Yankeeland in the Middle West v. Finnish communists on the Iron Range

JayMan, having a full-blown relapse into Yankee monocausalism:
You know, your general trope of modern SWPLs not being the descendents of the Puritans doesn't actually hold water. A simple comparison of both genetic and self-reported ancestry (again aforementioned link, partially supplied by you) shows that Democratic voting Whites are only found in areas Puritans settled.
I point out Puritan-descendants are numerically insignificant in most of these areas. JayMan:

They don't need to make up a plurality or majority. They just need to be more common there than they are in non-Democratic voting areas, and they are (Mormons excepted).

Now, you can (correctly) point out that this is just a correlation, and may co-vary with the true cause. But if you have any idea what that is, I'm all ears. [. . .]

Look, we can keep running Occam's Razor in reverse and ignore inconvenient facts. Or you could at least try to run with the facts and come up with a plausible alternative explanation. If and when you do that, please let me know.

Let's ignore for the moment that no county-level estimates of Puritan ancestry have actually been derived and the supposed correlation has not been established. The idea that such a correlation could be explained by Puritan-descendants bloc-voting for Obama is fanciful, to say the least. We've already been through this for New England.

Via his post on "Rural White Liberals", JayMan lobs a couple of good examples of why, although demographics and settlement history can be of great interest in understanding the world, the sort of crude analysis that would simply label the Upper Midwest as "Yankee" fails.

Three areas feature an anomalous level of blueness despite being relatively unpopulated, at least as far as Democratic voting areas go. These areas – northern New England proper, the upper Mississippi valley, and the Minnesota Arrowhead/Lake Superior region and the surrounding area are – unsurprisingly – all in Yankeedom, with some parts in the Midlands and New France. All are overwhelmingly non-Hispanic White. All are relatively sparsely populated, and yet all vote Democrat. All are devoid of and are generally outside the orbit of major metropolitan areas, with the upper Mississippi valley area having only smallish metro areas (Iowa City, Waterloo, and the Quad Cities area) and northern New England having the Burlington, Vermont-Plattsburgh, New York metro as its most populous area. [. . .]

So what’s the deal with these three regions? Unfortunately, I am only intimately familiar with one of them, [. . .]

The upper Mississippi valley anomaly largely coincides with the unglaciated "Driftless Area", and a common designation for the "Minnesota Arrowhead" region is the "Iron Range". I'll tell you the deal with these two regions shortly.

First, some comments on Yankee settlement in the Midwest by a more serious researcher than Colin Woodard:

Narrowly defined, Yankeeland in the Middle West is confined to the Western Reserve of Ohio, southern Michigan, southeastern Wisconsin, southern Minnesota, and the central Dakotas; broadly defined it begins with the eastern Ohio apex and then fans out to cover all the territory from central Kansas to the Canadian border. Neither definition is more correct. The distinction is based on the degree of Yankee dominance, and it seems probable that the clearest expression of regional identity will be found in the smaller, inner region (outlined in black in Figure 1). [. . .]

A geographer who views the Yankeeland map is likely to ask, What does this map resemble? The northern fringe of Yankee dominance in the Great Lakes states follows the hardwood-coniferous forest transition. Across North Dakota, the dividing line runs just south of the area settled by the Northern Pacific Railroad. The cattle country of western South Dakota seems to be excluded. Yankeeland in Iowa is the northern two or three tiers of countries. The [southern] boundary seems to bend around the Driftless Hill region of Wisconsin. In Ohio only the Western Reserve is included. If this area labeled "Yankeeland" is to be meaningful geographically, it must be demonstrated that something other than place of birth also follows the same regional outline. [. . .]

The northern limit of wheat specialization in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota coincides closely with the hardwood-coniferous forest transition (Figure 2). To the north the land was poorer, settled later, and when it was settled it was less likely to be cultivated. Forestry was the dominant occupation of the north in the nineteenth century, and those who came to the Upper Great Lakes woods were overwhelmingly from the St. Lawrence region--the northern fringes of New York and Vermont, Upper Canada (Ontario), and the lowlands of Quebec. The "Canadianness" of the Upper Great Lakes is what distinguishes it most clearly from the Yankee belt to the south. Yankees are found in the leading urban centers of the region, but their northward migration clearly slowed to a crawl once the better agricultural lands were left behind. Instead, Yankees followed the prairie ecotone northwest to the Red River valley where they were joined by Canadians from the St. Lawrence zone. Eastern North Dakota became the wheat bonanza of the 1880s. The Northern Pacific Railroad's land grant attracted many to North Dakota from both the Yankee and St. Lawrence zones, including many German- and Norwegian-Americans. St. Lawrence settlers were uncommon in southern North Dakota, but in the rest of the state they rivaled the Yankee in numbers. [. . .]

Yankee Settlement and Politics

The democratic ideals held by Yankees and Midlanders were so similar that to focus on differences may seem unwarranted. A minor point, although pervasive, concerns the role of public buildings in urban design. Both Yankees and Midlanders laid out courthouse towns with city-block squares, but the Yankee seems to have balked at the idea of enshrining government by placing the courthouse on a center square; Midlanders had no such aversion. Therefore a subtle, but rather reliable, marker of the appearance of Yankee dominance is the off-center and sometimes hard-to-find courthouse in the Yankee county seat town.

In Yankee towns the church, the school, and the government had central locations, yet none was more important than the others, and hence none could become a single focus. Instead, the Yankee town centered on business. Prosperity was demonstrated by the massive business blocks built near the major downtown intersection. The practice of setting aside a central common or green, alleged to be important to New Englanders, evidently was forgotten by the nineteenth century. The Yankee town in the Middle West had a focus that was commercial, and the property near its center was almost entirely private; squares, parks, market places, and the like were not included. [. . .]

The Republican party's origin and the region of its greatest strength seem to be plausible consequences of the creation of a Yankee-dominated zone across the Middle West (Hart 1972). The contrast across regional boundaries is especially strong between the Yankee-Republican Middle West and the St. Lawrence zone to the north. The latter has had a history of political localism and radical movements which, although sometimes spawned by Republicans, clearly deviates from the sort of rational, tolerant, small-business oriented Yankee thinking that created and maintained the Republican party.

[JC Hudson. Yankeeland in the Middle West. Journal of Geography, 1986.]

Moving our attention back to the Iron Range: here we have a region which was at no point dominated by Yankees, and whose mines were populated by politically radical stoop laborers from Eastern and Southern Europe. But JayMan's razor informs us we should look to the descendants of Puritans to explain voting returns in this area.

Political Culture in Microcosm: Minnesota’s Iron Range

by Pamela A. Brunfelt


This essay is an analysis of the development of the moralistic political culture on Minnesota’s Iron Range. The idea presented here is that the Iron Range developed a moralistic political culture that was different from the rest of the state of Minnesota largely because of the massive wave of immigrants who settled in northeastern Minnesota between 1884 and 1920. Their struggle to forge a commonwealth that was not dominated by the mining companies resulted in the creation of social and cultural organizations, workers’ halls and labor union locals, and membership in radical political groups. Eventually, however, the New Deal and the Farmer-Labor party pulled the workers into the DFL’s political orbit where the people of the Range have remained for over 70 years. As a result, the political culture on the Range is different from the moralistic political culture in the rest of the state and will probably be resistant to individualistic impulses for some time to come. [. . .]


Mining began in Soudan in 1882, and the first train load of ore was shipped to Lake Superior on July 31 , 1884. The first miners to arrive in northeastern M innesota were skilled Cornish and Swedish undergrou nd miners from the iron mines of northern Wisconsin an d the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They were followed by immigrants from Finland, Croatia, Bosni a and many other countries. In 1886 iron ore depos its were discovered in Ely, and the first shipments of ore left the underground mines there in 1888. The white pine logging industry began in 1887 in Ely to provi de timbers for the underground mines. On March 3, 1894, the Knox Lumber Company’s white pine sawmill began operating in Winton. The first economic boom in northeastern Minnesota led to the rapid dev elopment of Tower, Soudan, Ely and Winton, and immigrants arrived by the hundreds to fill the jobs in the mines and lumber camps (Brunfelt 2005; Fore ster 2004, 29, 31).

Within a few years of the founding of the Vermilion Iron Range, the massive iron ore deposits of the Mesabi Iron Range were discovered, and mining began there in 1890 with the first shipments in 1892. Boom towns quickly sprang up and were located along the spine of the Mesabi Iron Range for more than sixty miles. Thousands of unskilled workers poured into northern Minnesota to extract the ore needed to feed the seemingly insatiable demand for steel in the United States. Immigrants from forty-six different ethnic groups arrived and settled in the mining locations and towns of the Mesabi Iron Range (Brunfelt 2005). The population exploded. In 1900 the population of the Mesabi was 15,000, by 1910 it was 68,1 20, by 1920 it was 84,100 people and over 100,000 people for all three ranges (Alanen 1989, 158-59; Tice 1999, 125, 130). D.J. Tice commented in Minnesota’s Twentieth Century that “[i]n the early years of the century, few places in the United States – probably only New York City – rivaled the kaleidoscopic cultural mixture and old-world atmosphere of Minnesota’s Iron Range. About half the region’s population was foreign born in 1910 [sic]” (Tice 1999, 124).

The struggle to survive was never-ending for the people in the early years of the iron ranges. By 19 10, 17,320 men were employed in the mines on the Mesabi , and they earned an average of 33 cents an hour. They worked up to twelve hours a day in the underground and open pit mines, labored to feed their families on wages that fluctuated from month-to-month, and f ace myriad dangers from falling rocks, collapsed timbers, and premature explosions. Deaths and injuries were common. Between 1906 and 1916, more than 700 men died in the mines; and 90 percent of them were immigrants. In 1910 alone, 78 miners were killed in mining accidents on the Range (Alanen 1989, 180- 181; Tice 1999, 130; Brunfelt 2000, 83). [. . .]

The strikes of 1916 and the Cuyuna Range strikes of 1917 were examples of multi-ethnic struggles for higher wages, shorter hours, and better working conditions. The Finns, who were the strike leaders on both the Mesabi and Cuyuna Iron Rangers, “allied themselves with Slavs, Croatians, Czechs, Italians, Russians, Romanians, Bulgarians, and other ethnic groups in strike organizing” (Kivisto 1984, 143). Although the early strikes enhanced worker solidarity and helped the miners find common ground they inevitably ended in failure because the miners were not just fighting against the massive economic power of the companies they worked for, but also against local, state and federal government officials who “monitored the lab or situation, spied on workers plotted to arrest union leaders, and broke up meetings whenever there was an opportunity to do so” (Brunfelt 2000, 71). As long as they government supported the companies in the labor struggle, the miners had to create other ways to protect and promote their interests. [. . .]


Politics, however, was ultimately the most important factor in the emergence of a strong vibrant moral istic political culture that is still at work today for the people of the Iron Range. The Industrial Worker s of the World’s (IWW) Metal Mine Workers Industrial Union 4 90 (MMWIU 490) organized many of the miners during the 1916 strike and the work stoppages of 19 17 (Brunfelt 2000, 36-37, 66), but it was a syndicalist industrial union that worked outside of the politic al system to achieve its goals of achieving an economic revolution. Initial political activity, therefore, for many immigrants was centered in radical political parties such as the Socialist party and later the Communist Party. The workers of the iron ranges, particularly the Finns and South Slavs, became an important segment of their respective language federations in politic al parties.

As early as 1902, the Finns had organized a “working-class institution” in Hibbing and in Virginia in 1903 and soon built halls as centers of educational, social and cultural activity. By 1907 the Finns were so well organized politically that the halls served as the focal point for strike activity. Their halls served that function again in 1916 on both the Mesabi and Cuyuna Iron Rangers. In 1911, the same years as the Cuyuna Iron Range opened, the Finns organized a chapter within the large Finnish language federation of the Socialist Party. Many of the Finns who settled on the Cuyuna Range had been “radicalized” in Finland prior to arriving in the United States. In April 1913 the Crosby Workers’ Hall opened and served as a community center for the townspeople until other facilities opened in the area. The hall, which would affiliate with the IWW in 1917, became the focal point of radical activity in Crosby until it was closed in 1952 and hosted many Communist Party activities in the early 1930s. It was no the only hall built by immigrants in Crosby. The South Slavs held a meeting at the Finnish Workers’ Hall to begin planning to build the Croatian Miners’ Orchestra Hall which would also host many radical meetings over the next few decades. Halls like the ones in Crosby, Virginia and Hibbing were built all over the Iron Range and provided a safe haven for the immigrants as they struggled with the assimilation process in America (Kolehmainen 1944, 324-325; Brunfelt 2000, 29-31, 44-45).

The Driftless Area effect has been much discussed.
Looked up some stats on Dubuque:

~60% registered democrat
~80% catholic
-voted for Eisenhower, then JFK, and democratic every president since
-low unemployment, but few wealthy
-UAW Caterpillar plant

SW Wisconsin had similarly high democratic registration religion was closer to 55/25 catholic/lutheran [. . .]

I’ve encountered no fewer than four hypotheses about this area:

1) institutions/culture brought by the immigrant population (Vivian’s argument above)

2) It’s not really as rural as you think – a very small part of the population is in farming, even in areas with a lot of farms, because they are so mechanized…



So, these are really strongholds of the unionized manufacturing sector (auto, and auto suppliers). [. . .]

I looked up the Prairie Du Chien economy, and they have apple orchards, vineyards, and organic dairy farms for a portion of their “agribusiness”. That’s driven by the hilly geography creating varied soil conditions.

As Statguy says, it could be an accident of history: some of the oldest settlements in the US, progressive tradition, Catholic majority, unions, subtle influence of geography. [. . .]

As far as cultural factors are concerned, I think the Catholic issue is interesting and important. The area is more Catholic than the rest of the country (and perhaps surrounding areas). As I look back on growing up there, I think there were two types of Catholics: The first took the religion as religion seriously and tended to be conservative. The second, and perhaps more predominant type was a Catholic who tended to stress moral and ethical values (aside from religious doctrine, per se) and tended to be liberal politically. I think the second type predominated, particularly among the Irish. If you think about it, how conservative are the Irish Bostonians?

Catholics, unions, college campuses. JayMan's razor points to . . . the descendants of Puritans.


Lion of Judah said...

Damn, this is very interesting. I've read Colin Woodward's book and this clarified some issues I had with the book; namely the grouping in of northern Minnesota/eastern North Dakota with the rest of Yankeedom. I've been to this area and it's very different from the rest of Yankeedom despite its historically liberal voting pattern, and this explains exactly why. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

"If you think about it, how conservative are the Irish Bostonians?"

Support for Joe McCarthy was probably stronger in Boston than anywhere else in the country. Some combination of ethnic solidarity and the militant Catholic anti-Communism of the 1950s. Also recall the Boston anti-busing protests of the 1970s.

Fr. Coughlin was very popular in Boston:


JayMan said...

I do say this is a fine post with some great expansion on the matter. It's only too bad it seems written to contradict points that I'm not making.

"JayMan, having a full-blown relapse into Yankee monocausalism:"

Umm, no.

Perhaps you should read closely what the post you review here actually says.

My tweets and other discussion on the matter make it clear what the situation is. The Yankees can't be the only (genetic*) cause of the liberalism of Yankeedom because they aren't a genetic majority, as per your own analysis. They are a significant contributing factor, though, both directly (genetically, primarily in the east) and indirectly (through various types of assortative migration). As noted in the post:

"These newcomers have impressed themselves on to the area’s Puritan culture and have moved it squarely to the political left."

In the Driftless Area and the Iron Range, I never claimed Yankees were a majority. Indeed I specifically discussed the other groups present, as you also detail here.

"Moving our attention back to the Iron Range: here we have a region which was at no point dominated by Yankees, and whose mines were populated by politically radical stoop laborers from Eastern and Southern Europe."

Indeed, I expand on that in More Maps. Swedes and Finns appear to be large contributes here, as well as a good number of French Canadians, as you note here.

*Ultimately, the reason for all political differences is genetic in nature, especially during a given time period**. The question then becomes how the genes in question got that way. Founder effects are by far the single most powerful, but assortative migration and subsequent evolution also play roles. So my aim is to reconstruct these events for each given area.

**But, as noted in "Rural White Liberals":

"contextual factors can affect the voting habits of individuals and groups even with no change in their heritable dispositions."

This is largely responsible for differences across (short) time periods. This is how you can see reversals of the clannish/non-clannish divide as it exists in North America (clannish voting Right, non-clannish voting Left) in certain peoples and circumstances.

In short:

Clannish: *typically always socially conservative (Asians a bit less so)
However, economically conservative when on standing to lose, and economically liberal when standing to gain.

Non-clannish: typically always socially liberal, usually economically liberal (except when apparently cognizant of drain from clannish groups).

What makes Yankeedom Left are its Yankees yes, but also its collection of other non-clannish groups (and at times opportunistic clannish groups, like Eastern Europeans and Irish).

JJ said...

Off topic.


I want to better understand the origins of the East Asian and Arab populations.

How much was different from Caucasians the selection process of the Mongoloid Asian steppes?

Recommend me articles, please.

Thank U.