Michael Barone’s new blog is consistently excellent. His coverage of the recent disaster in New Orleans has been particularly astute. He has an excellent post about New York and New Orleans, contrasting the difference in civic spirit and civic resilience demonstrated by the two very different cities. Mr. Barone cites to David Hackett Fischer’s masterwork, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in North America, which I have repeatedly touted, e.g. here and here, since it is my favorite book on American history.
Mr. Barone focuses on the Dutch origins of New York, noting that the influence of Nieuw Amsterdam can be felt in the city down to the present day. He cites to Simon Schama’s book, The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age , about Amsterdam in its golden age, which included the era of the Dutch settlement of the Hudson valley and Manhattan and environs. I want to read the Schama book. Someday.
Even without it, I have come to conclude, after decades of reading, by a process of induction, that the Dutch origin on New York is the “missing fifth lobe” of Albion’s Seed, and that its influence is, if anything, underrated. No single source has convinced me of this, but many stray bits that I wish some professional historian would weave together. While Fischer recognizes that there were other settlement streams into America which influenced American life, he has identified the four major ones originating in Britain, which have had an overwhelming impact down to the present day. However, New York was the hub on which the American economy turned for many, many years, and the leader in its cultural life, both high culture and popular. New York’s unique identity had an impact far out of proportion to its size and numbers, and its elite were the de facto managers of the country and its economy for many years.
Fischer himself talks in some fascinating detail, but far too briefly, about the impact of the Dutch founding of New York in his recent book Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America’s Founding Ideas. Fischer has this to say:
New York’s tradition of pluralism began with its Dutch founders early in the seventeenth century. It combined a policy of official toleration with intense ethnic rivalry and bitter religious conflict. Bonds within ethnic groups tended to be close and warm, but relations between them were distant and hostile. These patterns appeared as early as 1624 and still persist in New York City, which for sixteen generations has been a place of extreme ethnic diversity, conflicted class relations, turbulent politics, intense economic competition, enormous energy, abrasive manners, and abusive speech. In all these ways, Manhattan in the twenty-first century is remarkably similar to descriptions of old New York in the eighteenth century, New Amsterdam in the seventeenth century, and even old Amsterdam in the Sixteenth century. The urban folkways of New York City, for all its highly cultivated habits of historical amnesia, have strong linkages to the distant past.
Fischer’s short chapter and his few comments along these lines give a tantalizing taste of what a fully elaborated study of this topic might show us.
I have seen it proposed that New York ultimately assimilated itself into the Delaware Valley culture, referred to by Fischer. I find this highly implausible. New York and Philadelphia are two starkly different cultures. I have also seen it asserted that New York’s elite culture became incorporated into a single, Ivy League-educated Northeastern elite. This is only partially true, and only occurred late, probably in the early 20th century at the soonest.
New York City has remained a world unto itself all these years. Everyone has commented on this for over 300 years, that it is somehow not really “America”. This insight may be attributed to bigotry, sometimes with justice, but it contains a large element of truth. New York is an odd fit with the rest of America because of its Dutch rather than English origins. That initial Dutch influence, its wide-open and hustling style and focus on money, its tolerance or indifference to varying cultures so long as they don’t get in the way, and the competing ethnic enclaves which began during the Dutch era, have shaped the City ever since. It was New York money which built the Erie Canal, which opened up the West. (See this superb article by Richard Brookhiser about DeWitt Clinton and the construction of the Erie Canal; see also this book review by Walter Russell Mead.) The New York area was the terminus for the East-West Railroads, which were paid for by New York-based financing, or London capital channeled through New York. The development of the interior of the Continent was not only financed but also to a large degree managed from New York. The entire interior of the country was in large part an economic colony of New York until late in the 19th Century or even into the early 20th Century. This is very clear in the history of Chicago, which felt itself to be an economic and cultural colony of New York, and still has twinges of resentment about it. (See e.g., William Cronon’s wonderful book, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West.)
New York culture, and the actions of its elite, had a nationwide impact on something like the scale of the four groups referred to by David Hackett Fischer. However, this process was different in kind from the diffusion of the four cultural streams discussed by Fischer. Driven by economic interests rather than necessity, families and businesses from New York City spread out into the Midwest and elsewhere. It was not a process of influence by means of mass settlement, but rather an elite phenomenon, influence by exercising financial power and cultural prestige. New Yorkers did not go as farmers or workers, but as managers and investors, creating small, elite pockets of New York economic and cultural influence in key locations throughout the United States. The New York influence on the economic and cultural life of the country, especially the Northern tier was pervasive.
Also, New York City is one pole of the New York-London mercantile and financial axis around which the whole world has turned for nigh on two centuries. New Yorkers did not just go into the interior, but also abroad, to run the economic empire centered on New York. New York City’s economic life was shaped at least as much by that proto-Anglospheric relationship as it was by its land-contiguous neighbors. The life of J.P. Morgan demonstrates this, to take one spectacular example. (See e.g., Jean Strouse, Morgan: American Financier.) So, to a greater degree than the more insulated portions of the country, New York started out and stayed a “world city”, like London, and has been more attuned to developments and fashions from abroad, for all of its history.
The Dutch Hudson Valley gentry had a flavor all their own, too, which they maintained until very late, while mixing in a Yankee element by education and marriage. Yankified Patroon might capture it. Fischer’s assertion in Albion’s seed that FDR is “really” a Yankee is, I believe, not right. FDR was a Hudson Valley Dutchman with a strong admixture of Yankee, a true hybrid. But even at this remove it is clear that there was something very non-Yankee about FDR. The ambience is very different. The jauntiness of the cigarette holder, the wit, the whole air about him are just not Old New England at all. Our most important 20th Century president needs to be understood in his full context. (For that matter, Teddy Roosevelt, and Martin van Buren, an under-appreciated and critical figure, the founder of the modern political party, would both be illuminated by further study from this angle.)
I notice that both Fischer and Joel Kotkin (in his recent book The City: A Global History) cite to Oliver A. Rink, Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social History of Dutch New York. I have added this book to my list of books to get my hands on. I regretted very much that Russell Shorto’s recent book The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan, the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America fell far short of the “full Fischer treatment” that early New York and its century-spanning influence so badly needs. Shorto’s sections on the early years of New Amsterdam are good, but it becomes repetitive and superficial once he tries to do a Fischerian analysis of succeeding generations and the influence of New York on the rest of the country. There is an element of truth in Shorto’s assertion that New York has always been an island of liberal thinking in a sea of Puritanism. However, it is very wrong to assert, as he does, that the moralistic New Englanders he deplores were the ancestors of the Religious Right of today. The true heirs of those moralistic Yankees are the moralistic, unsmiling leftists of today, who think globally and act locally, who drive Volvos and recycle as a quasi-religious act and want to ban smoking from all public places. The modern Religious Right came from completely different sources. The book is marred by this wrong-headed argument, and the smug, NPR-style liberal bigotry with which Shorto addresses all contemporary issues.
Shorto touches on many threads of continuity between old Nieuw Amsterdam and today, but does not have the scholarly depth to pursue them. For example, one detail Shorto notes several times is that a uniquely American word — “boss” — is of Dutch origin. What does this fact tell us about work relationships in America? Law pertaining to the relationship of an employer and employee derived from English common law and statute, to this day, refers to “master-servant” relationships. That does not sound American at all. Something important changed in our understanding of workers and employers despite the fact that we are Anglophones who largely live under English-derived law. But a study of the diffusion of the word “boss” from its New York origins, and the attitudes embedded in the use of the word, would be the work of many years. Shorto is a competent journalist who has a good style, but he is not a scholar who could independently pursue a question like this. So, Shorto’s book is at most an outpost at the frontier of a very large zone for further study.
Barone’s blog post makes the point that the New Orleans response to Katrina contrasts strongly with the response of New York to the 9/11 attack. This seems fair. The degree of civic solidarity and civic spirit in New York is something of an entirely different order. Barone notes that New Orleans is “essentially French,” and more, it is French-Caribbean. Barone quotes the great A.J. Liebling, who says that New Orleans is a Caribbean city, like Port au Prince, Haiti. In this post, Barone quotes Robert Putnam, who states that Louisiana measures dead last among the 50 states in measures of social connectedness. Not a surprise. Its culture derives from this world, more than from any of Fischer’s British cultural streams. New Orleans, too, is in its deepest roots an alien city fastened to the edge of a (primarily) culturally Anglo-American continent.
Aaron from Cumulative Model sent a link to a terrific article by Edward L. Glaeser of the Harvard Institute of Economic Research entiled “Urban Colossus: Why is New York America’s Largest City?”. It amounts to a clear, short economic history of New York. It is not exactly on point with my post, but it I see nothing inconsistent in it. Very much worth reading. I learned a lot from it.
Another friend sent this article by Joel Kotkin, discussing the ongoing appeal of New York to immigrants, and how a new wave of European immigrants has been moving to New York. Despite all its problems, to a degree we Chicagoans and others may grumble about, New York City is still where the action is, and smart and enterprising from many remote places still do what it takes to make their way there.
Looking at Russell Shorto’s page on the web, I see has a link to the New Netherlands Project, which has information about ongoing scholarship on the Dutch era of Manhattan and environs.
38 thoughts on “Four Centuries of Holland on the Hudson”
“a uniquely American word — “boss” — is of Dutch origin”…slightly off-topic, but: In the Heinlein story “Logic of Empire”, which takes place in a colony on Venus, all of the landowners/bosses are of Dutch descent.
May I suggest for you “The Island at the Center of the World,” a recent book which is about the Dutch history of New York and is based upon the research of the old Dutch files located on a storage floor in Albany. The book argues that the orginal Dutch leaders, including Peter Stuyvesant had a great influence on what New York is today and what it means to be an American.
Foolish me, should have read the whole thing before I posted. Sorry you did not like the book.
Thanks anyway. “Did not like the book” is too strong. I think Shorto was good on the early history. He fell short when he tried to project it forward and let his prejudices show. He is a journalist, not an academic, and to properly do what he started to do would take a lot of research.
David, I read Heinlein, all of him, between ages 11 and 14 or so. Thinking back, Heinlein had a definite idea that culture is long-lasting and influences behavior. So, the idea that the Dutch would be an enterprising people after the space age got started would be consistent. I recall how he depicted the Balkanized North American continent in “Friday”, with British Canada very different from Quebec. I am sure there are other examples.
There is now your insular city of the Manhattos…
— Moby Dick
New York has indeed long been recognized as an unusual American city. I think one influence has been that the city has long looked towards Europe more than any other place in America. It role as a great port and later as an information Nexus pretty much assured this orientation.
I remember reading that the upper class New York accents, like FDRs were related to upper-class English accents apparently by conscious imitation. It wasn’t until after WWII and the rise of the great mid-West accent in mass media that this began to change.
New York has always struck me as a place of transition, a gateway from old world to the new. New York has been a place people traveled through on their way to the frontier, not a frontier itself. This generational churning in what has made the city such a cultural dynamo.
It is interesting to think of what New Orleans would look like if it had been settled by the Dutch instead of the French.
You expected a bit much of Shorto’s book. It was pretty clear, or should have been, that it is a work of “popular” history rather than an academic work. Shorto’s purpose as far as I could tell from my reading was not to exhaustively review the subject but, rather, to fill a gap in the far more common knowledge base. The existence of such a gap is evidenced by Albion’s Seed.
I think he did an excellent job of it.
“It is interesting to think of what New Orleans would look like if it had been settled by the Dutch instead of the French.”
Even a popular history could have been free of a lot of the problems with Shorto’s book. The book was not a failure, and it had much good in it, but it still fell short of what it might have been even as a popular book. Anyway, even if we had both loved the Shorto book, there is a lot more going on here that needs to be studied.
In case you didn’t read it before, Edward Glaeser of Harvard Institute of Economic Research wrote a great paper back in June on the economic history of New York. Arnold Kling linked to it.
I wanted to use it to write about how Manhattan culture functions similar to blogs (also making blogs less useful there), but never got around to it.
This was fascinating. And I had always thought that New Orleans/New York accent was weird; Barone’s explanation is interesting. This certainly is going to help me think more clearly and rethink approaches to some authors.
Another (I think relevant) point is that among the most important early fiction writers were two from upstate New York (Washington Irving & James Fennimore Cooper). Part of what they emphasize fits with your observations and part does not.
Irving, with his Knickerbocker Tales, chooses the Dutch/New York setting in several works; perhaps the most pointed is “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Here, he contrasts the Dutch emphasis upon building a comfortable home (of the van Tassel’s) with the westering restlessness of Ichabod Crane. His representative Dutch farmer is “Old Baltus van Tassel . . . a perfect picture of a thriving, contented, liberal-hearted farmer. He seldom, it is true, sent either his eyes or his thoughts beyond the bundaries of his own farm; but within those everything was snug, happy, and well-conditioned. He was satisfied with his wealth, but not proud of it, and piqued himself upon the heart abundance, rather than the style in which he lived.” This is contrasted with Crane, who, surveying van Tassel’s quiet domesticity, thinks of how it can all be turned to food for his stomach or money in his hands, used to finance his own move, with “the blooming Katrina” and a “whole family of children, mounted on the top of a waggon loaded with household trumpery, . . . setting out for Kentucky, Tennesse, or the Lord knows where.”
The restlessness of the Yankee vision versus the staid, comfortable, secular, and constricting New York is also a central theme in Edith Wharton, who certainly knew of what she spoke in describing New York society.
Aaron, thanks for the link. That is a superb article.
Perhaps Macau provides a good example of what New Orleans would look like had the Dutch colonized it.
Chicago is still a destination city for foreigners as the legions of RECENT Irish, Polish and Mexican immigrants can attest. UofC and Northwestern’s B-schools (as well as their colleges) provide plenty of attraction to many who end up staying.
I myself came to Chicago two years ago because it allowed me economic opportunities not available in the city whence I came.
Elambend, you are absolutely right that Chicago is a destination for immigrants. This town has everything. We have a Mongolian community with at least one Mongolian-speaking lawyer. We have an Eritrean community, with its own church. There used to be a building on W. Lawrence that had a sign advertising for people to stitch clothes, and it was written in English, Spanish, Korean, Chinese and I think Arabic. Nigerians, Romanians, Pakistanis, you name it. But, the point I was making above is that New York has been such a magnet for almost four centuries. Chicago has a few centuries to go to match that record.
Great post Lex, fascinating to read as always.
New York culture, and the actions of its elite, had a nationwide impact on something like the scale of the four groups referred to by David Hackett Fischer
New York’s financial activity had a a nationwide impact, but it is not clear that it’s culture made an impression that spread across the country as did the Puritan, Delaware Valley and Outback. In many ways it was geographically constrained like the Tidewater, but it’s impact was not felt in the creation of the country’s institutions, culture or concept of Liberty as was the Tidewater’s.
New York is not the Delaware Valley, to be sure. But you have not established, to me, that it had a different concept of Liberty, in Fischer’s sense, from that he placed in the Delaware Valley that would justify considering it as a “missing fifth lobe.”
New York also did not penetrate into the American heartland; as you note, “New York City has remained a world unto itself all these years.” While the Hudson Valley is certainly full of Dutch influence, upstate is far more influenced by New England through to Cleveland and into Michigan and the upper midwest. There is no similar expansion of New York culture or a New York conception of freedom through the expanding American frontier.
Like New Orleans, the Tidewater, and soon, Miami, New York seems to be an interesting pocket within the much broader swaths cut out by the major persistent cultures of the Puritans, Delaware and Outback.
I’m curious about how all this talk about Dutch culture in America matches with the more recently arrived Dutch in America. Being from western Michigan — and specifically the “Dutch Triangle” — I view the Dutch as intensely conservative people, basically the opposite of the stereotype of the residents of the Netherlands. Holland and Grand Rapids, Mich., (with Kalamazoo being the third point of the triangle) are home to the centers of the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church of America (or Dutch Reformed as my Catholic parents called them both).
Richard, of course I did not “demonstrate” anything to you because it would take a book to do that, and years of research. I will stick to my conclusion, contra yours, that New York’s commanding economic and cultural position had a very large, though more diffuse, impact on American life. I would also disagree strongly about New York having a different idea of liberty — read almost any book on New York. Tammany Hall (a Dutch word) occurred there, the quasi-socialism of LaGuardia and the dysfunctional, top-heavy public sector of later years occurred there. Why there? Because people there accepted these things in a way they would not have elsewhere.
We will have to agree to disagree, since, as I said, I am basing this on impressionistic data gathered unsystematically over many years. But, if you can’t put such assertions on a blog, where the Hell can you put them?
Meanwhile, I’d like to see what H.L. Mencken, in his American Language books, has to say about Dutch words in English, or any other source to track down better the history of the word Dutch word “baas”, which became “boss” in American English.
Erick, just as the different waves of immigration from Britain originated in different places and had varying cultures, different waves of migration from Holland would be similarly varied. New York was originally New Amsterdam, and it was settled by enterprising people from old Amsterdam. The folks you are talking about came at a different time, from a different part of the Netherlands, for different reasons. The lesson of David Hackett Fischer is that the initial founding group, even if it is very small, has a huge impact on later immigrants, who attempt to assimilate to the dominant culture. This initial impact can last centuries.
This heritage seems complex and I’m curious about the way you see this play out.
Benjamin Franklin, although a Bostonian and from a family of dissenters, is representative of a hustling, entrepreneurial, communal, secular, pragmatic character. This vision isn’t speculative: philosophically, spiritually, or artistically. Irving, describing the Dutch, echoes some characteristics Fischer finds in that middle region. They are also, as Irving notes, more interested in comfort than style. The New Yorkers who bought their dresses at Worth’s but didn’t wear them until they were a year old reflect the conservatism of that “style.”
Franklin, as he expresses repeatedly in his autobiography, aims at the good life in this world – felicity. He contrasts sharply with Jonathan Edwards, his almost exact contemporary.
This vision is what Irving found attractive and Wharton found comforting but also constraining.
Do you see this as having any relation to your observations? And, how close is the Dutch influence to the German? And to the stay in Leyden of Bradford’s group? (Who feared losing their way in the pleasures of the secular Dutch world but also felt that they were never going to succeed in a merchant system with narrow access.)
I hope this doesn’t imply that I wish you’d written a different post – I’m just relatively narrow and seeing your perspective helps broaden my understanding. I just need some help with working with the ideas in the language of characterization that I understand better than the broad sweep.
Franklin was an exceptional person. Do you think he was characteristic of Philadelphia gentry of his era? I tend to think not. He didn’t fit in there, and he went to Boston, as I recall.
I have not read Irving and cannot speculate about the content or accuracy of his depiction of the rural Dutch. I think Shorto says he had a stereotyped depiction, but I don’t recall the details.
Fischer does talk about the Plymouth pilgrims, who had stayed for a time in Leyden, who were a different group from the Boston Bay colony. The Boston group were the founding group for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and who engulfed the Plymouth community in terms of numbers and influence early on.
It is OK to wish I had written a different post.
But, if you can’t put such assertions on a blog, where the Hell can you put them?
Well, I certainly didn’t mean to suggest you shouldn’t put such assertions out, especially on your own blog. Reading them is why I visit. It is a very stimulating post. I don’t mind that we don’t agree on everything. That would be odd.
Right, Richard. And the main thing I wanted to get at in this post is that this is a relatively unmined seam, as far as I can tell. The kind of dense work-product that Fischer produced in Albion’s Seed reflected years and years of work. New York has a large literature on local history. But the cultural impact of New York on the rest of the country has not been so carefully studied. I suggest that it is harder to do this than it was for the four major culture-streams that Fischer took on because it was driven not by mass migration, but the effect of elites through business management practices, New York’s dominance of book publishing, New York’s predominance in theatre and vaudeville, New York elite setting the tone for high culture and education throughout the country especially in the Northern tier of the country, both financially and indirectly. I am sure there is a monograph literature on some of these aspects, as well as portions of general business histories, histories of the theatre, studies of the diffusion of Dutch-derived words, etc. But no one has pulled it all together. Or, if someone has, I’d sure like to know about it. If this work were done, it may show that you are more correct than I am, and that New York was a cultural island with less impact than I think. Obviously, I don’t think so, but the basis for hard conclusions has not been compiled ala Fischer.
Sure, Franklin was exceptional. So was Edwards. They were, however, exceptional in different ways that reflected different values & priorities. (And of course, his “exceptionalism” was true of, say, Washington, only a bit younger than they but in the center of yet another of Fischer’s groups.) And Franklin, with his weekly social gatherings, his emphasis upon the lending library, the volunteer fire department, etc. was in the midst of a quite active group similar to the various community/business service organizations today.
Re. Franklin. It is actually the other way around: he was born in Boston, then apprenticed to his brother who published a rabble-rousing newspaper. BF got irritated – thinking (knowing) he was smarter than his brother. Not wanting to work out the rest of his poorly paid apprenticeship, he took off for Philadelphia and stayed there the rest of his life (well, except for representing America in France and leaving for other duties). He always saw leaving as an “errata” – ethical failing.
The question, I suspect, is: did he find Philadelphia attractive because that was the kind of person he was or did Philadelphia – where he essentially came of age and grew up – mold him. And if so, how much of that molding or that culture was itself defined by the German pietists, the Dutch, etc.? And what relation is there between that Philadelphian vision and that of the Dutch New Yorkers?
Re. German/Dutch: Irving’s characterization did not seem to me so untrue of the contrast between the German & Anglo settlers in my village. The point may be that I have, in my mind, mixed the Dutch and the Germans (& where I come from the Roosians), when they need to be separated out. The Missouri Synod Lutheran church on a Sunday had more in its pews than in the other four combined; the group that came up during reconstruction and settled the small commuity of Shiloh were different. In the early generations, far more of the latter went to college and they were the core of the village symphony orchestra; in later generations, the former were the more progressive and successful farmers – less often buying on credit, more often sinking money into buying more land.
“I have seen it proposed that New York ultimately assimilated itself into the Delaware Valley culture, referred to by Fischer. I find this highly implausible. New York and Philadelphia are two starkly different cultures. I have also seen it asserted that New York’s elite culture became incorporated into a single, Ivy League-educated Northeastern elite. This is only partially true, and only occurred late, probably in the early 20th century at the soonest.”
I wonder if these NY/Philly cultures explain the difference in cultures between Wilkes-Barre, Pa., which drew its establishment families from Philadelphia, and nearby Scranton, Pa., which drew its founding entrepreneurs from NYC.
Kate, that sounds like a good case study.
I want to chime in with Ginny’s extension of Lex’s very rich line of thought. I detect a genuine hostility in Irving to New England and all its works, relentlessly punished in the person of Ichabod Crane. Irving’s “Sketch Book,” I think, takes the viewpoint of a Knickerbocker history and culture; he recognized the importance of John Jacob Astor, for instance, once the richest man in America. In “Bracebridge Hall,” Irving invented the English Christmas (seconded by Dickens)–nothing “Puritan” in that festival of tree, plum pudding, and good cheer. I think his later books on Columbus, the Alhambra, and Spain are an implicit reminder that America was discovered by a Mediterranean Catholic, not by English Puritans. He even wrote a book about Mahomet and his successors. There’s an angle of vision that focuses the whole world through New York that seems to me deliberately anti-New England, anti-Boston.
Perry Miller’s “The Raven and the Whale” shows how the rivalry between New York and Boston is represented, indirectly and allegorically, in Melville’s “Moby-Dick”–especially in the battle over New England versus Manhattan recipes for clam chowder. Miller chronicles a lively literary scene in Manhattan that was completely obliterated by derivatives of Puritanism centered in Boston and propagated through generations of New England schoolmasters and professors (the Ichabod Cranes Irving detested). But Melville, for all his connection with Hawthorne, is a New Yorker–perhaps not least in sticking to a rather grim Calvinism that didn’t pass through the Unitarianism of William Ellery Channing and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Edith Wharton is absolutely germane. “The Age of Innocence” is a careful portrait of a Dutch-derived upper class. She is as much the chronicler of a distinctive New York culture as William Dean Howells is of a Boston culture–but note that Howells eventually moved to New York.
MM, you and Ginny are onto a whole aspect here that is outside my reading. Irving, nothing; Wharton, nothing — though I liked the Scorsese movie — Melville, nothing; Howells, nothing; Channing and Emerson, nothing. 19th C American literature is basically a blank space on the map for me, one of many such spaces. Life is short, and the stacks of books are very tall.
Lex: Good piece. Congratualtions on your favorable mention by Michael Barone. But, I see he blew your cover.
Robert, Mr. Barone has been my intellectual hero for many years. His book Our Country: The Shaping of America from Roosevelt to Reagan is the single best book on American politics there is. So, all is forgiven. Ha.
The idea of the London-New York axis, with New York’s Dutch roots, makes even more sense by including the original Amsterdam. There are two great reasons for this:
1. As Niall Ferguson points out, the British government’s involvement in imperialism became intense largely after the infusion of Dutch banking techniques after the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
2. It was in Amsterdam that John Adams was able to secure the first foreign loans to the United States.
There’s a third point, though it doesn’t necessarily involve Amsterdam or New York: Recall that the Pilgrims that landed at Plymouth Rock were religious refugees who had fled to Leyden, a Dutch city.
By the way, I’m quite intrigued by the reference to Chicago as a colony city of New York. This is not really unusual in the history of civilization. Recall that several Spanish and French cities were originally colonies of Athens. Carthage begat Carthagenia (Carthago Nova, in its Latin form), and was itself begat by Phoenicians. And Venice was a place of refuge for many Roman aristocrats feeling the increasing rate of incursions from the German and Central Asian “barbarians”.
Perhaps a way to illuminate the cultural differences between New Orleans, New York and Chicago would be to see how jazz was transformed as it moved from its point of origin in NO upriver to Chicago and then to NY. I don’t have enough knowledge to do this. Maybe somebody out there does?
Bruce, you point to a related issue, which is the historical relationship between Holland, Britain and the United States. The Dutch have had a deep but quiet involvement in the development of both economies. It was the Dutch who really laid the foundations of modern capitalism. For example, “…the British have the largest U.S. direct investment holding—with the Dutch not far behind—as has been the case since colonial times.” (From this) The importance of Dutch capital in American economic history does not seem to be very well-known. As to Chicago, it was the interior hub, where the primary goods of the interior received initial processing and were packaged up for rail or water transport to New York, to be shipped from there either abroad or to various points on the more densely populated Eastern parts of the country. It was obvious to everybody that some city in the interior would be the major player. There was intense boosterism and lobbying. The other lead contender was St. Louis, but Cincinnati and Toledo were also in the running. Chicago came out on top for reasons set forth in thrilling detail in William Cronon’s book.
Phil, you point to yet another possibly fruitful approach. Histories of Jazz would only touch on this type of thing only indirectly. David Hackett Fischer does not focus on music, as I recall, though he could have done so. I think he did not do so because he is going to write a book about slavery and the African American experience, and it is pointless to write about American music without Black people at the center of the discussion.
Is some of this overlooked because we are seldom taught (or think about or write about) history in terms of economics? The exception of course is the often unhelpful approach of Marxist historians who probe for villainous greed as motivator.
Ginny, I was fortunate that I had a very good high school Western Civ teacher who understood the economic dimension of history, and was even able to quote Marx to us fruitfully. I remember it very clearly. He had a series of slides on the overhead projector, i.e. Watts’ condenser-steam engine, Crompton’s spinning mule, Hargreave’s spinning jenny, maybe a few others. He then said that if a machine changes the way millions of people work, it is a world-historic event. I did not know then he was quoting Marx, welt-historiche. I also had the advantage of an econ education undergrad at U of C, in particular the superb course given by Prof. R. Max Hartwell on the History of the Industrial Revolution in England. My Russian Civ teacher, Richard Hellie, covered all aspects, from high culture to farming methods, and hence there was no shirking the economic dimension. Plus I read Adam Smith and Tocqueville with the late Prof. Roger Weiss. So, I was lucky. I don’t imagine most people get anything remotely as good as these teachers, who managed to teach me a lot even though I was a lazy and distracted student. Youth is wasted on the young.
Knowing my friend, the cultural geographer, was from upstate NY, I thought he might be interested in this discussion. He responded:
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