Shaping Our Nation: How Surges of Migration Transformed America and Its Politics
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It is often said that America has become culturally diverse only in the past quarter century. But from the country’s beginning, cultural variety and conflict have been a centrifugal force in American politics and a crucial reason for our rise to power.
The peopling of the United States is one of the most important stories of the last five hundred years, and in Shaping our Nation, bestselling author and demographics expert Michael Barone illuminates a new angle on America’s rise, using a vast array of political and social data to show America is the product of a series large, unexpected mass movements—both internal and external—which typically lasted only one or two generations but in that time reshaped the nation, and created lasting tensions that were difficult to resolve.
Barone highlights the surprising trends and connections between the America of today and its migrant past, such as how the areas of major Scots-Irish settlement in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War are the same areas where John McCain performed better in the 2008 election than George W. Bush did in 2004, and how in the years following the Civil War, migration across the Mason-Dixon line all but ceased until the annealing effect that the shared struggle of World War II produced. Barone also takes us all the way up to present day, showing what the surge of Hispanic migration between 1970 and 2010 means for the elections and political decisions to be made in the coming decades.
Barone shows how, from the Scots-Irish influxes of the 18th century, to the Ellis Island migrations of the early 20th and the Hispanic and Asian ones of the last four decades, people have moved to America in part in order to make a better living—but more importantly, to create new communities in which they could thrive and live as they wanted. And the founders’ formula of limited government, civic equality, and tolerance of religious and cultural diversity has provided a ready and useful template for not only to coping with these new cultural influences, but for prospering as a nation with cultural variety.
Sweeping, thought-provoking, and ultimately hopeful, Shaping Our Nation is an unprecedented addition to our understanding of America’s cultural past, with deep implications for the immigration, economic, and social policies of the future.
had blocked migration into what is now West Virginia.36 But westward movement into this continually mountainous zone was limited. Instead Scots-Irish and other settlers headed west through the mountains toward expanses of open country where the land rolled down to the Ohio River over limestone hills. During the Revolutionary War, amid wolves and buffalo, caravans stretched a mile long on the tortuous trail from Bristol on the Holston River, over the Appalachian chains to the Clinch and Powell
extended from sea to shining sea. But the Union was also suddenly faced with the issue that would split it apart in 1861: whether slavery would be allowed in the territories. The Civil War can be seen as a conflict triggered by competing internal migrations—by the drang nach southwest of Scots-Irish led in many ways by Andrew Jackson, by the migration of southern planters and their slaves from the Atlantic seaboard to the Black Belt cotton lands farther west, and by the migration of New England
County. Lumbermen from Maine moved farther north into the Saginaw River Valley, which became the leading source of white pine in North America.32 Northwest Ohio and northern Indiana, slower to be settled than the southern portions of those states, attracted Yankee migrants as well, as did northern Illinois. Though far less numerous in Indiana than in Ohio, Vermonters and Connecticut men established northern Indiana towns such as Montpelier, Wolcottville, and Orland. Among its Vermont-born
Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta and retirement towns in the Smokies or the Ozarks. The result is what journalist Bill Bishop has called “the big sort,” with liberal areas becoming more liberal and conservative areas, more conservative. The surges of migration in these four decades have produced an America that seems to be flying apart. It may not be headed to a collision as dramatic as the Civil War, which was the result of the surges of migration in the first sixty years of the nineteenth
1930s, when few Americans left the security provided by the vegetable patch in a small farm for the sudden insecurity of life in the big city where banks were failing and cash was needed for food, shelter, and clothing. In the 1920s this became known as “the Great Migration,” with the growth of identifiable black neighborhoods in the nation’s two largest cities—Harlem in New York and Bronzeville in Chicago—and with the doubling of the long-established black community in North Philadelphia in the