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Readers Digest, Feb. 1986
Necessity drove them here, and
he Italians have a holiday for Columbus, and with Americans of African descent we now celebrate Martin Luther King Day. But the Scotch, unlike the Irish, do not even have a parade.|
Similarly, American politicians have appealed for the Irish, Italian, Hispanic, Jewish, Black or Polish vote, but no aspirant of record seems ever to have sought the Scotch or, if you prefer, the Scottishvote. In any case, that anyone would don a kilt and, memorizing a few lines from Robert Burns, ask for our support we would consider sublimdy ridiculous.
It is indeed a measure of our lack of ethnic self-identification that there isn't even agreement as to what we should call ourselves. In North America the reference is most frequently to the Scotch, as I head this piece. In Britain it is to the Scots. But early British references were commonly to the Scotch. Reference to the "Scots" came into use in the last century in Britain at least partly because the word Scotch had been pre-empted by the whisky with which our race is closely (some have thought damagingly) associated.
By John Kenneth Galbraith|
ECONOMIST AND EDUCATOR John Kenneth Galbraith served as ambassador to India during the Kennedy Administration and is the author of numerous books, including The Affluent Society, The Scotch and A Life in Our Times.
In various parts of the Republic, clansmen do gather to celebrate St. Andrew's Day, and there are notable assemblies for the music, dancing and athletics that make up the Highland Games. All have heard of our most challenging athletic event, the tossing of the caber, described by the uninitiated as a man in a skirt balancing and then heaving a telephone pole. We have also a penchant for clan history, an exercise which, in the case of my own family, has not been entirely rewarding. We trace in ancient times to one Thomas Galbraith, chief of the clan, who, for unspecified misbehavior, was duly hanged.|
The movement of the Scotch to North America has extended over three centuries, and in my Canadian youth the more nostalgic clansmen still assembled on a Saturday night to drink and inflict violence on one another in memory of events ranging from the Massacre of Glencoe (1692) to the Battle of Culloden (1746). The first large-scale migration, as many as a half million between 1730 and 1770, came by way of Ireland. The Scotch-Irish had been induced to reside in Ulster by the English and then were denied the English market for the wool on which. their livelihood depended.
Immigrating to New England, they went to Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Many more went to Pennsylvania, where the Quakers valued them initially as a buffer against the Indians, and came eventually to believe that the Indians were more benign. Tension in the 1760s grew to the point where a Scotch-Irish expeditionary force, the Paxton Boys, marched on Philadelphia to voice their political demands and their hostility toward the Indians. They were persuaded to peace by, among other negotiators, Benjamin Franklin.
From the late 18th century to the early 19th century, tens of thousands of Scotch emigrated from Scotland itself, many from the Highlands where life has always been gray, grim and precarious. The occasion for the exodus was the Highland Clearances. For centuries the rural inhabitants-the crofters-had grubbed a living out of the resistant soil without security if their tenure. Then, beginning in the late 1700s, they were extensively evicted to make way for sheep. In the enthusiasm of the moment, entire villages were burned.
Of the dispersed an astonishing number found means for transport to the New World and, perhaps more surprisingly, survived the journey. They were followed by many more in the 1840s, for in those years the potato blight. brought a hunger to the Highlands comparable with that in Ireland.
Unlike the Irish or the Italians, the Scotch did not congregate in a dense urban mass. Rather, they spread out over the countryside. However, there were Scottish settlements in farm areas that were, liberally populated by clansmen. To these they brought the livestock for which Scotland is noted-the Ayrshires, Scotch shorthorns, Aberdeen Angus cattle and the stylish, white-stockinged Clydesdale horses.
They also brought a variety of traits much celebrated in our literature, though circumstances often allowed of no other. Thus Scottish settlers were thought to be hardworking; early American agriculture did not tolerate those who were otherwise. The Scotch were said by everyone to be thrifty; there are no alternatives to thrift in the absence of money.
They brought, too, their concern for education. From this came a commitment to the public schools, a belief (one I still affirm) that there cannot be competent learning without firm discipline and, in time, a great exfoliation of colleges and universities under Presbyterian and other Scottish auspices, including Knox in Illinois, Macalester in Minnesota, Princeton in New Jersey and Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh.
Mention of Carnegie-Mellon leads on to mention of Andrew Carnegie, who made money in the steel business to sustain philanthropy. In the greatest inducement to literacy since the invention of the printing press, Carnegie (along with endowments from others) established 2509 libraries throughout the English-speaking world.
In America the Scotch earned the reputation of being exceptionally law-abiding. (American history records the names of no great Scottish criminals.) The Reformation had come powerfully to Scotland in the mid-1500s, partly in response to the preaching of John Knox. A, commitment to both personal honesty and sexual rigor survived to my own time.
In considering any ethnic group, the temptation is to name its great men and women who have made it in politics, the arts, science, war and sports. It is a temptation that involves some risk. For example, George McClellan, thought by some to be one of Lincoln's worst generals, was of Scottish descent.
The Scotch from Patrick Henry on were certainly numerous among the Founding Fathers. Several of our Presidents-among them James Monroe, Rutherford Hayes and Woodrow Wilson-were of Scottish stock, and perhaps six more-Andrew Jackson, James. Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew ,Johnson, Chester A. Arthur and William McKinley were of Scotch-Irish derivation.
Archibald MacLeish, one of our best loved poets, made a proud point of his Scottish origins. He is in the company of Washington Irving and Herman Melville.
Oddly, in light of our solemn, even dour reputation, we have been numerous and great in Hollywood-Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, Charlton Heston and Shirley MacLaine all have clan connections. So did David Niven, who loved to tell of serving out caviar from a ship blockaded from the Black Sea to his Scottish regiment on Malta during World War II. After sampling the delicacy, a "Jock," as Niven called him, complained bitterly, saying, "That bloody jam tastes of fish."
It is in industry, especially that involving mechanical innovation, that most dearly we have excelled. As Carnegie gave us steel, so Robert Fulton gave us the steamboat, Samuel F. B. Morse the telegraph, Thomas Edison the electric light and Alexander Graham Bell the telephone. Of Scottish origin also are the Mellons of Pittsburgh, who, besides banking, brought us the aluminum industry and Gulf Oil.
As we seem to have succeeded in business and, with Edwin McMillan, Robert A. Millikan and Irving Langmuir, Nobel laureates all, in the sciences, so are there areas where we have been outpaced: Scottish names are far from prominent in football, baseball and basketball. At curling and golf, however, two indigenous Scottish pastimes, the Scotch have excelled. The names of Arnold Palmer, Jan Stephenson and Tom Watson are notable in the world of golf.
But our commitment to this sport is far from universal. Golf is played with a club and a ball that are both too small. Having investigated the game, I can attest that moving across the course in a golfcart, as is now the custom, must be the most sedentary, even sordid, of all known forms of athletics.
Doubtless there will be dissent from this latter finding; this it is our nature in religion, politics and personal relations proudly to allow. Scotch tolerance, indeed, we would love to believe, is our best contribution to the American scene.
See Also: Famous Scots
Civil discourse in politics, regarding the Galbraith - Buckley debates.