Why Understanding the Scots-Irish in the United States is Important to Understanding Much of American Culture.


Jim Webb, United States Senator.

Jim Webb, United States Senator. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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About tucsonmike

I am originally from Brooklyn, New York and now live in Tucson, Arizona. I have discovered a passion for writing. I have five books out now, with a sixth on the way. Take a look @ my book list: The Search for Livingstone An Affair of the Heart The Search for Otzi Griffith Justice in Space. Moriarty The Life and Times of a Criminal Genius Available now on Smashwords - Amazon and Barnes and Noble As to not bore my public with just "Buy my book," I am also interested in baseball, the outdoors, art, architecture, technology, the human mind and DNA. I learned Ashkenazi Jews, of which I am one, have to lowest rate of Alzheimer's in the world. Therefore, I treat my brain as a muscle needing a workout. I enjoy good food, flirtation, beautiful women (I am happily married for thirty years), so just flirting ;) I was considered autistic when I was young, trying to figure out if I have a mild form of Aspergers and learning from that. That is for future posts. You can also see I love history. Enjoy my sarcastic silly look at the world, and making History more interesting than a textbook.
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5 Responses to Why Understanding the Scots-Irish in the United States is Important to Understanding Much of American Culture.

  1. I was notified that one of my blog posts was linked from here. I see it in the related articles. Going by what you wrote here, you look like my kind of person. You’ve even read Bageant, a great writer.

    I’m mostly a Northern liberal. However, I spent a good portion of my life in South Carolina and North Carolina. I went to high school in SC and my best friend was a fairly typical redneck, likely Scots-Irish. He was good people. My mom’s family comes from Appalachia and so I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand that culture.

    It is all very interesting.

    • tucsonmike says:

      Benjamin, thank you for replying. I am Jewish, grew up in New York, lived in Virginia and now Arizona. My favorite cousin grew up in Montgomery, Alabama.

      What I am trying to show wealthy Northern Liberals, is to understand much of American culture, you need to understand the Scots-Irish. I am adding to my essays, Hamiltonian-Jeffersonian.

      • I briefly lived in Arizona. I was in Flagstaff for no particular reason and then got a job at the Grand Canyon. It was a grandly beautiful area, but I missed the lush green of the Midwest.

        I’m a Midwesterner through and through. I never acculturated to the South. I also found it odd to be called a Yankee while living down there. Growing up in Iowa, I had no concept of being a Yankee.

        I would point out that there seems to be a vast difference between a Midwestern liberal and an East Coast liberal. Midwestern liberals often use conservative-minded and community-oriented political arguments. Heck, a Midwestern liberal at times can be more conservative-minded than many of the right-wing radicals that get called conservative in other parts of the country.

        I wo4uld also point ot that much of the Lower Midwest is physically and culturally closer to Appalachia than to New England or New York. My mom’s family are Indiana Hoosiers. This makes them equal parts Midwestern and Appalachian. They came to the Midwest the same basic route the Lincoln family took, from Kentucky to Southern Indiana. The Lower Midwest and the Upper South have a shared history that in some ways binds them closer together than respectively to the Northeast and the Deep South.

        Like you, my dad’s paternal side of the family came from New York (and New Jersey). But for some reason I’ve never been there myself. My paternal grandmother, however, came from the Deep South.

        It is only since doing genealogy research that I’ve come to appreciate my Southern roots. I was recently listening to a recording of my mom as a newly married young woman. Even though she rew up in a big city in central Indiana, she used to have a clear Southern accent. She has since lost it for the most part, but it comes out in how she pronounces particular words.

        So what brought you to Arizona? That seems like a less typical place for a New York Jew to end up in. There is an interesting history of Jews in the South, but I would assume not many Jews early on settled in the Southwest. Not to say that I know much about Jewish history in the US.

        Which state or region do you like the most so far? Do you still think of yourself as a New Yorker?

        By the way, there is a labor history in Appalachia. It is less about big unions, but some of the bloodiest labor strikes happened there. The Scots-Irish weren’t always on friendly terms with big business, especially when it came from the North as it did early on. The Populist Movement also had great support in the South, among both poor whites and poor blacks (which is reminiscent of Bacon’s Rebellion).

        The South, especially the Upper South, is a more complex place than most people realize. North Carolina in particular has an interesting history going back to the War of Regulation. One of my favorite stereotype-busting Appalachians is Wendell Berry who is from Kentucky, although Joe Bageant is probably my most favorite.

      • tucsonmike says:

        Thanks for replying. I like Arizona. I am fascinated by the Sonoran Desert, Tucson has its book festival every March. (February is the gem show and the rodeo). I know of Bacon’s Rebellion. The library system I worked for served part of the area it happened in. New York has changed so much, it’s familiar, but not home. I lived in Virginia almost thirty years ago. I have recently started to miss it a little. I married a Bostonian (lived there for four years). Living in Virginia was interesting. To a New Yorker, Yankees are New Englanders. To my wife, Yankees are the original settlers (She’s Irish).

  2. Pingback: The Chosen Few II. Some of My Interpretations. | I am an Author, I Must Auth

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