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Forming a People

by Victor Davis Hanson

Shaping Our Nation: How Surges of Migration Transformed America and Its Politics, by Michael Barone (Crown Forum, 320 pp., $27)

In this brief but fascinating study of both immigration to the United States and mass migrations within it, Michael Barone traces the peopling of America, from the original British Protestants of the 17th century to the present influxes of millions of Mexican nationals and Asians.

The late-18th-century arrival of the Scots-Irish from war-torn Northern Ireland, and their subsequent migration to Appalachia and farther westward through the Cumberland Gap, bifurcated the politics of so-called white Protestant America. The majority culture would soon become schizophrenic, as the old Puritan New England status quo was challenged by brasher, cockier, and soon-to-be-Jacksonian populists. Barone adroitly charts the early stages of America’s path toward the Civil War in a story of parallel migrations: New Englanders spread laterally into the northern Midwest, even as rich, slave-owning grandees opened up new bottomlands across the newly acquired southern United States from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi Valley. Both prospered — and they grew to loathe each other.

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