Every so often,to build characters I re read James Webb’s book, Born Fighting. It traces the Scots-Irish in the United States from the mists of Scottish history fighting the Romans to the modern United States.
Many liberal friends are bewildered as to why people in a Tennessee mountain hollow would vote against their own interests and be anti-union for example. Or why men who didn’t own slaves fought for the Confederacy, in the American Civil War.
Well as a non Scots-Irish person, I will weigh in. 🙂
Rome conquered Celtic tribes in England and Wales. They tried Scotland with no success.
Apres le deluge of the Romans, England and Scotland developed along different lines. England was more top down, Scotland more divided and tribal.
Various English Kings tried to conquer Scotland. The people just on either side of the border had more in common with each other, than with their governments in Edinburgh and London, respectively. If you find the book by George MacDonald Fraser The Border Reivers, read it. That will give detail about the war zone called the Anglo-Scots Border. It made Appalachia look tame in some ways.
James I decided he would kill two birds with one stone. He wanted to tame the Irish Catholics in Ulster and get rid of the most recalcitrant Border fighters. So they were shipped to Ulster, along with poor Scots from the hard, stony land of Southwestern Scotland.
The Scottish Presbyterian Kirk helped to form how these folks developed. They were tough, hard bitten, expected little, but didn’t bow to anyone.
They were the fighters at Londonderry (Derry) who in 1690 cried “No surrender.”
Alas, the government in London liked the Scots-Irish as fighting men, but did not see them as equals.
In the North American colonies, Pennsylvania and Virginia imported them to fight Indians on the frontier.
They spread out from Pennsylvania to Alabama and beyond. They fought on the Patriot side in the American Revolution.
Then there was Andrew Jackson. Old Hickory. As hard as the frontier he came from.
Allow me to interpret some things I got out of this:
Why did they fight for the Confederacy? They almost never owned slaves, the Southern elites saw them as inferiors. So why?
They equated the North, especially New England, as the English of the past who tried to force their ideas on them and looked down on them. As Jim Webb stated, many liberals equated fighting for the Confederacy with being in the equivalent of being in the German Army in World War II. In the Scots-Irish eyes, they were fighting an invader.
Why the suspicion of labor unions? In their eyes, it was one more organization trying to control them. From the Civil War until World War II, almost 80 years, Appalachia was isolated. The Scopes Trial just exposed them to more ridicule.
They might have backed parts of the Civil Rights Movement, if approached correctly. Alas, many Northern Liberals saw (and maybe still see) the American South as a monolith among whites.
I plan to write more essays in my Hamilton vs. Jefferson series. Reading Born Fighting, Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting with Jesus and James Leyburn’s The Scots-Irish in America helps. If you can still find Wilbur Cash‘s The Mind of the South, that also helps.
These books will help many in the posh American elite places understand why these folks are the way they are.
I have Scots-Irish friends. I admire their tenacity and toughness in the face of adversity.
- Celtic Lost Causes (iamanauthorimustauth.wordpress.com)
- Ulster Scots and Irish Culture (smartin90.wordpress.com)
- Work Ethic: Denomination, Region, Ethnicity (benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com)
- Chasing The Frontier: Scots-Irish in Early America e-book downloads (omsumero.wordpress.com)
- Our “An Evening of Andrew Jackson” was a hit! (yeomansintheforkblog.wordpress.com)