I’d been seeing this around and put it on my wish list so I nominated it for the All-Nonfiction reading group and it got selected. I was glad and looking forward to reading it. As usual, though, I put off reading until closer to the date of the discussion – Oct. 1.
First, according to Woodward in the Introduction, “Americans have been deeply divided since the days of Jamestown and Plymouth,” and “All of these centuries-oldcultures are still with us today and have spread their people, ideas, and influence across mutually exclusive bands of the continent. There isn’t and never has been one America, but rather several Americas” (pp 75-76)
According to Woodward, the United States is comprised of eleven distinct different nations which have their own history and cultural identities (language, religion, ethnic origin, history) religious and political ideas, even if they don’t have their own “states.” The traits of these nations are outlined In the excellent Introduction:
American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America
by Colin Woodward
2011 / 384 pages
read by Walter Dixon – 12h 52m
(read and listened)
- New Netherlands
- The Midlands
- Greater Appalachia
- The Deep South
- New France
- El Norte
- The Left Coast
- The Far West
- First Nations
Each of these nations has a chapter or two (founding and spread) but presented in chronological order of European settlement interspersed with major historical developments such as the “Six Wars of Liberation” and “Immigration and Identity.”
The reason for the lower rating is that there are factual errors in the book and it doesn’t hold up if looked at closely. That said, it’s an interesting idea, one which has merit but needs to be more carefully developed.
There is a superb article and map at:
I didn’t quite finish the chapter summaries, but I got all but Part IV:
Founding El Norte (1590) – first settlements in Spanish North America – missions and slavery for Catholic domination. Northern Mexico has always been more American-ish than the rest of the country. I knew a fair amount of this.
- Founding New France (1604) how good relations with the Indians including intermarriage would bring about a feudal society in what is now south eastern Canada. Result was a Métis society more aboriginal than French
Founding Tidewater (1607) – English aristocrats refuse to work and set up a slave-and indentured servant based system to support themselves. The plantations (hereditary power base) bordered on the rivers so no towns (or schools etc). US Founding Fathers from this area supported Republican values ala Greece and Rome where slavery was the norm – liberty (which needs money) but not freedom which assumes more equality.
- Founding Yankeedom (1620) – Pilgrims and Puritans of Massachusetts – John Calvin and a New Zion – a City on a Hill. Highly Protestant moralistic, community oriented, middle class, educated, opposed a landed aristocracy, valued hard work and family, more egalitarian, independent church and towns – direct democracy and solid government with good schools. Idealistic, but scared of the wilderness and hateful about Indians. Divine Favor to the English. Massachusetts became quite large and powerful as a colony. – “American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny.”
New Netherlands (1624) – commercial settlement of the Dutch West India Company – first furs then other good. Ethnically mixed population – language, color, religion, etc. The Company wanted trade so diversity was fine but democracy was not. Netherlands in Amsterdam was rich and sophisticated – so too was New Netherlands. Freedom of religion and press. Jews were admitted (not in England or France). Calvinist majority. Growth hindered by government cheapness and availability of colonists. English Calvinists went to Plymouth later. “Manor lords” or patroons never developed into the same kind of society as it did in the Tidewater. Relations with Indians were fair but that was for the benefit of business – wars for land but not about morals or diversity – Vanderbilts, Van Cortlandt, de Vries, and other merchants of Manhattan. Slavery introduced in 1626 – first in country. (In Virginia blacks arrived in 1619 but were treated as indentured servant.) Duke of York continued authoritarian rule.
- The Colonies’ First Revolt (1685-1688) – James II in England was Catholic which instilled fear in Calvinist Yankeedom. Fear. Revolt. \ William and Mary took over in the Glorious Revolution but New Netherlands was now English – New York – Fear. Revolt. Maryland was Catholic – so the Protestants decided to create their own government. Fear. Revolt.
Founding the Deep South (1670-1671) – from England via Barbados where a slave-based plantation socio-political regime was dominant. Despotic, rich and immoral- Georgia founded on philanthropic ideals but failed and South Carolina ideas came in.
- Founding the Midlands (1680s) – William Penn, Quakers, tolerance, peace. Also expanded, multi-ethnic, more settlers, Amish, Lutherans, etc. Finns, Germans, etc. English-speaking not majority. Thrift and hard work. Economics and society were great but government failed. No slave-holding. But Quakers were rebels and very idealistic. Finns and others founded Delaware to have good government. Quakers were focused on their inner lights. Then the Scotch-Irish Borderlanders came – ready to fight. The Lenni Lenape Indians obliged, the Quakers wouldn’t raise money for guns and Ben Franklin and his allies stepped in.
Founding Greater Appalachia (1717-1776) These were refugees from Scotland and Ireland – Borderlanders where there had been ongoing fighting between families and foreigners. Presbyterians – special people of God. They emigrated in five waves, one after each disaster. Wanted to maximize freedom more than riches. They owed no loyalty to anyone. They took law into their own hands – personal retaliation. Blood feuds. Some intermarrying with Natives and learning the languages but mostly they were competitors for the land. Indian wars were bloody. Paxton Boys – lawless bunch. Then the Regulators to bring law and order but vigilante on anyone lazy or immoral in South Carolina. Now tried to establish their own nation-states. “Fair Play” system of Presbyterian church and their own ideas – with a constitution and all.
A Common Struggle (1756-1763) – French and Indian War – Yankees willing to fight to preserve their way of life. Northern areas of Americans united against Britain but the southern areas were more cautious – Appalachians split but wanted the Brits out but fought with northerners. Southern Appalachian wanted Brits out and didn’t fight. Midlands wanted nothing to do with it – pacifism. New Netherland was the most interested in fighting the French. The Deep South wanted to fight against Yankees but for the British.
They did go to war though – with Britain against the French and Indians. They won but they paid for it in taxes and so on.
- Six Wars of Liberation ( 1775- ) Yankeedom vs Brit’s citizen militia, Lexington; New Netherland – Dutch West India/ York vs rebels. English went to British places; Midlands stayed out of it but were taken over by Patriots; Deep South entered late due to English policies on slavery; Greater Appalachia took to fighting amongst themselves; Tidewater committed officers etc. New Netherland, Midlands and Southern Appalachia fought for Englahd whiel Yaneedom, tidewater, Deep South and northern Appalachia fought for Patriots.
Independence or Revolution ( ) This push toward democracy (one white man one vote – property not an issue) was far more revolutionary than we’ve been led to believe.
- Nations in the North ( ) French and English in Nova Scotia to Toronto. Champlain
PART III – Wars for the West (1816 –
Yankeedom Spreads West – through Wisconsin and Eastern Minnesota.
* The Midlands Spreads West –
Appalachia Spreads West – lots of different kinds of Appalachians. Andrew Jackson and the Cherokee.
- The Deep South Spreads West – Tidewater tobacco growers can’t expand but Deep South can plant cotton westward. More slaves. New Orleans was different – many free blacks. Cuba, Caribbean, Nicaragua, Mexico, El Norte.
Conquering El Norte (1821-1870s) Mexico won independence but into trouble. No help, no trade, etc. Immigrants poured into El Norte especially Texas. Slavery was banned and Catholicism mandated. Steven Austin and others. Nacogdoches. El Norte was more rebellious than the rest of the country. Indians were fought and then Mexico – Mexican War of 1845.
- Founding the Left Coast (1820s-18 ) – From Maine lumber to Oregon and Washington lumber – furs, Seattle, New England values with a twist. More diversity.
War for the West (1860-1864) = US Civil War – Woodward makes no bones about slavery being the main reason for the Civil War. Quotes planters in defense of slavery and abolitionists opposed. Planters loathed Yankees – especially South Carolinians. Each section saw things somewhat differently – Yankeeland/New Netherlands/Midlands/Tidewater/Appalachians/ and Borderlanders (Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey, etc.)
PART IV CUlture Wars 1878 – 2010
Founding the Far West
Immigration and Identity
Gods and Missions
War, Empire and the Military
The Struggle for Power I
The Struggle for Power II