America as it might have been

What would America be like had it experienced no immigration after the colonial era? Ellsworth Huntington addresses this question in his study of the descendants of New England Puritans and concludes "that in many ways life would have been more satisfactory" [1].

  • Population size. Huntington projects that in the absence of immigration and other impediments, "the normal natural increase of these descendants of the early colonists would have given the United States approximately its present population." (And, even if America were left with a reduced population, Huntington argues, "there is no good reason to think that we are better off because of mere numbers. Quality counts for vastly more than quantity.")

  • Physical appearance. "Blue-eyed and fair haired people would be more numerous--as numerous as they are in eastern England north of London, or in southern Scotland. The average stature would also be greater than at present. Our cities would no longer contain great areas where a large share of the people are short and have black hair, dark brown eyes, and brunette skins." (Huntington notes: "Our studies seem to suggest that the blonder type is more prone to wander and to get on in the world than the darker types, but we do not attach great importance to this.")

  • Economic level. ". . . our sample of old New England suggest an average buying power about a quarter greater than that of the native whites of the country as a whole." The rate of home ownership is 50% higher in the Puritan sample. Huntington expects a reduction in "crime and pauperism" (see below) would save billions of dollars, and suggests individual savings, investments, "and general ability to withstand hard times would presumably be larger".

  • Crime. ". . . our New England sample shows less than half as great a criminal tendency as does the average population [. . .] Far more important than [the economic improvement], however, is the greater safety, freedom, and joy of life that would come under such circumstances. Think of the difference if we knew not only that kidnapping, racketeering, bootlegging, vice, graft, blackmail, murder, and theft were as rare as in England, but also that misrepresentation of investments, unfairly pyramided corporations, and all sorts of financial gold bricks were equally diminished in number."

  • Dependency. "Our study of old colonial names indicates that the descendants of the Puritans are only half as likely to be registered in the lists of social service exchanges as are the inhabitants of the country in general."

  • Government and politics: ". . . it seems to be clear that if this country had a larger percentage of people like the descendants of the old New Englanders, or of similar people derived from some other source, it would also have a larger percentage of the far more limited kind who take the lead in advancing the cause of true civilization. Moreover, the obstacles to putting new ideas into effect would be much diminished because the people as a whole would be more intelligent than is now the case. This would give the country greater wisdom politically and socially, as well as economically. It would diminish the power of the demagogue and political boss, for such men batten on ignorance. High minded, wise, disinterested men like Governor Cross of Connecticut, that former professor and dean of Yale, who stands so solidly for the good of all the people, would have a greater chance not only to get into high office, but to carry out their ideas. It is doubtful whether and institution like Tamanny Hall or the Republican machine of Philadelphia could have arisen in a community composed wholly of descendants of the old New Englanders, or of people derived from any one of a score of other equally good sources. Has not democracy failed among us mainly for lack of men who are both honest and able? There are indeed plenty of bad and stupid people among the old New England stock. There are also bad and clever ones who crop out sometimes in high places where they do untold damage. Nevertheless, the record set forth in these chapters seems to show that it would be much safer to entrust a country to men like those of early New England stock whom we have analysed in these pages than to the average of the country as a whole. It is certainly among them that we find the overwhelming majority of those who have led the march of progress. Thus it seems that if we had more such men, and fewer of the opposite kind, human progress would take place more evenly and effectively in all sorts of ways.

  • Technology and labor. Huntington argues: "If our population all had a degree of intelligence like that which their education records suggest among the descendants of the Puritans, people too incompetent for anything except common labor would be scarce. Therefore the conditions would be like those of many frontier communities where the scarcity of labor leads to high wages and this in turn attracts good men. [. . .] laborers would presumably be better organized, better paid, and more influential than now, as is the case in Australia. As time went on, however, the need for the less competent type of laborer as compared with the skilled workman would diminish. This is now happening, but it would be accelerated by the fact that according to our hypothesis inventions would be made even more rapidly that at present. We have see that inventiveness is a characteristic of the old Puritan stock. A larger proportion of this quality in the population as a whole would mean that labor saving machinery would be even more prevalent than now." Huntington sees a declining need for unskilled labor and "rapidly growing demand for competent people in new occupations". He concludes: "Our paramount need is for vastly more people with keen and highly trained minds that can contribute something to the great plans which must be worked out for the future. Without such minds civilization will break from its own weight like a giant dirigible. What we need most of all is a higher, better type of mentality. Thus it seems that even though the old New England stock may be very imperfect, it is at least better adapted to the requirements of the new social order than is our present population as it actually exists."
Unfortunately, even by the time the book was published in 1935, "the old New England stock [was] mingling with other types so fast that by the time any radical change in our racial outlook occurs its identity will almost have been lost." Thus: ". . . the lesson to be drawn [. . .] is not that we should try indiscriminately to increase the proportion of this old New England stock. [. . .] The lesson, as we see it, is that by proper selection the people of the United States as a whole, just as they are today, may give rise to descendants who possess unusually high qualities. Selection is the key word of this whole book" [2]. And: "If selection is to accomplish its full work it must be followed by segregation, or better still by continued selection from generation to generation." More on that later.

[1] Huntington, Ellsworth, and Martha Ragsdale. 1935. After three centuries; a typical New England family. Baltimore, Md: Williams & Wilkins Co. Chapter X ("What Might Have Been").

Kevin MacDonald briefly ponders a related question in Diaspora Peoples:

One wonders what might have happened if the British colonial authorities had allowed the colony complete sovereignty and if it had ultimately become a nation-state. Such a state, based on a clearly articulated exclusivist group strategy, might have been extremely successful. Composed of a highly intelligent, educated, and industrious citizenry, and with a proneness to high fertility and strong controls promoting high-investment parenting, it might have become a world power. One can imagine that as the 19th century wore on, Puritan intellectuals would have begun to see themselves as an ethnic-racial group and that Darwinism would have replaced Christianity as the ideological basis of the state, at least among the well-educated. The demise of Puritanism is likely a major event in the history of European peoples.
[2] I'm reminded a bit of Carleton Coon:
In the settlement of the United States the immigrants were not chose at random. Whole congregations migrated with their pastors to New England, and settled in sheltered coves and river mouths. [. . .] Middle-class artisans and skilled craftsmen predominated in early New England [. . .] Selection in migration operated from the beginning.

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