Even when I disagree with him, I have always loved Thomas Jefferson because we have such similar personalities. He was a highly rational man who offered his aloof, almost detached takes on things. He liked to sit back, observe his contemporaries and reason his way to his conclusions.
In his 1785 letter to the Marquis de Chastellux, Jefferson sketched out the ethnic and cultural differences between Easterners and Southerners, which he attributed ultimately to differences in climate:
“I had even ascribed this to it’s cause, to that warmth of their climate which unnerves and unmans both body and mind, while on this subject I will give you my idea of the characters of the several states.
In the north they are:
- jealous of their own liberties, and just to those of others
- superstitious and hypocritical in their religion
In the south they are:
- zealous for their own liberties, but trampling on those of others
- without attachment or pretensions to any religion but that of the heart
These characteristics grow weaker and weaker by gradation from North to South and South to North, insomuch that an observing traveller, without the aid of the quadrant may always know his latitude by the character of the people among whom he finds himself. It is in Pennsylvania that the two characters seem to meet and blend, and form a people free from the extremes both of vice and virtue. Peculiar circumstances have given to New York the character which climate would have given had she been placed on the South instead of the north side of Pennsylvania. Perhaps too other circumstances may have occasioned in Virginia a transplantation of a particular vice foreign to it’s climate. You could judge of this with more impartiality than I could, and the probability is that your estimate of them is the most just. …”
I would definitely say the environment was a leading cause.
The source of these ethnic, cultural and ideological differences is more than the environment though. The fundamental difference in environment and climate led to the plantation complex triumphing in the Southern and Caribbean colonies. The East never developed export-oriented, cash crop agriculture, which is why it had no use for large numbers of African slaves, which is why it became (in Philip Curtin’s terms) a “true colony” rather than a “plantation zone.” It didn’t become a Slave Society.
Even if slavery and the plantation complex had never triumphed though in the Southern colonies, I think the environment and history would have still sculpted the people here in a different way. The South and the Caribbean colonies were settled by mainstream Englishmen who were commercially oriented Anglicans. In contrast, New England and Pennsylvania were settled by the Puritans and the Quakers, who were the two most notorious dissenting groups in 17th century England. Pennsylvania was founded to be a “Holy Experiment” while New England was founded by strict Calvinists to be a covenant based “City on a Hill” that would set an example to inspire the world. There was no utopian streak in the Southern cultures because the South was settled by normal people who just wanted to get rich.
Every radical utopian social movement in American history has sprung from the soil of the East. I can’t think of a single one that has started in the South. This is not a coincidence. Similarly, the backlash against every one of these controversial radical utopian social movements has arisen out of the authoritarian, socially conservative culture of the South, which is not a coincidence either.
What would Jefferson say about political correctness which is a cultural disease worse than the Alien & Sedition Acts he nullified?
Note: The only partial exception that comes to mind is Prohibition. The “dry” Protestant South strongly supported Prohibition because of the massive social dysfunction that was created here by the devastating outcome of the War Between the States. This exception to the rule though was caused by historical circumstances rather than culture and temperament.