24 July 2005 - Sunday

A good topic for a paper

After 1797, the American republic found itself embroiled in a "quasi-war" with France, which briefly caused an interesting realignment in regional politics. With war fever at its height in 1798, voters in the [Democratic Republican] coastal south and the backcountry suddenly rallied to the [Federalist] government. In the Congressional elections of 1798, Federalists carried 68 out of 106 seats, including 20 seats below the Potomac and in the back settlements. Even counties that gave rise to the Whisky Rebellion now voted Federalist.

The war fever of '98 marked the beginning of a consistent pattern in American military history. From the quasi-war with France to the Vietnam War, the two southern cultures strongly supported every American war no matter what it was about or who it was against. Southern ideas of honor and the warrior ethic combined to create regional war fevers of great intensity in 1798, 1812, 1846, 1861, 1898, 1917, 1941, 1950 and 1965. Here is another subject that remains to be studied in detail.

David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (New York: Oxford UP, 1989), 843.

The pattern seems to be holding up. (The biggest objection I can think of is that Fischer's inclusion of 1861 might be difficult to justify, considering the unusual circumstances of that particular war.) In the case of the Iraq invasion, I was struck by the enthusiasm of conservative Texans, who generally hate the UN in all of its forms, for a war carried out exclusively for the purpose of enforcing UN Security Council resolutions. War against enemyish people, qua war against enemyish people, got this region's support.

Of course, the fact that the war was ordered by a conservative president surely makes a difference. President Clinton's military actions were not as enthusiastically embraced. But as I recall, right-wing opposition to Clinton's military expeditions was weaker in this region than in some other areas. For Kosovo, which came closer to a traditional war than the other examples, I remember quite a bit of implicit support. Granted, I was young at the time, so my memory may be faulty.

In any case, I like this cultural-history explanation of the warlike tendencies of certain areas of the United States. Fischer traces the development of the areas settled by British borderers (immigrants who arrived in the American backcountry from northern England, southern Scotland, and northern Ireland in the eighteenth century). He rejects the idea that the material conditions of the frontier were the main reason for the belligerence of these settlements. Instead, he points out that the British borderlands were very violent long before the American frontier was -- and violent in the same ways, with blood feuds and frequent territorial wars.

The backcountry concept of liberty, in which individual independence was asserted with deadly force, has evolved and remains strong in the libertarian ideals of the southern and western United States. I think this element is often overlooked as a factor in the persistence of Confederate apologists; I know a lot of people without any detectable racist feelings who yet think the South had a legal right to secede from the Union.

I'm chasing rabbit trails now. This book has gotten me started on several lines of thought. I highly recommend it.

| Posted by Wilson at 16:27 Central | TrackBack
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