by Pilgrim's Pride | June 12th, 2012
“America, where the streets are paved with gold!”
“America is a nation of immigrants!”
“America is the Land of Opportunity!”
“America is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.”
Well maybe not that last one.
America. What is meant by “America”?
Sure, it referred to the new world discovered by Christopher Columbus, named for a highly skilled navigator, and populated sparsely by Stone Age tribes of Indians, fighting among themselves endlessly.
But as a noun it once held a particular meaning to the “old world” that looked here and marvelled at what they saw. Sure there was opportunity. Sure explorers and colonists and opportunists from all the principal European empires were represented there, more or less immune to the worries back home (well not entirely as we all know, in hind sight).
To the “old world” America referred to the inexplicable desire of Puritan Yankees and Pennsylvania Quakers to live their own lives absent aristocratic supervision: independence in its truest sense.
This was almost literally inconceivable to the European masses, let alone their aristocracy. In fact, some while after winning its freedom from England, a young French aristocrat dispatched himself hither to understand what might be in his future, living in the aftermath of the French Revolution and its hatred of the ancien regime. We read Tocqueville’s findings as “Democracy in America” and scarcely recognize the people or the institutions he so vividly detailed for us.
You see, he noticed even then that the two primary cultures on American soil (already meaning the Thirteen Colonies and pointedly excluding Mexico, Canada and the various islands) were mutually incompatible.
The North was religious in a way he struggled to understand. To him, religion was something you did because the king commanded it. Yet the Yankees and others in the North did it from a sense of conviction that it was simply the right thing to do.
The American South, Toqueville saw as an attempt by “second sons of second sons” to create for themselves the manorial life they could not obtain in England — but which might be simulated in America. Unfortunately, without a corresponding English peasantry they were forced to improvise, with repercussions that report even louder today. (The Washington family is an outstanding example of minor English nobility who “won an everlasting name in lands to him unknown”.)
Toqueville understood the presence of the African on American soil would ultimately destroy the American society for a number of reasons. Rank hypocrisy, especially among the stereotypically ambiguous Anglican “cavaliers” who drafted the stirring prologue to the Declaration of Independence, counted more to him even than stark biological incompatibilities. To his mind, it was contrary to the spirit of America. From this we learn that Europeans of the time were fascinated by the New England – Pennsylvania experiments, lacking an obvious aristocracy and peasantry in favor of broadly “middle class” citizens highly capable of self-rule, rather than other identifiable American cultures which were, more or less, replications of existing social models.
A few years after publishing his findings, Toqueville’s prediction came to pass and Americans set about slaughtering each other using all the latest technology. By the war’s end 600,000 Americans, almost all grandsons of the Founding Fathers, lay rotting in fields from Pennsylvania to the Gulf of Mexico. Bullets fired in that war are discovered embedded in walls and trees even today, a century and a half later.
The war brought about important innovations quite apart from the destruction of the old Republic and its idealized federation of independent, sovereign states.
In clearing the way for the Industrial Revolution, it ushered in a period of almost unrestricted economic activity — with a great need of manpower to build the coming factories, roads, and other infrastructure as well as to dig, with bare hands, the anthracite coal necessary to power it all.
Not only were those 600,000 war dead, dead — and thus unavailable to work — missing too were their children never born. Perhaps three or four million Americans that should have been weren’t by the time the American Industrial Revolution hit its stride in the late 1880s.
The principle constraint was almost insurmountable and yet the experience was familiar from the colonial period. The solution was typically American. As did the “Distressed Cavaliers” of the 17th and 18th Centuries, the answer was to import foreign laborers in their millions. And without the slightest consideration of their suitability to become actual “Americans”.
The North felt the unintended consequences almost immediately and Nativist and similar political movements sprang up in a futile attempt to stem the tide. Long established colonial cities were transformed into slums and ghettos that remain to this day. The value of labor plummeted and, this author posits controversially, the gross imbalance between available jobs and unemployed immigrants was the direct cause of the Great Depression.
The South, insulated from the hordes thanks to an agrarian society that held little interest to immigrants, would have to wait for the immigrant fueled Civil Rights movement, when Dixie was smashed again with a vengeance not seen since Reconstruction.
But this is best treated as its own subject, how America came to be a honey pot instead of a sacred “New Jerusalem”. Even a cursory reflection on the strange but enduring propaganda slogans of the Great Wave tells us what we need to know.
Until next time I am your humble servant,
The Pilgrim’s Pride