Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America, by David Hackett Fischer (Oxford University Press: 1989). Perhaps the most important book of American
History this century. Fischer's unique approach makes sense of events in American history that I never understood before. Like, what was the whiskey rebellion really all about? Why was Andrew Jackson's
marriage so controversial? And, why were Patton and Eisenhower so radically different, yet each one a great general? Fischer also enlightens his readers regarding many peculiar vagaries of American politics over the
past two centuries.
Fischer has made an in-depth study of the cultural folkways of four groups of early
American immigrants: the Puritans, who moved primarily from East Anglia to Massachusetts; the English gentry and their indentured servants, who came from
the South of England and settled in North Carolina and Virginia; the Quaker Friends, who migrated primarily from the North Midlands and settled in the Delaware
Valley; and the Borderlanders of North England and South Scotland who settled the backcountry of Pennsylvania and eventually the Appalachians. Fischer's
approach is to analyze the folkways of each group into comparable units: speech, building, family, marriage, gender, sex, naming, child-rearing, age, death, religion,
magic, learning, literacy, food, dress, sport, work, time, wealth, inheritance, rank, association, order, power, and freedom.
After an exhaustive analysis of regional folkways in England and America, which can at times be tedious, Fischer moves on to the truly fascinating part of his study in his conclusion, subtitled The Origin and
Persistence of Regional Cultures in the United States. One brief observation will have to serve as an
example of the insights Albion's Seed offers: "The war fever of '98 marked the beginning of a consistent
pattern in American military history. From the quasi-war with France to the Vietnam War, the two southern cultures strongly supported every American War no matter what it was about or who it was
against. Southern ideas of honor and the warrior ethic combined to create regional war fevers of great intensity in 1798, 1812, 1846, 1861, 1889, 1917, 1941, 1950 and 1965."