you might not have had such a profound veneration as you have lately acquired; nay, it is not impossible that you might have entertained the same opinion of the English Parliament, that you professed to have during the American war.

“Another observation which, by frequently occurring, has almost grown into a conviction , is simply this, that had the English in general reprobated the French revolution, you would have stood forth alone, and been the avowed Goliath of liberty. But, not liking to see so many brothers near the throne of fame, you have turned the current of your passions , and consequently of your reasoning, an-other way. Had Dr Price’s sermon not lighted some sparks very like envy in your bosom, I shrewdly suspect that he would have been treated with more candour; nor is it charitable to suppose that any thing but personal pique and hurt vanity could have dictated such bitter sarcasms and reiterated expressions of contempt as occur in your Reflections.

“But without fixed principles even goodness of heart is no security from inconsistency, and mild affectionate sensibility only renders a man more ingeniously cruel, when the pangs of hurt vanity are mistaken for virtuous indignation, and the gall of bitterness for the milk of Christian charity.”

Mary Wollstonecraft writing about Edmund Burke’s response to the French Revolution
Wollstonecraft, Mary; Janet Todd (1999-08-19). A Vindication of the Rights of Men; A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution: WITH “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (Oxford World’s Classics) (Kindle Locations 1268-1286). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Origin of American Diversity

As a typical under-educated/mis-educated American, I’ve felt compelled to educate myself about American history, especially the complexities of early American history. As a descendant of Europeans from many generations ago, I’m interested about the early immigrations during and after the colonial period. Specifically as a descendant of non-English immigrants, I’m most focused on the ethnic/cultural diversity that formed America, thus setting the stage for everything that followed.

I’ve always been bothered by the white supremacists and their more mainstream cousins, the WASP supremacists. American supremacists often advocate a narrowing of all American culture(s) down to a single monoculture, a supposed original and unique American culture. The ironic part is that this is a very modern idea which goes against traditional European cultural diversity. Even the definition of ‘Europe’ has constantly been argued about since the concept was first mentioned. Some don’t consider the British Isles to be part of Europe. Also, the Finnish are genetically and culturally distinct from the rest of Europe and Britain. The British Isles alone consist of massive diversity caused by the interaction of numerous groups of people from all over Europe. There is little of the original native cultures left in most of Europe and the British Isles.

In America, the early non-English immigrants didn’t just assimilate to English culture. First of all, early America had a diversity of cultures and so there was no single culture to assimilate to. Second, most early immigrants were quite fond of their own culture and many resisted assimilation for generations. Third, many of the colonial governments didn’t seek to force people to assimilate.

Assimilation and the development of a monoculture only became central in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when immigration was curtailed and federal laws enforced a single language onto all public schools. Furthermore, there was the rise of the KKK which was a systematic terrorizing of anyone who didn’t conform to their view of American culture (whites as well as blacks). Anti-immigrant, anti-German, anti-Italian, and anti- all kinds of things commanded much attention from the political and economic elites. An age of conformity arose in early 20th century which came to fruition in the 1950s which is why conservatives idealize the monocultural 1950s instead of the multicultural 1850s or, for that matter, the 1750s.

The supremacists too often have sought to enforce their conservative vision onto all of American history, a romanticized revisionism that conveniently ignores all of the complex factual details. For example, they deny the democratic reformists of the revolutionary era and post-revolutionary era who pushed for radically liberal and progressive policies: feminists and socialists, slavery abolitionists and alcohol prohibitionists, working class free soilers and civil rights activists, Pennsylvania democrats and Whiskey rebels, etc. Beyond this, there were the Native Americans fighting for their own freedom and in some cases their own democratic societies, and there were black revolutionaries either fighting against the British empire or else the American slave-holders.

Early America, even before the revolution, included vast racial and cultural differences, vast religious and political differences, and vast inter-mixings of all of this in different combinations in different places (most American ‘whites’ probably have some non-European genetics, and most American ‘whites’ don’t know about this because mixed-race people tended to pass as whites whenever possible), but even the inter-mixings ended up creating ever new distinct regional cultures, religions and languages/dialects. It was only with the rise of radio and television’s national reach (and their use as vehicles of propaganda during the World Wars) did more Americans begin to think of themselves as a single unified culture, an imagined WASP culture that had always ruled over and united all of America; anyone at that time who thought otherwise wasn’t given a voice in the mainstream media.

I’m writing about this topic in order to begin to grasp the larger picture of how America began. I’ve been reading many books lately that have given me great insight, but I’m still processing that information. You can learn a lot by reading books as I’ve been doing, although almost all of the info I’ve been reading about can even be found in such easily accessible sources as Wikipedia (in fact, you’ll probably learn more accurate info and useful analysis from Wikipedia than you ever gained in grade school). In this Information Age, any American can learn about the intricacies of American history if they so desire.

This topic is a bit overwhelming, though. Some of the complexity of the subject can be seen just from a simplified map of colonial North America (1750):

Spain was the first to permanently colonize North America and claimed the largest portion of the Americas. The French later claimed a territory that challenged Spain’s dominance in North America. However, it wasn’t until Britain gained French territory that the largest battle of colonial empires would happen in North America. The British were slow to invest in their colonies, but because of Spain’s waning empire they were able to expand.

Here is a map of the changes that were happening in the mid 18th century:

“In the late 16th century, England, France, Spain and the Netherlands launched major colonization programs in eastern North America.[1] Many early attempts—notably the English Lost Colony of Roanoke—ended in failure, and everywhere the death rate of the first arrivals was very high, but key successful colonies were established. European settlers came from a variety of social and religious groups. No aristocrats settled permanently, but a number of adventurers, soldiers, farmers, and tradesmen arrived. Ethnic diversity was an American characteristic as the Dutch of New Netherland, the Swedes and Finns of New Sweden, the English Quakers of Pennsylvania, the English Puritans of New England, the English settlers of Jamestown, and the “worthy poor” of Georgia, came to the new continent and built colonies with distinctive social, religious, political and economic styles. Occasionally one colony took control of another (during wars between their European parents), but unlike in Nova Scotia they did not expel the previous inhabitants, but instead lived side by side in peace.”

Even ignoring the vast majority of North America controlled by Spain, France and Russia, the British colonies themselves were very diverse. Britain gained the New Netherland colony and renamed it New York, but the Netherland culture and political tradition was maintained: cultural diversity, religious freedom, freedom of speech, free trade, and a certain amount of racial equality in that free blacks could own land and businesses. Also, non-English immigrants (mostly Germans) formed the majority of the Pennsylvania colony. Germans were among the first immigrants in British colonies and their descendants now form the largest percentage of the US population. Germans and other Northern Europeans, by forming ethnic enclaves, maintained to varying degrees their distinct cultures and languages into the 20th century (the German Amish still maintain a separate culture and language; demonstrating their separateness, they commonly refer to outsiders as ‘English’).

All of the colonies were majority Christian, but other religious adherents could be found, specifically Jews and Muslims. Some were allowed to practice openly, even forming communities; others such as Muslim black slaves were among the first Americans to have religious freedom denied to them. To varying degrees, some non-monotheist slaves maintained their African religious practices. Interestingly, Jefferson included all religions as part of his vision of religious freedom:

“Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”
~ Autobiography (1821), in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom.

Another interesting point to consider is that blacks formed the majority in the Carolina colony and large percentages in other colonies as well such as Virginia which is the oldest British colony. Why this is interesting is that black slaves raised the children of the slave owners and thus it was blacks with their African culture that shaped the minds of generations of upper class white children. Some have theorized that elements of the South’s unique culture is African in origin.

Furthermore, consider the rarely mentioned fact that Asians have been in America since the 16th century. The largest early immigrations of Asians happened around the same time of the largest European immigrations. A lot of the American economy and infrastructure (such as the railroads) was built with Asian labor. Because of longstanding racial prejudice against them, Asians have maintained separate cultures, religions and languages since they first immigrated. The West Coast has had large Asian populations for a very long time.

Many things that we consider as American didn’t originate from the English. Classical liberalism was first implemented on a society-wide scale in Netherlands and the New Netherlands colony. Besides the multiculturalism of New Netherlands, the other model of American multiculturalism originated from the French who settled New Orleans where the French, German, Filipino, African and Native American cultures freely mixed. The style of the typical log cabin originated from Swedish immigrants. The common design of the Conestoga wagon used by most pioneers was designed by German immigrants. The freedom-loving cowboy culture was developed among Spaniard colonists and the children they had with Native Americans (think about that when a white Republican politician tries to prove his American character by playing the role of cowboy; also, consider Texas and the Southwest was originally a part of Spain’s territory and has always had a majority Spanish culture). The profitable commodities of corn and beans, of course, were agricultural plants developed by Native Americans. The Heartland culture of the Midwest is based on the culture of Germans and Scandinavians, and this Heartland culture was the breeding ground for American progressivism and municipal socialism. The Scots-Irish brought to America the values of military valor/bravado, strident independence/individualism and evangelical fundamentalism; they were some of the first Americans who learned how to effectively fight against and fight in the manner of Native Americans, techniques they would early on use to terrorize other colonists and later on use during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.

The English tradition represents a very small part of American culture. Even England itself is a multicultural place and has been for a very long time. England was at various times controlled by, conquered by, or genetically mixed with other people from other countries. It was conquered by the Romans which is why Britains have African genetics. The Romans had to deal with the Germans who they never were able to conquer, the Germans having originated from Scandinavia. The German Vikings brought their culture, language and genetics into the British Isles (in fact, the English language originates from a Low German dialect, specifically from the language of the Angles and Saxons). Eventually, many Northern Europeans settled there and created a permanent culture. The Normans, for example, conquered England and it was the Normans that Southern aristocrats modeled themselves after. The Normans were Germans who had first settled in France before conquering England. Even though the early German colonies in North America failed, German culture(s) was essentially introduced again through the colonizing efforts of France and Britain.

An interesting factor to consider is how Europe has been culturally divided similar to America. Northern Europe was dominated by the Scandinavian/German/Protestant influence and Southern Europe was dominated by the Roman/Catholic influence. The highest concentrations of Catholics in the United States are where the Catholic French and Catholic Spaniards first settled:

Ignoring the French influence, I’ve always been fascinated by how the United States immigration patterns mimicked European ethnic regions. Many Northern Europeans settled the Northern regions of the US and many Southern Europeans settled the Southern regions of the US. This is how different regions of the US have maintained distinctive cultures throughout American history. Here is a map showing the ethnicities in America (those identifying as ‘American’ in Appalachia and the South are mostly Scots-Irish):

There never has been a single American culture. And it is unlikely there ever will be a single American culture. Or, at least, it would probably take a few more millennia of a melting pot to accomplish that.