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albionseedI just finished a fabulous book that I can’t recommend highly enough, Albion’s Seed by David Hackett-Fischer. It was published in 1989, and I truly regret not having read 15 years ago. It really gives one a good feel for where America came from, four distinct groups of Englishmen. Surely it doesn’t apply well to current America, where not only is English now a minor ancestry, but most people are a mix, and the community elders have long lost their monopoly on ethics. Yet it really helps understand history. The US Constitution, or the Civil War, or even figures like George Washington, make much more sense with an understanding the four major folkways of early America.

The four sects are:

Puritans: This bourgeois, intellectual and moralistic bunch largely originated in Eastern England. From 1629 to 1640, they settled New England, (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, etc) Archetypes would be Cotton Mather (of Salem witch trial fame), or John Adams.

Cavaliers: aristocrats and their indentured servants from class-ridden Southern England moved to the lowland South (Carolinas and Virginia) from 1642-1675. George Washington and Robert E Lee illustrate the South's gentlemanly and aristocratic ways.

Quakers: Calm and business-like (think Ben Franklin) and others from the North Midlands of England and Wales settled Pennsylvania and the rest of the Delaware Valley in 1675-1725. They invited German Mennonites and others of compatible habits to join them. Pennsylvanians spread out across the Middle West

Scots-Irish: Finally, the belligerent folks from the violent Scottish-English border region came to the Appalachian backcountry from 1718 to 1775. Their descendents spread west across the upper South. The prototype: Andy Jackson or Daniel Boone. They're typically called "Scots-Irish," although they were culturally quite different from Scottish Highlanders or Irish Catholics.

One factoid. Prior to 1856 every President but one came from a single cultural stock (eg, John Quincy Adams the Puritan). The cultural homogeneity back then was amazing. And the regions tended to vote a single way too. Now while some ethnic groups still vote heavily as a block (African-Americans vote 90% Democrat), most variation is whether married (Unmarried women voted for Kerry by a 25-point margin while married women voted for President Bush by an 11-point margin) or have children (74 percent of the variation in Bush’s shares is explained by each state’s white fertility rate!). Thus now you can predict more based on choices (marriage and fertility) than by birth (with some exceptions), wich is a good thing.

As much as people complain about the great divide in America today, we seem significantly more agreeable than the four major cultures that founded what became the USA, each of whom considered the others savage or profane. “Early America,” observes John Roche, “was an open country dotted with closed enclaves.”