American Nations Summary

Colin Woodard

American Nations

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American Nations Summary

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Colin Woodard’s 2011 book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America takes a fascinating look at American regionalism and the eleven territories that continue to shape North America. Woodard asserts that North America comprises eleven distinct nations, each containing its own unique history. Taking readers on a journey that reveals the origins of our fractured continent, the author offers a revelatory perspective on American identity and the ways the conflicts between regions have molded our past and continue to shape our present. Each region maintains its distinctive ideals and identities, even today, resulting in the composition of the United States Congress and the county election maps of presidential elections.

Woodard introduces the notion that the continent is and has long been divided into eleven rival regions determined by centuries-old settlement patterns. He describes the regions by mapping these settlements.

Yankeedom stretches from the New England Puritans to the area settled by their descendants in Upstate New York as well as the upper Midwest. They value education, intellectual accomplishments, community, and citizen participation in politics to shield against tyranny. Settled by radical Calvinists, Yankees have what Woodard calls a “Utopian streak.”

Greater New York City was New Netherland, and the region has historically been more interested in making money. The area is known for having a profound tolerance for religious and ethnic diversity, as well as a commitment to conscience and inquiry. Settled by the Dutch, the region is an ally with Yankeedom.

The Midlands sweep from Philadelphia, which was once made up of Quakers, to the heart of the Midwest. The region is a hospitable middle-class society that produced the culture of the “American Heartland.” Woodward refers to the area as “America’s great swing region,” where political opinions are moderate, and regulation by the government is frowned upon. This area has historically been dominated by Germans.

Built by the young English gentry, Tidewater includes the area around North Carolina and the Chesapeake Bay. Originally a feudal society that utilized slavery, the area values tradition and authority.

Greater Appalachia was colonized by settlers from northern England, Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Lowlands. The region values individual liberty and personal sovereignty. Suspicious of Yankees and lowland aristocrats, those in this area tend to side with the Deep South in terms of countering the influence of the federal government. It includes parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Texas.

Established as a West Indies-style slave society, the Deep South was settled by English slave lords from Barbados. It is characterized by a rigid social structure and an attitude of fighting against government regulation that threatens individual freedom. It comprises Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Texas, South Carolina, and Georgia.

El Norte comprises the borderlands of the Spanish-American empire, including parts of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. It is dominated by Hispanic culture and values self-sufficiency, independence, and diligence.

Settled by Appalachian Midwesterners and New Englanders, the Left Coast is a hybrid of Appalachian self-expression and Yankee utopianism. The most vigilant ally of Yankeedom, the region comprises coastal California, Washington, and Oregon.

The Far West was developed by large investments in industry, though its inhabitants “resent” the Eastern interests initially controlling the investment. It includes Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, North and South Dakota, Nevada, Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska.

New France is a small section of liberalism within the Deep South; its values include consensus, tolerance, and approval for governmental involvement in the economy. Among the most liberal regions in North America, New France is centered around New Orleans, Louisiana.

The First Nation is made up of Native Americans, and though they have tribal sovereignty in the United States, their population is under 300,000. Most live in the northern region of Canada.

The individual nations mistrusted one another deeply and frequently resorted to warfare. Woodard brings to mind long-forgotten skirmishes, such as the 1764 Paxton Boys’ Borderlander assault on Midlander Philadelphia and the late eighteenth-century Yankee-Pennamite wars of northern Pennsylvania.

The author paints the country as remaining unified, despite the conflicts. The Revolutionary War was an insurgency only for the Yankees. Meanwhile, New Netherland turned into a Loyalist refuge, pacifists in the Midlands laid low, and planters of the Deep South attempted to determine how best to preserve their slave economy.

The new Constitution was not as unifying as was hoped for. The Borderlanders instigated the Whiskey Rebellion and attempted to create their own state of Franklin. The Yankees became so alarmed over the power shift to the Tidewater that they nearly demanded a new Constitution in 1814.

Yankeedom, which was filled with moralizing abolitionists, also saw the start of the Civil War. It was only due to a turn by Midland voters that Abraham Lincoln was elected. Furthermore, the secessionists’ firing upon Fort Sumter was the catalyst for New Netherland, the Midlands, and the Borderlands to rally with the Yankees. However, the war, which saved the Union, served to exacerbate certain divides. For example, Reconstruction intensified the Yankee-Borderlander split.

Since 1877, American politics, Woodard concludes, has not been a class struggle, one between commercial and agrarian interests, or even one between competing partisan ideologies—though he contends each has played its role. Ultimately, he says, the clash has been between “shifting coalitions of ethnoregional nations, one invariably headed by the Deep South, the other by Yankeedom.”

Woodard asserts that despite America’s growing diversity, the nation is likely to continue to polarize as people tend to move to areas that identify with their values. Blue states are becoming bluer, red states are becoming redder, and the middle is shrinking.