December 31, 2004

A New England Ideology

Marc Comtois
Michael Lind, in yet another attempt to explain the dire situation in which the Democrat party finds itself, has nonetheless produced nice history-laden political analysis piece over at the American Prospect. In it, he explains that history has shown that a too-close identification with New England results in political loss. The most recent case being the current Democrat party. However, to me, the most interesting aspect of Lind's piece is his charting of the New England migration patterns and how New Englander's and the ancestors of New Englander have shared characteristics.
The “Upper North” dialect zone identified by students of American speech patterns is almost identical to the blue-state zone on the Electoral College map: New England, the Great Lakes states, and the Pacific Northwest. This is “Greater New England” -- the regions settled by New Englanders and their descendants from the 17th to the 19th centuries.

The culture of this vast expanse emanated from two areas of early settlement by English Puritans in the 17th century: the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Connecticut River Valley. From here, the “Yankees” spread to all of New England and upstate New York. In the 19th century, settlers from these areas colonized the Great Lakes region and the upper Midwest. In Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, the Yankee settlers encountered southerners migrating northward; the resulting political diversity of those states has made several of them “swing” states for generations.

From the upper Midwest, some pioneers of Yankee stock migrated to the Pacific Northwest. New Englanders were so important in the fur trade in the Oregon Territory that the local Indians described all whites as “Bostons.” In the 1840s, Yankee settlers colonized the Willamette Valley in northwest Oregon. A variant of New England culture left its imprint on the politics, folkways, and dialects of northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. On the West Coast, as in parts of the Midwest, the Yankee settlers were joined by Scandinavian and German immigrants with similar values.
Additionally, Lind notes the theory of historian Wilbur Zelinsky, who "observed that 'the activities of a few hundred, or even a few score, initial colonizers can mean much more for the cultural geography of a place than the contributions of tens of thousands of new immigrants a few generations later.'” Hence, New England settlers, often the first in a region, basically formed the foundation for the politics of those regions. As such, traditional New England ideals, such as reformism, intellectual elitism and anti-militarism took root and are still present. Lind acknowledges that this Greater New England will remain the core of the Democrat party for some time. But he also offers that so long as the Greater New England ideology continues to be the identity to which the Democrat party is associated, political success will continue to elude them.