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.
If you look at the areas where the GOP lost House and Senate seats, you will notice that many were in areas with large Scots-Irish populations, like Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In contrast, the Republicans held their own in the Deep South, where the white population is more English than Scots-Irish.
My Ulster-scots American ancestors would probably spit on his political party....
Webb won the White House last Tuesday? Must have missed that FOX News Alert.
Yah so why is Webb enlisting with the party of cultural elitists?
The House seat that we lost in Kentucky is compeltely urban, has large African American and Hispanic minorities and very little of the "scots-Irish" that you refer to. Northrup lost because she has a Republican incumbent in a bad year for Republicans.
What are Ulster Scots?
I heard that Webb has this annoying little habit of listening to the arguments and making up his own mind. This may not go over well with the Dem leadership. Maybe we can get him to re-join the 'Pubs. ;-)
And another thing...with his "Born Fighting" schtick...why isn't he pro Iraq war?
Also, Webb won by doing the same thing that Mark Warner and Tim Kaine did before him: protrayed himself as a pro-gun, pro-life, social and fiscal conservative while campaigning in the suburbs and rural areas while sticking true to his anti-Bush, "I'm a Democrat" message while in Fairfax Co and Alexandria.
Sadly, the majority of voters in Virginia fell for this trick AGAIN.
A neighbor of mine confessed she was voting for Webb because he was anti-war. I laughed out loud. "Do you really think Webb, a veteran, a Navy Cross winner, a former Defense Department official, would have voted differently in 2002?"
Uh, no thanks he isn't welcome anymore. Webb is still a perv waiting for a scandal.
This should have been a barf alert in deference to all of us Scottish Americans. My mother's mother is Scottish, my fathers Irish Scot.
The majority of whom did not vote for him. Webb lost significantly in those "Scots-Irish" areas of the state, including his "home" county.
My roots are in the Christiansburg/Blacksburg area.
This jackass Webb doesn't know anything other than how to spin a good yarn.
And he was good enough at that to have a few books printed and get elected.
I recall seeing some "blue" counties in the southwest area of Virginia, where the black population is minimal.
However, the Anglo-Irish elite based in Dublin required these Presbyterians to tithe to the (Anglican) Church of Ireland, refused to recognize Presbyterian marriages and baptisms, and limited their right to vote. While not treated as harshly as the Irish Catholics, the Scots-Irish were very disaffected by this discrimination. Large numbers of them emigrated to the United States, and are the most important population element in Appalachia and other areas such as the Ohio Valley and the Ozarks. They are an important element in Texas and Oklahoma as well.
They are a population distinct from both the Irish Catholics of the Northeast and Upper Midwest and the mostly English settlers of the Deep South and the Puritan descendants of greater New England.
By the way Scots fans this week is St Mary Queen of Scotlands feast day.
This article has given me a great idea for a great Chruch fundraisor next year
I've never considered the population of the Deep South to be "mostly English." But maybe I just hang out with the wrong crowd, Scots-Irish descendants.
I wonder if you mean Margaret (not Mary) Queen of Scotland, whose day is November 16? I took her as my "saint" at confirmation, which is why I ask. She was the wife of Malcolm III of Scotland, and founded and supported the monastery of Iona.
I had no idea that HE wrote this book. I heard about it when it came out and considered buying it. Ugh.
It's hard to tell from his websites but I think Webb is from Nebraska. Who cares where his ancestors lived 250 years ago? And I'll bet Webb is probably only about 1/32 Scots-Irish.
If ancestry were so important, President Bush and John Kerry would be best friends because they are cousins at least five or six times.
"Large numbers of them emigrated to the United States, and are the most important population element in Appalachia and other areas such as the Ohio Valley and the Ozarks. They are an important element in Texas and Oklahoma as well."
The first group came in five ships in 1718, arriving at Boston. They dispersed, and some settled a town in New Hampshire called Londonderry.
My Ulster Scot ancestors then moved to Falmouth, Maine. This family later misgrated to Canada, Minnesota, and the pacific northwest, among other places.
Thats right. I met Margaret. We had a special early celebration of her day this Sunday at Mass. I have thought that having a church named after her in a area that had the heritage we did was apt.
A terrific book, I completely second the recommendation for those interested in learning much more about this subject.
I've been waiting for more of the same from David Hackett Fischer.
So he's a Democrat WHY???
Oh yeah--he wants religious people to shut up on the issue of embryonic stem cell research and wants a "more inclusive, tolerant, pluralistic America." He just played the Scots-Irish for saps.
Of course, I'm one of those poor Southerners who's Anglo-Saxon, so even if the Left starts a "national liberation movement" for the Scots-Irish I'll still be left out!
That's not so bad. I actually have this book somewhere in a box and never put 2 and 2 together that this Jim Webb wrote it. Even seeing the "Born Fighting" signs along the road.
I feel really really really blonde right now.
Correct. The Republicans would do well to look at the demographics of the most recent election. Much, though not all, of the Republican slippage last week occurred in areas of the lower Midwest and Upper South where voters of Ulster Scots descent are a major electoral factor. The differences are but a few percentage points, but were significant enough to pull Republicans down to defeat in marginal districts. By and large, Scots-Irish are fiercely patriotic (with a few exceptions such as Bill Clinton). Were issues such as outsourcing jobs overseas, inaction on border control, and what looks like a no-win war in Iraq reasons for culturally conservative voters such as the Scots-Irish to stay home or vote for a pseudo-conservative Democrat?
As for Scots-Irish "liberation", don't forget that they are partially Anglo-Saxon, with many of the Lowland Scots and northern English being Anglians.
The Ulster Scots were folks from Scotland planted in what is now Northern Ireland by King James I after 1600. This part of Ireland was the last part to be subdued by England. The Irish chieftains boogied to the Continent and the best land was given to these Presbyterian (and Anglican as well) settlers. The native Gaelic speaking Catholics were driven to the hills. In the 1730s 1740's and beyond thousands of these Presbyterians from Ulster (that provicne in Ireland) came to Ameica because the Presbyterian church wasn't favored either by the English. These people settled what is the frontier PA (beyond Philly),N. Carolina, western Virginia, some of upstate NY, and especially what became Kentuck & Tennessee. They were fiercely independent and joined george Washington's army in droves. This is just an overview---probably a lot you can find.
Queen Margaret (st.) wife of Malcolm Canmore (in gaelic ceann mor= big head) was responsible for Anglicizing the country as well. Large land grants were giving to English nobles at the time esp. on the border.
British and Ulster Scots immigrants who arrived in the mid and late 19th Century and early 20th Century were rapidly absorbed into the English Puritan descended (or Yankee in the original sense) population. Hillary Rodham may seem to be an arch-Yankee, but is, on her father's side, the granddaughter of late 19th Century Welsh and English immigrants to the coal fields of Pennsylvania.
Has he ever distanced himself from John Kerry and his "joke"?!
He was born in Scott County, and made a big deal about it. That was my point.
The trouble is, if Republican candidates started making an open play for the Scots-Irish vote, can you imagine what the liberal press would say? "Southern strategy!" "Republicans fish for bigot votes!" Etc., etc., etc. Even Howard Dean got creamed when he said he wanted the votes of "those people with Confederate flag decals on their pickups." But it looks like the Dem honchos took a second look at that strategy and okayed it for the "blue dogs" (none of whom I trust). But a Republican candidate still wouldn't be able to get away with it.
As for Scots-Irish "liberation", don't forget that they are partially Anglo-Saxon, with many of the Lowland Scots and northern English being Anglians.
I know, I know! I'm usually the one who points out that Scotland is a more bi-national country than Ireland (and that the Angles were in Scotland a hundred years before the Scots arrived from Ulster). In fact, the "Scots language" is a form of English spoken by lowland Anglo-Scots, even though it (and the country) are named for the Gaels who don't speak it. But that doesn't stop the Maoist "Scottish National Liberation Army" (yes, there is such a thing) from threatening to run everyone with an English surname out of the country and making it lilly-pure Gaelic.
It's also interesting to note that the "union of the crowns" took place under a Scottish king (James I) and the Act of Union in 1707 took place under Queen Anne, who was of the same House of Stewart. Also forgotten is that when England finally officially annexed Wales in 1536 it was the act of a King (Henry VIII) of Welsh descent.
Perhaps because he's trying to change the Democratic Party. While many Freepers are highly partisan Republicans and are bitter over the loss of Congress last week, I would think that from a larger perspective they would appreciate the fact that there are serious, intelligent people trying to make the Democrats a little less irrational.
Webb apparently knew what he was talking and writing about when he was able to tap into the Ulster-Scots ethnic background of many of his constituents. I had a feeling all along that he might be able to upset Allen, even though Allen was initially considered a safe, popular incumbent and potential Presidential candidate.
Webb is not just a facile politician who reads polls to decide what to say. He's an expert in connecting with the roots of the people who live in Virginia, and I doubt that he will fall easily in line with Harry Reid and the old guard of Senate Democrats. That's a good thing, and something to be encouraged. I think Webb will make the Democratic Party better, which is a very good thing.
He took Buchanan and Dickenson County and (I think) barely took Russell. But he didn't take Wise, Lee, Scott, Smythe, Tazewell...etc...those areas have high concentrations of Scots-Irish.
What about his fiscal beliefs? Is he a low tax guy?
The character of the Scots Irish was not just formed in northern Ireland after Cromwell sent them there, but during the 600 or so years of constant war in the border regions between northern England and southern Scotland from the Norman invasion to the formation of the United Kingdom. One of the things I find fascinating is that you can trace the restlessness of these people, and their habit of living a lifestyle that is mobile, can be traced back in a direct line, from trailer parks to shanties, to log cabins, to the kinds of homes that they preferred 1000 years ago. The sense of honor, the aggressiveness, the independence, the way children are raised, the way women are treated, the educational attitudes, all trace back.
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"