Conservative is the New Redneck

This one's a no-brainer, right? Of course conservatives are rednecks, Mr. Obama told us so all the way back in 2008 when he was first running for president. As he told his supporters at a San Francisco fundraiser:
You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations. 
With the implication that they should (or would) be clinging to government instead, if only the government worked?

Let me tell you a story. Way back in 1637, the King of England wanted a new prayer book. And not just for himself or for England, but for Scotland, too, because he was the King of Scotland and Ireland as well as England and he wanted all of his realms to be using the same prayers. (At least, I am assuming he did, I don't actually know about what happened with the prayer book in Ireland, it hasn't come up in any of the reading I have done.) So the king convened a group of churchmen to write a prayer book for the Kirk (a.k.a. the Church of Scotland), without however consulting either the Scots Parliament or the Kirk. And on July 23, 1638, the first Sunday on which the clergy of the Kirk had been commanded to begin praying from the new Book, riots erupted across Edinburgh. One woman, Jenny Geddes, was so angry, that she stood up in the church of St. Giles where the Dean of Edinburgh was presiding and threw her stool at the minister's head, with the fearsome cry:
"De'il gie you colic, the wame o’ ye, fause thief; daur ye say Mass in my lug?"  
"Devil cause you colic in your stomach, false thief: dare you say the Mass in my ear?"
As Alan Jacobs remarks in his The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), p. 73: "Presumably this story got around quickly, because when Bishop Whitford of Brechin read his first service from the prayer book he did so with two loaded pistols placed on the desk before him, in plain sight of the restive congregation."

But it was already too late. The Scots were roused, and they did not take kindly to the king trying to interfere in their worship of the Almighty. Already in February of the same year, a large group of them had assembled in the churchyard of Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh and pledged or covenanted to resist the "superstitious and papistical rites" of the English. Some of these "Covenanters" went so far as to sign the covenant that that they made in their own blood, tying red scarves around their necks as a symbol of their steadfastness against the imposition of the king's religion. By the next year, the Scots had raised an army and marched against the king. Although the king had capitulated to the grievances brought by the Scots Parliament the following year, his actions had so alienated the English Parliament that soon he found himself embroiled in a civil war, by the end of which he had lost his head, literally.

Fast forward to 1688, when William of Orange had assumed the throne of England by arrangement with Parliament, and the Scots Presbyterians settled in Ulster began worrying about a Catholic response. On December 7, 1688, Londonderry found itself under siege by the ousted monarch James II. When in April, the king approached the city gates and offered terms of surrender, the Ulsterfolk cried as the Covenanters had done: "No surrender!" Although eventually the English sent warships, for six weeks in the summer, the ships stood idly by, as the city endured its greatest battering and the people began to die. At long last, in late July, the relief force pushed through and the siege was lifted, but by that point all trust had been lost. As far as the Londonderry Scots were concerned, the Anglicans both inside and outside the city had abandoned them. When the Anglican Reverend George Walker published his True Account of the Siege of Londonderry in September that same year, he failed to mention any of the services of the Presbyterian ministers or the leadership of the Scots in sustaining the siege.

The resentment would linger for generations. As Jim Webb notes in his Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America (New York: Broadway, 2004), p. 109: 
For the Presbyterian Scots who stayed in Ulster, the insults at the hands of the principally English Anglicans would burn for more than a century. For those who eventually left Northern Ireland to settle in America, the slighting of their contribution at the Londonderry siege would become simply one more piece of evidence that it was time to move on. And they brought with them a far greater antipathy toward the English hierarchy than they ever could have felt toward the ordinary Irish.
What were these Scots Irish Presbyterian settlers in America like? For starters, there were more of them than any other British group. As David Hackett Fischer has shown in his Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989) in exhaustive--but exhilarating--detail (really, if you haven't read his book and you read only one book ever again, make it this book--it will change everything about the way you see America), colonial Britain was the product of not one but four great migrations, of which the East Anglian Puritans who settled in New England were only the first. They came over largely in the 1630s fleeing Charles I's tyranny, and there were about 21,000 of them. The next major wave of immigrants was the Anglican Royalists fleeing the Cromwellian Commonwealth in the 1650s. They numbered about 45,000 and settled in Virginia. The third major wave was the Quakers, fleeing the persecutions during the Restoration. About 23,000 came over from the North Midlands of England between 1675 and 1695 and settled in the Delaware Valley. And then there were the Scots Irish following the Union of England and Scotland in 1707. They came over by the hundreds of thousands, perhaps as many as a quarter million people, between 1715 and 1775. Some came to Maine, but the Puritans there didn't like them and pushed them on (my ancestor David Fulton seems to have been one of these). Some settled in Delaware, but the Quakers feared them. Most settled in the backcountry along the Appalachians where nobody else wanted to live.

And rightly so. According to the Puritans who had settled with their towns in New England, the Quakers who had settled with their farms in the Delaware Valley, and the Anglicans who had settled with their landed estates in Virginia, the Scots Irish were savages, violent barbarians, little better than animals. As one Anglican preacher reported after trying to convert the Scots Irish in the Carolina mountains: "They delight in their present low, lazy, sluttish, heathenish, hellish life and seem not desirous of changing it" (Arthur Herman, How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything In It [New York: MJF, 2004], p. 237). As Webb recounts, the Scots Irish of the backcountry flocked to hear sermons, hungry for intellectual stimulation and the social opportunities presented by such gatherings. But despite their enthusiasm, all the Anglican minister Charles Woodmason could see, preaching in the Carolina backwoods in the 1760s, were "Ignorant, mean, worthless, beggarly Presbyterians, the Scum of the Earth, and Refuse of Mankind." As Webb comments (p. 157): "Such invective is not unheard of in modern days. If a sensitive ear would substitute 'redneck' for 'Irish Presbyterians,' he might have a pretty accurate picture of how many modern-day New Englanders [a.k.a. Puritans, although they call themselves "Progressives" now--FB] and European elites still characterize rural Southerners."

Why "redneck"? Because, according to Fischer, "redneck" as it was originally applied to this "rural proletariat" meant "Presbyterian": "It had long been a slang word for religious dissenters in the north of England"(p. 758)--possibly, although Fischer does not mention it, because of the red scarves that the Covenanters had tied round their necks to symbolize their refusal to bow to the king in matters of religion. Nor, as the preachers learned, would they bow to the king's Anglican missionaries in the backcountry of America either. As why should they? Those Scots Irish who came from the Border counties of their ancestral island had had little reason to trust kings ever since the Romans built their wall to keep their savage ancestors at bay. Kings of England had fought with the kings of Scotland over the borderlands for centuries, once every generation or so laying it waste as the English king came north or the Scots king went south to try to assert his power over his rival. As the Scots learned in 1637, the English king's ministers could not be trusted to confer with the Kirk, and as the Highlanders learned following the Union with England (in fact, voted for by the Scottish Parliament--see Herman, How the Scots, for details), neither could they trust their own lords. To the Puritans, Quakers, and Anglicans of the older colonies in British America, the Scots Irish may have looked like savages (as, indeed, they themselves acknowledged--see Ferguson), but as Colin Woodard puts it in American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (New York: Penguin, 2011), p. 101, a better name for them might be "refugees."

As Woodard summarizes Fischer's and Webb's arguments (pp. 101-2):
The founders of Appalachia came from the war-torn borderlands of northern Britain: lowland Scotland, the adjacent Marches of northern England, and the Scots-Irish-controlled north of Ireland. Their ancestors had weathered 800 years of nearly constant warfare, some of them fighting in (or against) the armies of William "Braveheart" Wallace or Robert the Bruce. By the time America was being colonized, the borderlands were in ruins. "The country is so stored with infinite numbers of begging and vagrant poor, why by reason of their extreme want and misery are very bold in their behavior and impudent," an English spy said of Scotland in 1580. The north of England, a foreign diplomat wrote in 1617, "was very poor and uncultivated and exceedingly wretched...from the perpetual wars with which these nations have savagely destroyed each other."
Woodard's map: The Borderlanders settled in Greater Appalachia
Under such conditions, Borderlanders learned to rely only on themselves and their extended families to defend home, hearth, and kin against intruders, be they foreign soldiers, Irish guerrilla fighters, or royal tax collectors [or Yankee carpetbaggers or Progressive do-gooders--FB]. Living amid constant upheaval, many Borderlanders embraced [you can tell Woodard's sympathies here, he almost said "clung to"--FB] a Calvinist religious tradition--Presbyterianism--that held that they were God's chosen people, members of a biblical nation sanctified in blood and watched over by a wrathful Old Testament deity [I don't know about this, I need to learn more about seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Presbyterianism; this is certainly the caricature description I have always heard, but it is nothing like what Fischer describes of the Scots Irish's religious ways, which were much more exuberant, as the Anglican preachers in Carolina knew--FB]. Suspicious of outside authority of any kind ["Get off my land!"--FB], the Borderlanders valued individual liberty and personal honor above all else, and were happy to take up arms to defend either [or, as Jim Webb shows, their country when called--FB]. When Queen Elizabeth I and her successors needed tough, warlike people to settle Northern Ireland and crush native resistance, they turned to border Scots who, in Ulster, became the Scots-Irish [and then were betrayed, as they saw it, at Londonderry--FB]. A century later, many Americans would value their willingness to hold down frontier lands against restive Native Americans, creating a protective buffer for more docile settlers [i.e. the Puritans, Quakers, and Anglicans--FB] near the coast.
In other words, they were what we now call conservatives, jealous of their independence and distrustful of government, clinging to their guns and religion because they knew that if they didn't defend their homes and way of worshipping God, no one would. As Fischer puts it (p. 782): "This libertarian idea of natural freedom as 'elbow room' was very far from the ordered freedom of New England towns, the hegemonic freedom of Virginia's county oligarchs, and the reciprocal freedom of Pennsylvania Quakers. Here was yet another freedom way which came to be rooted in the culture of an American region, where it flourished for many years to come."

The burden of Fischer's book is to describe in detail each of the four folkways, including their speech ways, building ways, family ways, marriage ways, gender ways, sex ways, child-rearing ways, naming ways, age ways, death ways, religious ways, magic ways, learning ways, food ways, dress ways, sport ways, work ways, time ways, wealth ways, rank ways, social ways, order ways, power ways, and freedom ways, as they were translated from Albion to America. Like Woodard, who depends heavily on Fischer for his description of the four British folkways, Fischer also attempts to show how these folkways have continued to shape American culture all the way to the present. Webb takes the story in more detail from the Scots Irish perspective, and Herman includes a chapter on the way in which the Scots influenced American history more generally. But the most important takeaway from all four books (surrounding me here on the couch as I write) is that even with the waves of immigration to America since the colonial period, the regions have sustained their particular character, the Puritan Yankees just as much as the gentry Virginians, the Midlander Quakers as much as the Scots Irish Appalachians. And in all that time, almost nothing has changed. The Puritans still want everybody to live one way, the Quakers all just want to be left alone, the Virginians think that society works best when it is hierarchical, and everybody hates the Scots Irish (who, by the by, don't think of themselves in these terms because as far as they're concerned, they're "Americans").

I pointed this out to my uncle (his middle name is "Alexander," a good Scots Highlander name, although I don't know my ancestry on my mother's side as well as my father's*) at Christmas this year: "Do you realize that there is only one insult that anybody still thinks is okay to use? Redneck! Which means us Presbyterians!" He thought for a moment and then shot back: "That's okay. We can take it!"

Our Covenanter ancestors would be proud.

*Full disclosure: I do have some gentry Virginians on my father's side of the family (including a line going back to none other than the Elizabethan Admiral John Hawkins), as well as some New Amsterdam Dutch, which means we were New Yorkers before it was New York. David Fulton's son Robert Fulton (both my father and my brother are named Robert) married Eleanor Wynkoop, the daughter of Cornelius Wynkoop and Helena Van de Grift. Cornelius Wynkoop's great-grandfather had been born in 1627 in Wyckerom bei Eeden, Gelderland. He died in Kingston, Ulster Co, NY, in 1676, having married Maria Janse Van Langedyck on January 29, 1656/67, in New Amsterdam. David Fulton had been born in Ireland. His son Robert Fulton married Eleanor Wynkoop on August 20, 1755, in Christ Church, Philadelphia, PA. They lived in Loudon County, VA, which is where my grandfather's grandfather was born. I could go on, there's more--lot's more! My grandfather Fulton was a real ancestry hound.

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