Changing Party Coalitions: The Mystery of the Red State-Blue State Alignment

By Jerry F. Hough | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10.
CONCLUSION

Two centuries of mist and legend have greatly obscured our understanding of American political evolution. The North American colonies were deeply divided by severe religious and ethnic divisions, many stemming from the civil wars in Britain. By the time of the American Revolution, the intensity of the conflict among the English in America had faded, but not the suspicions and prejudices. In September 1774, John Adams, a Puritan from New England, wrote that the delegates to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia were “fifty gentlemen meeting together, all Strangers, [who] are not acquainted with Each other’s Language, Ideas, Views, Designs … [and who are] therefore, jealous of each other — fearfull, timid, skittish.”1 One of the most powerful men in New York had directly hinted to Adams on the latter’s trip to Philadelphia that New Englanders were “Goths and Vandalls.” As late as 1784, George Washington referred to the non-English in western Virginia as “foreign emigrants, who can have no particular predilection for us” and who might become “as unconnected with us, indeed more so, than we are with South America.” 2 New waves of immigrants in the 19th and early 20th century included large numbers of Catholics and Jews from many countries, and it took two centuries to create a basic unity among the European-Americans.

One technique used to reduce such cleavages among European-Americans was to pretend that the cleavages did not exist, and this makes scholarly work on the subject quite difficult. Scholars have found it hard to say that the American Revolution was not the result of the intense nationalism of a people with a strong national identity, but more an attempt to create such an identity. Those who embrace the Confederate Flag in recent times have had no idea that it was the symbol of a rejection of American national identity.

1. John Adams to Abigail Adams, September 25, 1774, in Paul H. Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789(Washington: Library of Congress, 1976), vol. 1, p. 99.

2. The references to these various statements are found on pp. 60, along with a fuller discussion of them.

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