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This post makes the claim that American political divisions today have their roots in English political divisions from the 1600's.

For example:

enter image description here

  • East Anglians, the core of the Parliamentarian (blue, progressive) army, moved to Massachusetts (and promptly formed Harvard University in 1636…right during the era of Personal Rule before the Short Parliament )
  • Midlanders with out strong political opinions moved to the (US Midlantic states, which today generate mild democrats and Christie RINOs)
  • Minor nobility from the royal families (red, conservative) moved to Virginia (although it took them a bit longer to establish VMI)
  • The Scots Irish armies loyal to the nobility (remember? The ones that the Parliamentarians were so worried that Wentworth was stirring up?) moved to the American South (although the minor royalty, being minor royalty, was used to eating high on the hog: they took the best farmland and gave the Scots Irish the scraps: crappy hill land and "hollas".

My question is: What evidence is there that English Political divisions from the 1600s are replicated in American politics today?

  • This claim seems to boil down to "1600 English politics and modern American politics both have two sides - Coincidence? I think not!" – Semaphore Oct 13 '14 at 11:16
  • Intriguing question. This crossed my mind once years ago. In the end I decided American geography dictated eventual politics due to agriculture, disease and trade access. – LateralFractal Oct 13 '14 at 11:47
  • @Semaphore - I was worried the question was: Are the divisions similar, which is a question for the politics stack. However, the question seems to be "are the current divisions actually directly descended from the 1600's, which IMHO is a good question for this stack. – T.E.D. Oct 13 '14 at 12:58
  • @T.E.D. I agree it is a valid question; I didn't vote to close or anything. Mine was a comment on the blogpost(?) making this claim - which I consider to be mistaking correlation for causation by ignoring centuries in between. – Semaphore Oct 13 '14 at 13:26
  • @Semaphore - Yeah, the blog post...has issues. – T.E.D. Oct 13 '14 at 15:16
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That blog post is presenting the argument of Albion's Seed. However, he's presenting it in a somewhat twisted way. It looks like he's trying to make political points as much as he is historical ones, and that's causing him to both simplify and outright misrepresent some of his history.

For that reason, I'd suggest reading the original book, if you are interested in its thesis.

There certainly is evidence of cultural differences between the Northeast, the Midlands, the South, and the border areas, that persisted as the USA spread west. This has been noted from several different quarters. Let's take one example: the "border area". Historians such as Jim Webb have pointed out the cultural contribution of the Scotts-Irish, who moved into the upper south and highland areas west of there. Linguists have noted a distinctive American accent that covers this exact area: South Midland (it actually goes by many names, perhaps due to it being the lowest prestige dialect in American English). Nate Silver, in analyzing voting patterns, independently placed pretty much this same region in a grouping he refers to as "Highlands"

When all these different disciplines are telling you there are real cultural differences in the same area, its a pretty good bet there are real cultural differences in that area.

This doesn't just go for the Scotts-Irish either. There are major American English dialects corresponding to all of the supposed "seed" populations: New England, Midland, Southern Midland, and Southern.

That these separate cultures can be traced back to fairly early in the Republic's history is well documented. The thesis that the root of this difference goes back to all the separate immigrant groups going to different areas in the USA, and further that it corresponds directly to the culture they brought with them from their original homes, seems quite plausible, but I'm not sure how well proven it is.

There are certainly holes in the theory. For example, if the entire source of each group's culture came from regional English differences, you'd expect the American regional dialects to be nearly as dissimilar as those dialects are in the mother country. Instead, American speech is quite homogeneous by English standards, more like they started from a common source with influences and local separate developments, rather than like they started from wildly different sources and merged toward a set of common denominators.

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The author of your post makes a big deal of the Electoral College results from 2012 closely aligning with the lineup of states during the American Civil War:

enter image description here

However he conveniently omits that this pattern is far from consistent in American history, as evidenced by these Electoral College maps from 1900 (Say what - how did the colours reverse? - Because Red is the Republican Party of Lincoln and Roosevelt, not of Hoover and Reagan.):

enter image description here

and from 1976 (where there is a much stronger East-West divide than a North-South one, and the colours ae still reversed):

enter image description here

and from even 1840 where the proposed analysis might be held to be even stronger. but simply is not born out:

enter image description here

The moral:
Attempting to reduce complicated decision and policy decisions to simple aphorisms is always a mug's game.

  • The colors used to be more or less randomly associated with the parties in the 70s and 80s. It is really only this century that Red State/Blue State became fixed and political. And this was after the big shift where the South went from Solid Democrat to Solid Republican. – Oldcat Oct 13 '14 at 18:53
  • @Oldcat: Look more closely - the parties are associated with the same colors, but the distribution between states reversed, making it look like the colours reversed for the same parties. – Pieter Geerkens Oct 13 '14 at 19:45
  • The reason the above was true was because from 1860-about 1900, the Republican party (of Lincoln) was the "left" party, and the Democrat party was the "right" party. If you look at the colors of 1900 and now as being "left" and "right," the apparent reversal is explained. And 1976 (with southerner Jimmy Carter as the Democrat, was a "transition" election. – Tom Au Oct 13 '14 at 22:36
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The model has some validity up to the time of the Civil War. The main fight was between New Englanders and Southeasterners, basically England's Southeastern "Anglicans" and southwestern nobility. With the Midlanders siding with the "Anglicans" for non-ideological reasons, and the Scots-Irish showing their resentment of the nobles in West Viriginia, "East Tennessee," and equivalent, but Confederate-controlled parts of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Alabama.

But as Pieter pointed out, the political landscape of the U.S. has changed a lot since the Civil War, with the introduction of large non "Anglo" populations. So any connection to 17th century England from today is tenuous at best.

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