In the book “American Nations” I argued that there has never been one America but rather several Americas, most of them developing from one or another of the rival colonial projects that formed on the eastern and southwestern rims of what is now the United States. These regional cultures – “nations,” if you will – had their own ethnographic, religious and political characteristics, distinct ideas about the balance between individual liberty and the common good and, in the Early Republic, over whether the United States should be defined by ideals or (Anglo-Saxon) bloodlines.

They’ve also profoundly affected our politics, including the 2020 presidential election.

The “nations” are:

Yankeedom: Founded on the shores of Massachusetts Bay by radical Calvinists as a new Zion, since the outset it has put great emphasis on perfecting earthly society through social engineering, individual self-denial for the common good and the aggressive assimilation of outsiders. It prizes community (rather than individual) empowerment, broad civic participation and government action to protect the community against would-be tyrants.

New Netherland: Established by the Dutch at a time when the Netherlands was Europe’s most sophisticated society, it has displayed the salient characteristics of 17th century Amsterdam throughout its history: a global commercial trading culture – multi-ethnic, multi-religious and materialistic – with a profound tolerance for diversity and an unflinching commitment to the freedom of inquiry and conscience.

The Midlands: America’s great swing region was founded by English Quakers, who believed in humans’ inherent goodness and welcomed people of many nations and creeds to their utopian colonies on the shores of Delaware Bay. Pluralistic and organized around the middle class, the Midlands is a culture where ethnic and ideological purity have never been a priority, government has been seen as an unwelcome intrusion, and political opinion has been moderate, even apathetic.

Tidewater: Built by the younger sons of southern English gentry who reproduced the semi-feudal manorial society of the countryside they’d left behind, where economic, political, and social affairs were run by and for landed aristocrats. It has always been fundamentally conservative, with a high value placed on respect for authority and tradition, and very little on equality or public participation in politics. This culture is vanishing from the stage, largely due to the expanding federal halos around D.C. and Norfolk.

Greater Appalachia: Founded in the early 18th century by waves of settlers from the war-ravaged borderlands of northern Ireland, northern England and the Scottish lowlands, it has a deep commitment to personal sovereignty and individual liberty, and an intense suspicion of external authority, be it the lowland aristocracy or Reconstruction Era Yankee social engineers.

Deep South: Established by slave lords from Barbados as a West Indies-style slave society, this region has been a bastion of oligarchic privilege, and a version of classical Republicanism modeled on the slave states of the ancient world, where democracy was the privilege of the few and enslavement the natural lot of the many. Its slave and racial caste systems smashed by outside intervention, it continues to fight for rollbacks of federal power, taxes on capital and the wealthy, and environmental, labor, and consumer safety protections.

El Norte: The far-flung borderlands of the Spanish American empire, so far from the seats of power in Mexico City and Madrid that they evolved their own characteristics and a reputation for being more independent, self-sufficient, adaptable, and work-centered than their central and southern countrymen. With a long history of tensions with both the U.S. and Mexico City, the region – which includes the northern tier of Mexican states – has sought to become an independent buffer state between the two federations.

The Left Coast: The unlikely result of two early colonization streams: merchants, missionaries and woodsmen from New England (who arrived by sea), and farmers, prospectors, and fur traders from the Appalachian Midwest (who came by wagon). Yankee missionaries expended considerable effort to make it “a New England on the Pacific” but were only partially successful: The Left Coast is a hybrid culture combining Yankee utopianism with an Appalachian emphasis on individual self-expression and exploration.

The Far West: The one part of the continent where environmental factors trumped ethnographic ones. High, dry and remote, it stopped the eastern cultures in their tracks and – with the Mormon exception – was colonized only via the deployment of vast industrial-scale resources: railroads, ore smelters, dams and irrigation systems. As a result, settlement was largely directed and controlled by far-off corporations or the federal government, both of which exploited it as an internal colony, to the lasting resentment of its people.

(Two other regional cultures – where the legacy of New France and the continent’s First Nations hold sway – have just small enclaves in the United States but enormous influence in Canada, a federation not unlike out own but with an entirely different mix of regional cultures.)

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