Monday, July 16, 2007

Could Fred's Scots-Irish Connections Be His Secret Weapon?

I’m sure this topic will get lots of play as time goes on; particularly if Fred is in the Republican nominee. It appears the name Thompson could be either English or Scottish. The preponderance of evidence found on a quick Google search indicates it’s a Scottish name. On the other hand, Bradley, his mother’s maiden name, appears to be English.

Regardless of the specific origins of his ancestors, Thompson was raised in a state where one in five citizens could trace their origins to Scots-Irish settlers coming from Virginia. In the rugged areas like the Appalachian Mountains and the foothills where Fred was raised, the ratio is likely higher.

The Scots-Irish were the poorest of the poor whites who settled that rugged country. They faced a hard life on these rugged frontiers where mass agriculture and the protection and comforts of town life were seldom seen. They had to eke a life out of the soil and face down hostile natives all the while. But history had prepared them for this kind of challenge. Prior to 1607 the Scots-Irish were simply Scots. They lived in the border regions between Scotland and England and were subject to raids by soldiers from both sides. As often happens in frontier areas, the borderlands became a wild country plagued by crime and violence. This forced the Scots to become self sufficient and to develop their own form of justice.

In 1607, shortly after becoming King of a united Scotland and England, King James VI (the 1st in Scotland) was having trouble with the rebellious Irish who didn’t appreciate being ruled over by the English. James decided to create a buffer zone between the Irish and the British. His tool: the wily border Scots who were cajoled into leaving their borderland homes in return for plum properties in North Ireland. Of course the price tag for those properties was fighting. But the Scots (now Scots-Irish) were used to that.

Around the end of the 17th century, after building the provinces of Ulster Ireland into a viable community, the Scots-Irish grew tired of being used as muscle by the English and being treated as second class citizens to boot. So they voted with their feet (again) and this time moved to America where they fled inland to remote communities- partly out of poverty (rugged areas plagued by Indians were cheaper) and partly out of a desire to get away from those damned uppity English.

In short order this rugged people had imprinted their culture on a wide swath of southern states. Men like Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett, and Sam Houston (all three of whom spent their formative years in central and eastern TN) became national political leaders and symbols of a rugged and democratic America. By the 19th and 20th centuries, these southern states had become the seed beds that populated the western states.

So what does all this have to do with the Presidential election? Simple, the Scots-Irish today constitute approximately 30 million Americans. That’s one tenth of the U.S. population. According to Jim Webb (a terrific story teller despite being a jerk as a Senator, IMHO):

The Scots-Irish comprised a large percentage of Reagan Democrats, and contributed heavily to the "red state" votes that gave Mr. Bush the presidency in 2000. The areas with the highest Scots-Irish populations include New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, northern Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas, northern Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, southern Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and parts of California, particularly Bakersfield. The "factory belt," especially around Detroit, also has a strong Scots-Irish mix.

In October 2004 Webb called the Scots-Irish George W. Bush’s “Secret Weapon” in the Presidential election. Their relevance has probably not diminished over the past three years; particularly in a GOP primary. And unlike Bush, a Connecticut Yankee in blue jeans and sporting a drawl, Thompson won’t have to fake it. Fred's true blue; probably by ancestry, definitely by culture.