28 December 2013

The South's Scots-Irish Strike Again

Can't hide that Scots-Irish warrior blood, can you?
Wes Pruden, the Washington Times' editor emeritus, explains Phil Robertson and how the ruling class elites still do not understand the South's Scots-Irish. This is classic:
“Duck Dynasty” and the hunting constituency that made the Robertsons rich — $400 million and counting — were in fact a people apart, if the network had wanted to find out who they were. They’re largely Scots-Irish, that oft-overlooked segment of the American ethnic mix who arrived early and challenged the progeny of the English aristocrats, the proper Bostonians and the Virginia cavaliers, to cast the prevailing American character.
Pruden continues, quoting former Virginia Senator Jim Webb:
Jim Webb, the decorated Marine hero, novelist and former U.S. senator from Virginia, describes well his own ancestors and the prevailing culture in northern Louisiana and the South in his book “Born Fighting.”
Notice any similarities?
“These are intensely religious people,” writes Mr. Webb. “Indeed they comprise the very heart of the Christian evangelical movement — and yet they are unapologetically and even devilishly hedonistic. They are probably the most anti-authoritarian culture in America, conditioned from birth to resist any pressure from above, and yet they are known as the most intensely patriotic segment of the country as well. They are naturally rebellious, often impossible to control, and yet their strong military tradition produces generation after generation of perhaps the finest soldiers the world has ever seen. They are filled with wanderlust and are ethnically assimilative, but their love of their own heritage can move them to tears when they hear the bagpipes play, and no matter how far they roam, their passion for family travels with them.”
You can read the rest of Pruden's piece here.

Interesting to consider the fact that Pruden's understanding of the South and the Scots -Irish might enlighten Yale Professor David Blight and explain his annoyance with certain aspects of that same demographic:
Why doesn’t the Confederacy just fade away? Is it because we are irresistibly fascinated by catastrophic loss? Or is it something else? Is it because the Confederacy is to this day the greatest conservative resistance to

federal authority in American history? 
Sounds rather frustrated, doesn't he? Poor academic historians. Poor Hollywood. Poor ruling class elites. They just can't figure things out that occur outside their ivory towers in the hinterlands between the airports. Sigh.

Maybe they should go duck huntin' some time.


Ralph said...

You do realize that the scots in the time of William Wallace were no longer painting their faces blue...Right?


Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Correct. I believe they had switched to camo by then.

Sunnybrook Farm said...

The English used these people in the valley as a shield against the Indians and it worked. I guess they were surprised to run into Jackson's corps a century later.

ropelight said...

David Bright can't seem to answer his own question: Why doesn't the Confederacy just fade away?

According to Bright, the Confederacy was based on the shame of slavery and should have faded away by now. Yet, fond memories and public reverence for the rebellion of 1861 have persisted for nearly 150 years and remain not only strongly held, but also strangely widespread.

However, Bright is actually close to an answer, but he hasn't asked the key question yet. Asking the right question is essential for uncovering elusive truths. Bright must look beyond his prejudices and ask himself what fundamental political positions today's conservatives have in common with yesterday's Confederates. (Hint: it ain't slavery)

It is foolish in the extreme for Bright to claim the long defeated Confederacy is this day's greatest resistance to federal authority.

That honor goes to the individual freedoms Americans expect their representative government to protect and defend.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Well put Rope.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Sunnybrook - correct you are. Poetic justice, no doubt.

Robert Moore said...

Richard... and Sunnybrook Farm... no, that's not entirely correct. While... yes, Scots-Irish AND Germans were on the Virginia frontier, in the 1700s, and worked very conveniently as a buffer for the English to the east, this did not lead to "poetic justice". You are forgetting that those of mostly English descent, to the east, stretched from the Tidewater into Northern Virginia, and were the spearhead behind Virginia secession, while most of those in the Valley were more reluctant (even to the point of condemning such suggestions), but followed only after the deed was done. Furthermore, Clarke County (removed from the Tidewater by only one to two generations) and a good part of the lower Valley had more than its fair share of people of English descent by the time of the Civil War. Looking just a little further to the North, across the Potomac, and in the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania, there were more people of Scots-Irish, who happened to wear blue, from 1861-65.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Robert - "not entirely correct", true. It is much more nuanced and "complicated", as you point out. However, I was thinking more about Colonial times, and the years leading up to the War Between the States. The times in which the divergent citizenry of the Old Dominion had agreed to a marriage of convenience. The landed gentry of eastern Virginia, with its plantation based economy, had allowed the Scots-Irish to stream into the western part of the state, and even dominate that part of Virginia, for a reason – Indians. Again, James Webb describes this uneasy relationship:

“They were told that they could practice their religion in the mountains even if it was not ‘lawful,’ so long as they did not seek to infect the more ordered societies along the coast. And they were expected to reciprocate by both staying in the mountains and keeping the Indians at bay…the Eastern Establishment looked down on them, openly demeaning their religion and their cultural ways, and at bottom sought to use them toward its own ends.”

As you well know and correctly point out, many of these same western residents were pro-Union - to a point. As you wrote in the Lexington book, their loyalty to the Union was "conditional." Thanks for chiming in.

Beyond that, I think there is much to the notion that Union sentiments were driven, in the theological sense, by the old New England Puritanism, while the South's theological view of the conflict was more Calvinistic. I understand that's a broad generalization, but it is a valid point.

Robert Moore said...


Pardon me for not first wishing you a belated Merry Christmas. I hope you had a pleasant one.

I think we need to make a distinction, here. First, the folks (Scots-Irish AND German... of course, I think you know how I feel about Webb's book) in the Shenandoah Valley, during the colonial era, served as a buffer not for the English Puritan crowd, but primarily those with English Anglican roots in Eastern Virginia.

"Beyond that, I think there is much to the notion that Union sentiments were driven, in the theological sense, by the old New England Puritanism, while the South's theological view of the conflict was more Calvinistic."

I have a difficult time believing this as something that permeated Northern Unionism beyond New England. Northern Unionism was just as nuanced and complex. I cannot, for example, see how old New England Puritanism was a motivation behind Pennsylvania Presbyterians or Lutherans... or Ohio the folks in Ohio. In the case of the Ohio folks, many, whether Lutheran, Calvanist or otherwise, were only one generation removed from Virginia roots. In turn, many of those in the Shenandoah Valley were only two to three generations removed from Pennsylvania (in particular, those of German stock). This is the sort of complexity we need to understand behind Unionism in the North.

For that matter, the "divergent citizenry" of Virginia was often in a squabble with itself, and the dividing line could often be traced to the Blue Ridge. It was more a marriage of convenience only because they lived under the same roof. A fine example is the intolerance among Virginians on the west side of the Blue Ridge who had more than their fair share to say about Eastern Virginians wanting to levy taxes on the western crowd. This even came up as a point of discussion in the formation of West Virginia.

Robert Moore said...

I'll add... There's something that always strikes me as odd about the suggestion that the war had roots in a difference created, between the North and the South, because of the influence of old Puritanism in the North. I think specifically of Tocqueville's "Democracy in America", wherein he traces the lineage of American Democracy to the Puritans. In contrast with the suggestion that Puritan influence was so different, many of the ideals he suggests are not entirely different from what we see in the antebellum era Shenandoah Valley. In fact, he points to a difference between those with Puritan-based values and those of the aristocratic culture... a difference, I believe that western Virginians (those folks who were primarily of Scots-Irish and German ancestry) saw between themselves (with the exception of those who aspired to be like them... and they were most certainly here in the Valley) and those of the aristocratic Tidewater.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Robert - I agree with just about everything you said - except I really like Webb's book ;-).

As we both agree, these are generalizations and things were much more nuanced. In addition to the theology influencing perspectives and loyalties, we cannot forget "localism" - ties to neighbors, family, and homes. Those were (and still are) just as strong, in many cases, as were politics, theology, and financial interests (in my opinion anyway).