Are we Americans two peoples?

Some people on the right say Americans were divided into at least two peoples from the start, and the usual version of this meme is that the Puritans of New England and the Cavalier colonists of Virginia constituted two different peoples.  Is it cultural or genetic, nature or nurture — or both — if it’s true at all?

What is the origin, I wonder, of the idea that somehow the old Puritans of New England passed on their attitudes to the present-day generations? In reading comments online of those who believe that today’s New England people are direct physical descendants of the Puritans, I get the impression that they believe genetics are to blame for the liberal attitudes of White people from New England or other areas like the Northwestern states.

Assuming that the people who now live in New England are mostly descendants of the original colonists of that region then some Southern partisans apparently assume today’s New Englanders must have acquired their political and social attitudes by DNA. I don’t know that such genetic transmissions are possible, though I certainly believe genetics plays a big part in who we are and how we think. Early environment and education plus life-experience as we grow older also play a part, though maybe less than the ‘nurture’ advocates think. We aren’t blank slates.

Nevertheless I think it’s far from proven that we inherit our political proclivities. It could be argued that political labels merely describe certain temperaments, traits which are to some extent innate in us. I believe there is such a thing as a ‘conservative temperament.’ Some people, it seems, are risk-takers and gamblers and thrill seekers while some are averse to courting danger and adopting change for its own sake.

I’ve argued, based on the ethnic makeup of New England today (which is in flux now, more so than ever, with mass immigration) that the Puritans have not left much of a genetic or cultural imprint on that region, with the exception of more rural areas. Even those areas are not immune to ‘diversity’, as the little hamlet in Maine where a good many of my ancestors lived has now got Hindus and Jewish residents fleeing from the urban areas of New England. Somalis have also settled in the town which my Houlton forebears settled.

So, will these people acquire, by osmosis or by ‘magic dirt’, the supposed Puritan ethos that haunts that area?

Some people attribute the multiculturalist/miscegenist attitudes of ‘SJWs’  to the Puritan brand of Protestantism, but this seems implausible. The critics of Christianity say that Christianity is, per se, ‘universalist’, meaning in the Christian context, that all will be ‘saved.’ Puritanism is Calvinistic, and Calvin is reviled by the liberal Christians today for the reason (among others) that Calvinism is exclusivist, preaching predestination, the idea that some are destined to be saved, others, not.

Christianity, contrary to what its critics on the right say, had no problem being ‘discriminatory’ in the past. Southern Americans were traditionally very Christian and yet they were not, until the last couple of decades, ”colorblind”, neither were they Zionist. If the Puritan-descended New England people of the 19th century were radical egalitarians and abolitionists — which some were, but hardly all — it is more likely due to the Jacobin influence that was abroad in Europe; the intelligentsia of New England, were, like virtually all such people, very taken with foreign ideas; there was the popular idea that Europe was much more cultured than the uneducated country cousins here in America.

Emerson and the ‘Transcendentalists’ were in some ways typical intellectual dilettantes, given to fads and to posturing. Another major influence amongst that type was ‘Eastern mysticism’, following various Hindu ‘holy men’ and sages, many of whom traipsed around America and Europe doling out their ‘wisdom’ to status-seeking intellectuals.

But the idea that genetics somehow predisposed certain people (Puritan descendants, for example, or by extension, Northeasterners) to certain radical egalitarian beliefs will continue to be repeated and unthinkingly accepted. Why? Because certain people have an interest in dividing White Americans in every possible way: by sex/’gender’, by religion, by social class and by region. Convincing people that political views are acquired either by being born in a certain place or through their distant ancestors is one way to make people see any differences as determined, and fixed permanently.

And maybe dividing this country into smaller nations is the best possible solution, but doing so on the basis of a false belief about our being ‘different peoples’ is not a good start. As for those who are using our present crisis as an excuse to bash Christianity as the source of all our troubles, it’s intellectually dishonest to refuse to consider the influence of European radical egalitarianism (championed by atheists and agnostics) as well as the considerable influence of ‘Eastern mysticism’ amongst many 19th century American intellectuals.


9 thoughts on “Are we Americans two peoples?

  1. It was Quaker influence also.. The radical egalitarianism etc..

    In those days, most of the books came from Britain and Europe and American scholars were influenced by them. In the case of the New Englanders of that period there were many German writings that interested them.. and some Oriental ideas.

    It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who bade his fellow Americans that they had a unique and genuine identity, world view and spirituality and to respect and develop American intellectual endeavors in his famous ‘The American Scholar”. Asking for Americans to have an intellectual independence from Europe. Which they promptly began to recognize and do. was to give confidence to the American ( and everyone too ) to trust- ‘A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within…” and not to “he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.” because ” In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”

    We lived together a long time. So we influenced each other. For example.

    Puritans and also Southerners to some extent were by that time as much influenced by their Quaker neighbor’s intellectual and spiritual writings as they were by Europeans or Orientals.

    The egalitarianism and “self reliance” of listening to the guidance of the inner light is very much the English colonial Quaker ideas as practiced and preached by them. The Quaker presence in USA had huge influence on the business practices, spirituality, law and intellectualism of our country.

    Some of these ideas also spread back across the Atlantic Ocean and influenced Europeans. Many of the core tenets transformed through the lens of European and Jewish experiences and understandings.


  2. I have tremendous respect for Quakers. So it wasn’t an insult– thier egalitarianism and other ways and means have been a very positive influence on the world in my eyes.

    no hard feelings if i’m not allowed to post. I am not very polite most of the time.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson added some good things to the American syllabus. And we are grateful.
    New England intellectuals gets a very bad rap.


  3. There many people outside and within our nation and Britain/Australia, New Zealand, Canada who benefit from sewing discord and division amongst us. As you say by any means necessary and as much division as possible.- with as many fault lines as possible.
    The power of suggestion is very strong. These folks are professionals. My heart is breaking.


  4. Now you will see why i am always banned.
    Emerson and the ‘Transcendentalists’ were in some ways typical intellectual dilettantes, given to fads and to posturing. Another major influence amongst that type was ‘Eastern mysticism’, following various Hindu ‘holy men’ and sages, many of whom traipsed around America and Europe doling out their ‘wisdom’ to status-seeking intellectuals.”

    Is a gross mis- characterization of Emerson and the American Transcendental philosophy and It’s origins, influences and purposes.

    Also, beware of modern Indian and Islamic writings of English history and those Englishmen and women influenced by it.


  5. I notice that for all the complaining about Emerson… many of the leaders of the alt right are Emersonian. In that he was virulently ( as are leaders of our alt right) agasint American expansionism. and anti-war movement. No Manifest Destiny for Emersonians. If it had been up to Emerson and his cohorts- USA would be an itty bitty pacifist country surrounded by a great big Spanish /Mexico and Creole/French empire.

    I’m Not on board with that. Big fan of Manifest Destiny and believe it to be alive and well.

    But, if anyone stands quietly alone and watches the sun glinting off moving water and breathes in the soft air that surrounds them they will know what Emerson was talking about on some of this other writings.

    i find often ( on the alt-right) that things I have said are said by others who I have never read before. Either people are changing dates of thier writings – or it’s Just people coming to the same conclusions.


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