Skip to comments.Webb spins his Ulster-Scots heritage into the US elections
Posted on 11/13/2006 10:13:53 AM PST by Wallace T.
There have been many US presidents with Ulster-Scots roots, but for Virginia Democrat, Jim Webb, being Ulster-Scots or Irish Scots has become a rallying point for his supporters and a focus of his astonishingly popular campaign for a Senate seat.
As last week's New Yorker magazine put it, Webb has presented Ulster-Scots heritage as "the DNA of red-state America".
And it seemed to be working as last night he claimed victory in his tightly-fought Senate race with Republican George Allen, even though a recount now looks to be on the cards.
Throughout the heavily Ulster-Scots mountain towns of Virginia, Mr Webb referred time and time again to his book, 'Born Fighting, How The Scots-Irish Shaped America', telling supporters that they had built America, yet their ethnic background had been deliberately besmirched by the establishment in favour of more "politically correct" ethnic groups.
His view of US history has been a huge hit with voters, particularly in the Scots-Irish strongholds in southwest Virginia.
It helped him close in on the incumbent Mr Allen, who looked certain to win the race at the start of the election.
Mr Webb's "love your inner Ulster Scot" message also won some big-name supporters - most noticeably commentator Christopher Hitchens in the Wall Street Journal, who wrote that Mr Webb "is right to stress the huge rage felt by those of Scots-Irish provenance who feel that they have borne the heat and burden of the day in America's wars, and been rewarded with disdain".
Mr Webb is a hugely contradictory - an anti-war candidate who revels in celebrating the military and who toasted his son's departure for Iraq as a US marine.
Mr Webb is nominally a Democrat yet was Republican president Reagan's navy secretary - a fact he used time and again in his campaign commercials.
His basic Scots-Irish message pulls these contradictory strands together with a new message: "The Scots-Irish were pushed out of Scotland, battled Catholics in Ireland, came to the US where they fought everyone from native Americans to the French and were packed overseas to fight the Germans, the Viet Cong and the Iraqis and what do you have to show for it? You're treated as Bible-thumping rednecks by cultural elitists in Hollywood, New York and Washington."
It's a message that has proved to be political dynamite in the Republican heartland, leaving many Republicans and moderate Democrats to ask why they didn't tap into this resentment a long time ago.
According to Mr Webb, the real number of Ulster-Scots in America could be as high as 30 million, their numbers vastly underestimated by confusion on census day, with many voters filing their ethic background as Irish, Scottish, British, Ulster-Scots or Scots-Irish and that many who wrote "Scots-Irish" were placed in the "Scots" and "Irish" ethnic groups.
With Mr Webb's enormously popular campaign rewriting politics in conservative Virginia (helped on by stupid gaffes by his opponent), the election could well see a clamour among politicians for an analyst who can help them tap into this new Scots-Irish pride.
Although he lives in the boring, utterly middle-class Washington suburb of Falls Church, his language on the campaign stump has been that of the Virginia Hills, and his Scots-Irish relatives who still live there.
They are the kind of people that Mr Webb describes in Born Fighting as having "unbending individualism" and an "ingrained hatred of aristocracy".
He links their "individualism" to their alleged dislike of liberal policy makers and to their love of religion and military service.
The Scots-Irish have "been in conflict with a variety of authoritarian power structures, and it remains so in today's America", he wrote in Born Fighting.
He says that for complicated reasons, many Scots-Irish are still mired in poverty and he lists off the stereotypes he most resents: "Rednecks. Trailer-park trash. Racists. Cannon fodder."
The ingratitude of "the establishment" was burnt into him after he came back from Vietnam to find privileged college kids belittling the war and making it sound as if they were taking a brave step by refusing to fight.
Repeatedly citing that the Scots-Irish have fought for America in numbers way above the national average, he never missed a chance to attempt to stoke that pride in his audience.
In Christiansburg in southwest Virginia last Saturday, he arrived in military garb.
His red, white and blue campaign signs read "Jim Webb: Born Fighting".
He immediately appeals to voters by referencing Scots-Irish hero and former President, Andrew Jackson, who represents the values of "the traditional Democratic Party" before it was 'hijacked' by tree huggers, gays and Vietnam protester, Jane Fonda (whom, he once said, he would not cross the road to see, "even to see her slit her wrists").
In the likely event that Mr Webb wins this race, he will have done so by tapping into something very deep in the Virginian psyche.
And he will then become part of the establishment he bemoans.
"Why are the 30 million Scots-Irish, who may well be America's strongest cultural force, so invisible to America's cultural elites?" he wrote in an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal two years ago.
Like Andrew Jackson before him, that's a question that he himself will now have to answer.
Wallace T. and brooklyn dave have given you good answers, but as the proud son of Ulster-Scots settlers in Ohio, I can give you a little more.
Before they were "planted" in Ulster to pacify and displace the native Irish Catholics, these people came from the borderlands of Northern England and lowland/southern Scotland, which has always been a very troublesome and ungovernable region.
These "Borderers" or "Reivers" had a tradition of raiding other clans for livestock, women and other booty. As a result, they have a long history of family feuds, reflected in the unpleasantness between the Hatfield and McCoy families (both of whom were of the same stock.) Their culture by necessity inculcated a skill with horse, sword, and gun that may explain their later prominence in military service.
In religion, they were strong anti-Papists and anti-establishmentarians. They subscribed to the Scottish Covenant of the 1600's, which gave rise to the Presbyterian Church and influenced other Dissenters and Reformers such as the Methodists.
By eviction, subsidy, and persuasion, they were settled in Northern Ireland in the late 1600's and 1700's. There, from the point of view of the English King and his bishops, they would be less of a threat to the Crown and established Church of England, and a bulwark against the even worse Irish Catholics.
They were mostly tenant farmers under the thumb of the Anglican nobility, including my own people, who labored on the estate of Lord Montjoy in Omagh. They proved to be as stubborn and warlike in Ulster as they did in the Border Country, thus suffering significant repression at the hands of the Crown and Church, and so in the second half of the 1700's and first half of the 1800's, great numbers of them emigrated to the US.
However, when they arrived, they found some of the same discrimination they had left behind in Ulster. The Anglicans of the South and the Puritans of the North wanted little to do with them. The settlers had to continue on to the backwoods and frontiers to find the liberty they so fiercely craved. From western Pennsylvania, to Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and so on down the Appalachians to northern Georgia and the uplands of the Carolinas, they became the majority. Their Calvinist Presbyterian faith evolved, and many became Methodists, Baptists, or Pentecostals and remain so to the present day.
Their culture survives in the folkways of the Appalachian hillbillies, and much of what is now perceived as Southern speech and manners would be recognizable to an archaic Border reiver of 1600 or so. Most notably, there is a very high premium placed on a man's honor and reputation, and a very low threshold for violent defense of that honor.
Great numbers fought on both side in the Civil War, and the culture gave rise both to eloquent abolitionists and vicious racists. In the Deep South, they were seldom wealthy plantation owners, and more often among the poor white "crackers" and "rednecks". These words reflect their Scottish heritage: "cracker" probably comes from the Gaelic word "craic", meaning bantering, bragging, and boisterous conversation, while "redneck" refers to the Scotch Covenanters who signed the Covenant in their own blood and subsequently wore bloody rags on their necks to signify that fact.
If you find this stuff interesting and wish to learn more about the Scots-Irish, you should look up a book called "Albion's Seed", by David Hackett Fischer. Webb's book is supposed to be good too, but I haven't read it yet.
The bottom line is that Republicans need to stick to a core conservative message: lower taxes, less government, secure borders, etc. The lame duck Administration needs to figure a way to achieve a military victory in Iraq in the next 18 months if it is to avoid an electoral debacle in 2008.
I don't know, but his son is in the Marines, in Iraq.
I understand what you're saying. And I'm quite familiar with the demographics.
All I was pointing out was that the areas that are ~most~ Scot-Irish in SW Virginia did NOT go for Webb. The SW Counties that did are traditionally RAT strongholds.
(In before the "Albion's Seed" reference.) See my post directly above yours. Your post was very informative and interesting.
Because there was no exit strategy from the get-go. I went searching for info on Webb within the last few days. His website, www.jameswebb.com, has his bio and links to articles he has written in the last few years. He was against invasion of Iraq in November 2002. He predicted that it would take 50ish years of occupation to accomplish our goals there, and, therefore, we should not invade. He was not and is not alone in his thinking on Iraq.
One of his articles is about Cap Weinberger. It's very clear that he loved the man dearly and that he learned much from him.
An interesting phenomenon is when you are driving from Nashville into east Tennessee on I-40, or go north of Atlanta on Highway 400, or south from Pennsylvania on I-79, you begin to hear bluegrass oriented radio stations along with standard country music fare. On Sundays, you can hear old time Gospel music and even sacred harp type singing along with loud and emotional Pentecostal style worship. Appalachia is clearly different from either the North or the Deep South.
Thank You for the info.
My Great great grandmother was Scottish, they say she came from Ireland. Wondering now if she was an Ulster Scot? Have you any knowledge or info on the last name Adams. Would be greatly appreciated.
As I tell my wife, when she asks how I can be such a bull-headed pain in the arse, some of my ancestors were hand-selected by the British to annoy the Irish.
Per Allen Eckman's "The Frontiersman"
Adams is one of those names that can cut either way. Up in the North of Ireland there are Protestant Adams's and Catholic Adams's. I believe the Catholic ones were probably Mac Adam. The blood lines up there are all mixed up anyway. You have Gerry Adams (head of Sinn Fein--political wing of the IRA) and you have our presidents John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams who were of English background (came to Massachusetts Bay colony in the 1630s). when they speak of Scots-Irish or Ulster Scots they specifically mean the people & their descendants who were planted by James I (some came afterward)in Ulster (an Irish province) after the native Irish chieftains were defeated around 1604. These people were both large landowners (mostly English and Anglican) and small farmers (mostly Scottish and Presbyterian) It was these small farmers who came to North America in the 1700s in droves because the Presbyterian Church was not given full freedom to operate (the Catholics were basically outlawed). These folks formed the backbone of the frontier folk at the time (Appalachian Mts.)and joined George Washington's army in droves.
Very good and informative post!! Keep on trucking!!!
Ulster Scots are Scots that emigrated to northern Ireland during the 1600’s at the invitation or order of King James.
He had driven a lot of Irish off their land in Northern Ireland (or Ulster as it was called) and wanted to give it to Protestant Scots and Englishmen. The Scottish emigrants were lowlanders, or part of the ruling class. The Highlanders, or commoners, were not invited to emigrate but they emigrated later uninvited. In the 1700’s these Scotch-Irish, as they were called, were persecuted by both the Catholics in Ireland and the Anglicans in England (the Scots were Presbyterians). A famine in Ireland plus other problems in the mid 1700’s caused large numbers of Ulster
Scots to emigrate to the colonies. King George III encouraged this with land grants. The Scotch-Irish came in mostly through the port of Charleston, SC and settled in the Carolinas, Virginia, and the Appalachian regions.
They were more than eager to fight the English in the Revolutionary War, and one officer said that these Scots were among General Washington’s best soldiers. The reason I know all of this is because I am a descendant of an Ulster Scot who left County Antrim and arrived in Charleston in 1763 with his wife and children. One of his sons was a revolutionary soldier.