In Literature Appetizer, Ben gives you just a taste of a book. Not meant to replace the full meal, this is meant to whet your appetite. Bon appetit!
It seems like there is no issue currently that unites all of America together. From social justice to environmental protection, America is looking more like a nation divided rather than united. Why can't we go back to when we as a nation were unified? One, strong, clear body protecting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Our revolution, our first victory, was won through becoming united, right?
Colin Woodard suggests that America has never been united. Rather, eleven distinct nations have been fighting for power since europeans first set foot on this side of the world. In his book American Nations Woodard dives into the history and conflicts that these cultural nations have.
While not a complete history, this unique perspective is essential to understanding cultural values of each of the nations in America. We only have enough time to generally identify each nation, but I highly recommend every American reading this book. By identifying our differences, we can start to have conversations towards unity (or something close).
You may culturally identify with a nation you don't live in. The boarders identified above are where that culture has the most influence and does not nessecarily represent all peoples living in that area. As Woodard put it-
The people that were living on this side of the world before europeans came were as diverse and complicated as any collection of human civilizations. To say they were all of one mind would be like saying that there is one culture that spans from Europe to Africa.
However, with multiple european empires taking their land and culture away, these peoples have created a loose unification to preserve their ancient way of life. While pockets exist throughout the continent, their cultural stronghold resides in the far north. Highly based around community, they are actively fighting for preserving culture, the environment, and peace. Some of their strongest allies include New France and the Left Coast.
This was the first nation to form on the continent with the meeting of the First Nation and Spanish Empire. These people are often seen as the 'Northern Elites' in Mexico due to their strong sense of hard work, pride in their mixed native and spanish genealogy, and foundation in heritage. The Nortenos are seen as a modern day Germany during the cold war; one society split with an international wall.
While there was protest from the American government at the time to include it in the union (one Senator Calhoun saying that the government "is of a white race!"), it now has taken a strong foothold in the states. Always voting 'purple,' this nation is strongly unified with a sense of independence and changes with each election based on what best serves the intrests of el Republica del Norte.
The most liberal people in North America, New France values multiculturalism over all else. Their strongest foothold is in Quebec (which has tried to form their own country multiple times), but it also has a 'colony' that formed in the heart of the Deep South.
This nation formed with the partnership between France and the First Nation (explaining the strong sense of friendship New France has with native populations). While the British may have taken the land away from the French, the culture implanted was strong enough to survive to this day. Not much focus is given to this nation in the book, since most of the influence this nation has is in Canada. It is however deep friends with Yankeedom, with soldiers on either side refusing to fight one another during the war of 1812.
The first British culture to take root was that around Jamestown in the tidal waters of the coast. When the first settlers were coming 'across the pond' the people of Britain identified with one of two genealogies: the Anglo-Saxon tribes or the Norman 'invaders.' While many Anglo-Saxons were taking refuge in the mountains, the Norman gentry built a 'proper' civilization on the coast.
The main value of the elites at the time was that of the traditional sense of liberty. Traditional Greek/Roman liberty was a gained privilege that few had. If everyone had it, it would become worthless. This justification through hard work meant that slaves, black or white, could earn their 'liberty to vote' and 'not be owned' if they worked hard enough.
During the expansion out west the nations surrounding Tide Water blocked it off from gaining more land, thus limiting its power forevermore. One of its gifts to modern day America was the founding of the Electoral College. This was done so that the low born 'Anglo-Saxes' could not elect an idiot to be president.
Yankeedom can be summed up in two words: public idealists. Everything in Yankeedom is based off of the community. To a Yankee, there is no greater honor than to devote your life to bettering those around you, even if the result comes at a cost to your own personal identity.
Because they were founded by Puritans, they not only wanted to make the perfect Utopian society...they wanted to make sure others followed in their way of life. They see themselves as living 'the only true way,' while other nations are wrong on some level. Even though they are politically 'liberal,' they will not accept other ways of life if it is viewed as wrong.
Two of the best things that Yankeedom gave to America was the public school system and equal representation for states in the senate. This ensured that everyone was on equal footing (starkly different than the Tide Water 'liberty). Opposition to public schools stems from other nations not wanting their children to be raised 'like a Yankee.'
Their strongest allies are New France, New Netherland, and the Left-Coast. This forms the great 'Northern Alliance' with Yankeedom having a strong place in US Government.
Just as New France was a French colony taken over by the British, New Amsterdam was a Dutch city renamed 'New York' after the British took full control of the coast of North America. The people of New Netherland peacefully accepted their new rulers, as long as they could keep their practices of tolerance (which later formed the Bill of Rights).
The goal of the city, both past and present, is to make money. The most materialistic of the nations, the highest goal of any individual is to acquire wealth for yourself. To make the most money, the port had to be open to multiple nations around the globe. The only way of doing that was to be tolerant of other world views. New Netherlanders didn't strive for diversity on a moral level; they tolerated it "because they knew the alternative was far worse" (pg 70).
This tolerance has grown to such levels that many movements call their birthplace NYC (including the Gay Rights). Now seen as an ally in the Northern Alliance, this nation has itself become one of the most influential of the entire globe while also being the smallest.
Notice the complete lack of mention of race in that quote. The Barbados slave lords founded the Deep South not out of racism, but to exploit 'lower' people (whether they were slaves from Africa or poor whites). Wanting to create the Golden Triangle of trade, they have used every trick to maintain power.
Woodard (a born and raised Yankee) gives the least nuance to this nation. Yes, it has a dark and complicated history...but what are the good qualities from the south? Two qualities of the Deep South have been present in every aspect of its history are privacy and quality time.
To a southerner there is nothing better than to spend all day with family on the porch. Community is not the highest priority, nor is work or wealth. Other nations (especially Yankeedom) see this as laziness while Deep Southerns see it as enjoying life. This quality time has allowed some of the best music and food to come from the gulf, since they have the patience. Could you imagine a world without a full-day, slow roasted barbecue?
But the 'lower class' southerners are realizing that their way of life is becoming jeopardized by the oligarchy. As native Deep Southerner Thomas Frank wrote in What's the Matter with Kansas?-
Southerners since the sixties have been joining together to fight the oppression they face from the oligarchy so that they can go back to enjoying their own private life.
When William Penn acquired the massive land from the King, he did not wish to create a mighty empire. Rather, he wanted to create a utopia of multiculturalism. Distinct from Yankeeom, 'Pennsylvania' would be a place where all ideas and peoples could live in harmony. Being settled first by 'Quakers,' residents of Pennsylvania had a strong sense of pacifism (to the point that no towns thought to have a standing army in-case of attack).
This nation has now spread across the continent, and has the least lack of unity of identity of all the nations. While you can find a Midlander in both New Jersey and Texas, they all share the value of logic driven, peaceful lives.
When the media thinks of a 'stereotypical American,' they usually come from the Midlands. Cautious against both government and companies, this nation often becomes the critical 'swing vote' in government in the continued fight for power of the Yankeedom and Deep South elites.
If the Tide Waters identified as Normans, the people of Greater Appalachia identified as Anglo-Saxons. Running away from an oppressive rule, these people just wanted to live their life they way they wanted, thank you very much. Like the Midlands, they are cautious of both government and corporations but that is where the similarities end.
Appalachian people want to live a private life, but will fight tooth and nail to defend it. This narrative sums their life-style perfectly:
They are a nation that sees themselves exploited by the "low land elites." Their allegence changes every decade or so, for each time they have allied with another nation it has tried to exploit the people of Greater Appalachia. This is also the nation that has the highest number of white Americans self-identify as "Native American" since in their eyes they were born in America, so aren't they native?
The Left Coast is a strange lovechild of the nations of Yankeedom and Greater Appalachia. When the news of the coast first reached eastern ears, Yankees thought it was their God given right to make a "New New England" while Appalachians just wanted to flee the government. Their nations had never been given space to deeply interact because the Midlands formed a natural barrier.
The result of these two nations forming is idealist individuals. They want to create a utopia, but cannot do that if the self is at risk. Often they will use the Appalachians warrior tactics to create a space where everyone can be self-expressive. It celebrates the diversity it receives from being connected to other countries in the Pacific, but is often not tolerant to other American Nations if they challenge either the Left Coast's idealistm or invidualism.
The last nation to be fully settled by europeans was also the harshest to live in. Intense heat and a strong lack of water, people of the Far West had to be tough to survive. Often travelers would try to reach the coast or die trying. Few decided to create a life halfway.
Like the Appalachians that escaped to the Left Coast, the first settlers of the Far West were (and still are) trying to escape the 'grip of the government.' However tough those first settlers were, the greater societies in the Far West needed government support to survive. Once cohesive agenda formed-
Because the government has exploited the land and its people, the Far West desperately wants to be left alone but cannot survive without the federal government. Often at odds with the Left Coast, the Far West is the toughest, and most dependent, nation of them all.