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20200809 – Shaping our Nation



The main idea of this book is to describe history of immigration and internal migration in the United States based on racial/ethnic groups from before independence until recently. The groups authors reviews are: Northern Yankees, Southern Grandees, Scotch-Irish, Irish, Germane, Blacks, and some more recent arrivals. The point is that, while each group maintains its identity at least partially, they also go through complex process of mutual assimilation: groups to mainstream of America and its mainstream adapting at least some characteristics of groups.


Preface: A Story for Our Time
This starts with description of author’s deep interest in American ethnic make up and how it was developed over the centuries. Author describes books he previously written about American and British revolutions and multiple books written by others that describe historic migrations of different population all over the world. Then he briefly describes content of this book that traces both immigration into America from different parts of the world and then internal migration to the West after Eastern part of USA was pretty much populated.

This chapter is about the first massive non-English migration that occurred even before United States obtained independence:” During the course of the eighteenth century some 250,000 Scots-Irish migrated from the British Isles to the North American colonies, about 125,000 in the decades between 1717 and 1763, and another 125,000 in the dozen years from 1763 to 1775.” Author describes political situation in the country of origin and reasons that pushed people out. He also describes the first push of newly arrived immigrant away from coast deep into continent where they encountered not only Indian resistance, but also resistance of colonial authorities, which would prefer containment of white population at Appalachia. Author uses example of Andrew Jackson’s family to narrate the story of this movement. Here is American settlement geography in the pre-revolutionary time:

After that author describes further expansion of this group and discusses some of its cultural specificities, especially their military prowness that demonstrated itself on many occasions in all American wars, especially Civil War. Another important ferature of this groups is this: The Scots-Irish have been the least ethnically conscious of America’s migrant groups. From Jackson’s time to the 2010 Census, they have tended to describe themselves not as being of Scots-Irish (or Scotch or Irish) ancestry but as simply being American.”

This chapter is about two ethnic groups that became the first Americans. Yankees: descendants of New England Protestants that for over 2 centuries expanded into Midwest and Grandees descendants of Virginia settlers that expanded by Southern route from Virginia, Carolinas, and Georgia. The Yankees main characteristics was hard work, religiosity, hypocrisy, and persistent attempt to force their believes on others. The Grandees were nice people with a small flaw – their particular institution of slavery. Author discusses in details how this institution that was seemingly on its last legs in early XIX centuries was revived and became highly productive due to improvements in methods of cultivating cotton. Here is a graphic illustration:

Author then discusses in detail how both these movements: Yankee’s Northern movement to the West pushing Indians out and substituting them with farmers and Grandees’ Soutehrn movement expanding slavery created America with dual sensitivities, attitudes, and believes that eventually clashed in the Civil War to decide which one of them will be dominant in one America. The Scotch -Irish during this epic clash were divided and bravely fought on the both sides of the war. The Yankees eventually won the war, but lost peace, failing to overcome resistence to reconstraction and eventually accepted division into separate development way up until civil rights movement of 1960.

This chapter is about another wave of European immigrants, which came to America in XIX century. The first were Germans coming after failed revolutions of 1848, but not far behind were masses of Irish running away from potato hunger in 1850-60s. Author uses example of Kennedys to demonstrate a success story, but there were millions of others by far less successful. Author provides two maps demonstrating results of these waves:

Author discusses in details patterns of settlement for both groups, their preferred types of business and employenment, patterns of behavior, consequences of their Catholizism, and finally, their impact on American politics.

Author starts this chapter by characterizing Civil War and Yankees conquest of America. However, this conquest was incomplete because South managed to retain its specificity for another hundred years after it lost the war. The price paid was high: economic stagnation for the most part of this period. Author looks at reasons why it happened and why there were no mass migration from South up North despite difficulties for both Southern populations: black and white:” The conclusion one must draw is that they thought they would not be welcome—and they were surely right. White men born in the 1830s and 1840s had been shooting and killing one another in large numbers, with many suffering disabling injuries; those who survived lived on for decades, many well into the twentieth century. Confederate veterans, whose only pensions came from state governments, had an economic as well as cultural disincentive not to move to the land of their recent foes. Union veterans, conscious that the troops and officials enforcing Reconstruction until 1877 had been attacked as corrupt carpetbaggers and had been shunned by southern elites, had no desire to reenter what had been a scene of conflict after the troops were withdrawn. In 1898 officials in the War Department in Washington, dispatching troops to Tampa for embarkation to Cuba in the Spanish-American War, stationed sentries along the rail lines to prevent southern attacks, while one southern army officer in his delight at seeing the Spanish forces retreat in Cuba, yelled, “We’ve got the damn Yankees on the run.”

Author ends this chapter with discussion of mass immigration from East and South of Europe at the end XIX and beginning of XX centuries – Ellis Island immigration. Here how it changed demographics of America:

This new immighrants brough lots of good things: hard work, talents, entrepreneurship, but also not a few nasties like socialism, leading eventually to laws restricting immigration.

Author begins this chapter with discussion of Hollywood and myths creation that forged one American culture by movies, sports, books, and radio in the place multiple and only loosely linked cultures of South vs. North vs. West vs. new immigrants of different backgrounds. Then author adds the narrative of how WWII intermixed everything and everybody in one global military and mass industrial movements, including blacks from South to the North and population of California. Author extends narrative of this chapter all the way to 1960s when economic changes, Vietnam war, civil rights movement, riots, welfare state, and cultural revolution changed everything destroying old norms, breaking black family and start breaking white families the same way.

The final chapter reviews the most recent waves of migration mainly internal, but with huge and increasing component of international migration from Asia and Latin America, which once again is changing American racial, cultural, religious, and all other components of population. Internally it included movement from North down South away from more bureaucratic cold states to business friendlier southern states, while externally political movement of Cubans, Koreans, Vietnamese, and at the end of century East Europeans running away from communism and likes, business and professional movement of Indians and many others to better paid and more fulfilling high tech jobs in America, Mexican and later other South Americans movement to better jobs and welfare opportunities and so on and on.


It is nice description of ethnic migration / immigration process of formation of American population, but in my opinion, it does not sufficiently describe cultural conflicts / adjustments between groups. I think it would be also very interesting to trace coalitions that groups form to support or fight each other.

The very interesting example would be to trace all groups interactions during Civil War, which initially was driven by strive to save Union at any cost by Yankees with cost often paid by others on one side and strive to save Southern states sovereignty, including its particular institution of slavery with price mainly paid by people who did not own slaves. Eventually one could say that both sides won: Yankees saved the Union and their dominant place within it, while Southerners by winning asymmetric war of Reconstruction curved out a part of country in which they managed to maintain probably something like 80% of their particular institution in form of segregation and denial of rights to the blacks for another 100 years. I think another important part would be addition of class dimension, which also led to ethnic/ racial coalitions forming and falling apart as situation developed.

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