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Another look at Albion's Seed


Image: Jet2

As we mentioned last week, four hundred and one years ago, in 1610, at the command of King James I, four hundred thousand border reivers received "the knock on the door" and were shipped to what came to be called the Plantation of Ulster. The king's "ethnic cleansing" of the border between England and Scotland and his colonialisation of Ulster would generate tremendous changes in the history of the world.

In A Struggle to be Heard, John Laird, writes -

"King James changed the course of British history, he changed the course of Irish history, and he changed the course of world history. Events were started which led to the creation of the United States, as well as to the development of new systems of banking and agriculture, the advancement of academia and the creation of a race of warriors, who are still about today."

Ulster had been depopulated due to the Elizabethan wars. The Irish remaining in what was to become one of the kingdoms of the United Kingdom were not happy about the new arrivals. Lord Laird says -

"The Plantation brought to the land a totally different way of thinking. It brought over a Protestant way and a Protestant ethos. . .It introduced more modern, commercial approaches, market-orietated and more capital-intensive. This is a reflection of the Protestant ethic of individualism and personal salvation. . .This was a challenge to the semi-nomadic economy based on Brehon law, which had an emphasis on communal rights and ownership."

We note that whatever one may think of communal ownership, history does not give high marks to its ability to generate health and prosperity for large numbers of people.

We referred to some of the medical and technical contributions made in the 18th century by the Scottish Enlightenment. But the real game-changer in world affairs was the 18th century migration to America of between 250,000 and 400,000 Ulster Scots. Their cultural identity nurtured individualism, a dislike of aristocracy and warrior courage.

James Webb, a US Senator, says that they shaped America. They and their descendants formed more than a third of the American Revolutionary War army and a number of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. They included iconic pioneers such as Daniel Boone, the explorers Lewis and Clark, the hero of the Alamo, Davy Crockett, and the father of Texas, Sam Houston; writers Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain; the military leaders Stonewall Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and George S. Patton; and a number of populist US Presidents - Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Bill Clinton. Another Ulster-Scots descendant, US President Ronald Reagan, spoke to Americans' love of freedom, their willingness to work hard, and their desire to be accountable and optimistic.

Webb's book, Born Fighting, is rather romantic. Confusingly, he calls the people the Scots-Irish.

David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed describes and contrasts four British groups, including the Ulster Scots, who settled America. Fischer's book is based on scholarship and is beautifully written. British readers have found that it reveals as much about Britain as it does about America.

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