American Nations: A History of The Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard is a thorough history of political and cultural divisions. Family members highly recommended the book. I concur. This account of the area from Northern Mexico to the North Pole is thought provoking, detailed and a bit unsettling. American Nations is well researched and annotated.
The information may provoke differing reactions. The described nations are easily identified, even today. So, readers from rival regions may not agree on the implications. Indeed, I believe readers will not agree. Thus, the book is ideal for book clubs and college classrooms.
Furthermore, Woodard offers great insight into recent events. The responses to the pandemic mirror the philosophies of the American Nations. Even more telling is the reaction to the 2020 Presidential Election.
American Nations Part One
Four sections comprise the book. In Part One, Woodard concentrates on the historical details behind the settlement of North America. First, is the Spanish establishment of the nation “El Norte.” The founding of “New France” follows. Subsequent nations established during colonial times are “Tidewater” and “Yankeedom.” Englishman settled both.
“New Netherland,” now the New York City area, formed shortly thereafter. The Dutch brought their own ideals to the new land. These beliefs created the diverse culture of today’s inhabitants. But the unique culture clashed with the other nations throughout history.
Barbados citizens of English descendant shaped the “Deep South.” These men sought to copy the island’s slave based society. The last two nations to develop during this time period are labeled “Midlands” and “Greater Appalachia.” The inhabitants of the latter are referred to as Borderlanders. Both groups retain initial traits.
The author distinguishes between the nations. The explorers and settlers of North America pursued different goals. Each region developed independently. Thus, divergent entities arose. Those distinctions remain today. Woodard is excellent in his presentation of conflicting ideals. And he provides implications for current events.
American Nations Part Two
Woodard uses the second part to explain alternating alignments of the various nations. The various wars from 1770 to 1815 reflected divergent goals. Sides changed often. So, the unification against the British:
….was a profoundly conservative action fought by a loose military alliance of nations, each of which was most concerned with preserving or reasserting control of its respective culture, character, and power structure. (p. 115)
As the shortest of the sections, Part Two offers much insight into the differences between the many regional divisions. Indeed, this portion reminds one of the difficulties in founding the United States of America. Furthermore, in light of the history presented, the continued struggles among the founding nations are not surprising. The greatest divisions align along political and religious beliefs. Moral compasses differ creating a divided people.
Part Three: Wars for The West
The third section of American Nations demonstrates the bellicosity of the various nations. Competing interests sought to populate the vast regions of North America. Tensions were high even before the outbreak of the Civil War. Yankeedom and its’ coalition tried to impose their beliefs on newcomers. Meanwhile, the Deep South and its’ allies desired control over large swaths of unsettled territory. Both nations tried to influence El Norte and The West. Both feared a dilution of power.
Woodard clearly indicates disdain for the ideals of the Deep South. It is clear he has no sympathy for the slave owners. The faults of the other nations are also discussed. This section is well documented with sources and paints an accurate picture of divisiveness.
Part Four: Culture Wars
The last section of the book spans over a hundred years. Woodard does an outstanding job of explaining how and why the original nations evolved. Furthermore, he outlines the switch in the make-up of the two major political parties. In his discussion of Blue, Red and Purple Nations, Woodard explains how the party of Lincoln is now central to the Deep South. Once again, the information is well researched. And well presented.
Part Four also describes the start of the guest worker program. One of the many military involvements overseas left El Norte with a labor shortage. Implications of this program remain. Indeed, the resurgence of El Norte influenced the most recent elections.
Additionally, the author offers insight into the love/hate relationship between the Far West and the federal government. Internal conflicts are a reflection of independent-minded people dependent on governmental spending. Geography plays an important part.
The current status of New France is discussed as well. Woodard points out the divisions found within Canada. Then, he differentiates between the two countries. He posits the original nations reached a compromise in Canada. Further, Woodard puts forth a similar status is unlikely to occur within the U.S.A.
Finally, he introduces the “First Nation.” The author highlights the communal nature of the original inhabitants. He credits their diversity in leadership. Finally he issues kudos on their environmental stand.
2011 marked the publication of American Nations. Time marches on. The insight into the presidents of the 20th and 21st centuries is excellent. As is the analysis of the “Nations” influences today. But, the Obama era is the last discussed. Conflict among the nations is accelerating. North America is changing.
In his Epilogue, Woodard is eerily prescient:
Another outside possibility is that, faced with a major crisis, the federation’s leaders will betray their oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, the primary adhesive holding the union together. In the midst of, say, a deadly pandemic outbreak or the destruction of several cities by terrorists, a fearful public might condone the suspension of civil rights, the dissolution of Congress, or the incarceration of Supreme Court justices. (p. 317)
Woodard posits the break up of the federation of “Nations.” And possible realignments. He sees a changed future for North America.
I might have dismissed the author’s ideas as farfetched before 2020. However, after witnessing the disparate approach to the Covid-19 pandemic followed by the events of January 6, 2021, Woodard’s assessments are more realistic. But not palatable. Nor wanted. Indeed, his analysis causes concern.
I highly recommend American Nations. The book is not an easy read. But, the information is well researched. History fans will appreciate this book. So, too will those seeking a better understanding of the conflicts within North America’s shores. Lastly, the events of January 2021 demand a reading. Buy a copy today. Then consider reading Colin Woodard’s most recent book. Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood is now available.