I continue to be impressed by this delightful book … here Woodward unwittingly destroys the preposterous Lincoln myth that there was an “American Revolution” that was launched by an “American people” which somehow created the states through the Declaration of Independence.
I hate to continue to post excerpts, but hopefully some OD readers will be intrigued enough to buy a copy of this book and read it for themselves. It is one of the most interesting books on the subject of American nationalism that has been released in many years.
A book written by a Northern historian that tells the truth about American history … is such a thing unprecedented? So far, so good.
The event we call the American Revolution wasn’t really revolutionary, at least while it was underway. The military struggle of 1775-1782 wasn’t fought by an “American people” seeking to create a united, continent-spanning republic where all men were created equal and guaranteed freedom of speech, religion, and the press. On the contrary, it was a profoundly conservative action fought by a loose military alliance of nations, each of which was most concerned with preserving or reasserting control of its respective culture, character, and power structure. The rebelling nations certainly didn’t wish to be bonded together into a single republic. They were joined in a temporary partnership against a common threat: the British establishment’s ham-fisted attempt to assimilate them into a homogeneous empire centrally controlled from London. Some nations – the Midlands, New Netherland, and New France – didn’t rebel at all. Those that did weren’t fighting a revolution; they were fighting separate wars of colonial liberation.
As we’ve already seen, the four nations that did rebel – Yankeedom, Tidewater, Greater Appalachia, and the Deep South – had little in common and strongly distrusted one another. So how did they overcome their differences to fight a war together? The answer is with great difficulty. In fact, they sometimes weren’t even fighting on the same side, as Appalachia was engaged in a struggle of liberation not against Britain but against Midlands, Tidewater, and the Deep South. To complicate matters, the elites of the Deep South were ambivalent about the revolt, with many of them changing sides in the course of it. (Georgia even rejoined the empire during the conflict.) The main reason the Deep Southerners joined the “revolution” at all was because they feared they would otherwise lose control of their slaves. The nations on the whole cooperated with one another only because they saw no other way to overcome an existential threat to their respective cultures. They allied themselves with the enemies of their enemy but had little intention of merging with one another.
I couldn’t resist skipping ahead to the War Between the States …
Seen through the lens of the continent’s ethnoregional nations, the parties’ motivations, allegiances, and behaviors become clearer. The Civil War was ultimately a conflict between two coalitions. On one side was the Deep South and its satellite, Tidewater; on the other, Yankeedom. The other nations wanted to remain neutral, and considered breaking off to form their own confederations, freed from slave lords and Yankees alike. Had cooler heads prevailed, the United States would likely have split into four confederations in 1861, with dramatic consequences for world history. But hostilities could not be avoided, and the unstable Union would be held together by foce of arms. …
But by mid-century this demographic and diplomatic struggle was becoming a violent conflict between the continent’s two emerging superpowers: Yankeedom and the Deep South, far and away the wealthiest and most nationally self-aware of the four contestants. Neither could abide living in an empire on the other’s terms.
For fifty years the Deep South had been winning the race. The cotton and sugar booms had encouraged the rapid westward expansion of slave culture and made the region fabulously rich. It had eclipsed Tidewater as the dominant force in the South and enlisted the support of Appalachian presidents and politicians in a white supremacy campaign that had cleared the South and Southwest of Indian nations and Mexican officials. Their southern coalition had dominated the federal government since the War of 1812, pushing the empire-averse Yankees and pacifist Midlanders aside to engage in a series of expansionistic wars. With U.S. troops in control of Mexico City in 1848, Deep Southerners could imagine completing their proposed Golden Circle, adding enough slave states to ensure their permanent control over federal policy and hemispheric affairs. Victory, it seemed, was at hand.
Then things began to come apart. While the plantation slave state was winning few hearts and minds in the wider world, the Yankee and Midland Midwest was filling with foreign immigrants who correctly saw fewer opportunities for themselves in the Deep South and Tidewater; many had already suffered under aristocratic feudal systems at home and were determined to stay far away from their North American equivalents. In 1850 the free states had eight foreign-born inhabitants for every one living in a slave state. With each passing year, Yankeedom, the Midlands, and New Netherland held a greater proportion of the nation’s population and therefore a greater number of seats in the House of Representatives. Yankee influence over the Left Coast compounded the problem, ensuring Oregon, California, and Washington would join the United States as free states even as federal authorities declined to seize new territories in the Caribbean. By 1860 the leaders of the Deep South and Tidewater realized the rest of the nations had the political strength to control federal institutions and policy without them. The Deep Southern way of life was in jeopardy. To save it, they would have to leave the Union.