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The myth of Norman-Cavalier Southern ethnicity

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many a good man Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Nov-27-08 09:38 AM
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The myth of Norman-Cavalier Southern ethnicity
I just came across this tidbit for the first time. The Southern planter class considered themselves a race apart. They were racists all right - racist against the Yankee race!

One conspicuous example of ethnic nationalism in American history - Confederate nationalism - has escaped...the attention of almost all other historians, although it was a subject of intense discussion among its leading advocates at the time. They portrayed Southern whites as a distinct "race" separate from the "Yankee race"....

By 1860 the notion had taken hold in the South that Southern whites, at least those in the planter class, were descended from the English Cavaliers, who in turn were descended from the Norman conquerors, while "Yankees" were descended from the Puritan Roundheads, who in turn traced their descent from the Anglo-Saxons, who were conquered by the the Normans in the eleventh century. One of the fullest expressions of this idea appeared in the leading magazine for Southern writers two months after the start of the Civil War. This conflict, declared the anonymous author, was

a contest of race...between the North and the South.... The people of the Northern States are more immediately descended of the English Puritans constituted, as a class, the common people of England...and are directly descended of the ancient Britons and Saxons.... The Southern States were settled and belonging to...that stock recognized as Cavaliers...directly descended from the Norman Barons of William the Conqueror, a race distinguished, in its earliest history, for its warlike and fearless character, a race, in all time since, renowned for its gallantry, its chivalry, its honor, its gentleness, and its intellect.... The Southern people come of that race.

The South's foremost writer on political economy, James B.D. DeBow, subscribed to this Norman-Cavalier thesis had helped popularize it in his influential journal, DeBow's review, He justified secession on the ground of irreconcilable ethnic differences between Northern and Southern whites. "The Cavaliers, Jacobites, and Huguenots who settled the South, naturally hate, contemn, and despise the Puritans settled the North," declared DeBow. "The former are master races, the latter, a slave race, the descendants of the Saxon serfs." The Confederacy was now achieving its "independent destiny" by repudiating the failed experiment of civic nationalism that had foolishly tried in 1789 to "erect one nation out of two irreconcilable peoples."

from New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 19 December 4, 2008
The Historian Who Saw Through America
By James M. McPherson
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RoyGBiv Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-02-08 11:20 AM
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1. George M. Fredrickson

I just want to note that this is about the historian George M. Fredrickson since it's not clear from the included text. McPherson is referring to him as "the historian who saw through America."

Fredrickson was an early influence on my studies. He has an amazing mind and tackles subjects few even want to bother with. His _The Inner Civil War_ will teach you more about the Civil War and its consequences than ten other books on the subject by historians like McPherson himself. McPherson is great, but his narrative is, with certain exceptions, rather standard. You typically have either a political history or a military history. Sometimes a bit of social history gets mixed in. McPherson's books combined all three.

Frederickson's does something entirely different. His work on the Civil War is an intellectual history.

When I first read this, before clicking the link, I was thinking I'd heard all this before, a long time ago, and I have. Frederickson presents these ideas in raw outline in other works he's completed, e.g. _White Supremacy_ and _The Black Image in the White Mind_, both excellent books.

His brilliant mind will be missed.

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Lithos Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-08-09 01:54 PM
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2. Interesting
This conflict of identity is one of the conflicts in James' 19th Century novel, _The Bostonians_
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Sanity Claws Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-04-09 12:10 PM
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3. Myth is right
Just thinking off the top of my head, Georgia was settled by debtors. They came from various ethnic groups within Britain.
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