The Scotch-Irish: A Survey and an Appreciation (2)

Henry Jones Ford
CHAPTER XX (2) Start of Section

The industrial history of Pennsylvania is a wonderful record of Scotch-Irish achievement. Conditions there were such as to give special stimulus to the racial capacity and at the same time to provide rich material for its exercise.

The particular history of each of the leading industries of that great State is crowded with Scotch-Irish names. The movement to the interior characteristic of Scotch-Irish immigration developed an interest in agencies of transportation, which was strongly manifested in the improvement of water-ways even before the Revolutionary War. One of the early commissioners appointed to remove obstructions to river traffic was Colonel Ephraim Blaine, grandfather of James G. Blaine. When the steam-engine was invented the importance of applying it to navigation was strongly impressed by the extent of river traffic. Robert Fulton, who successfully accomplished this with the aid of Chancellor Livingston, was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 1765, of Scotch-Irish ancestry. The building of canals and railways, was powerfully stimulated by needs created through Scotch-Irish settlement of the Western country, and Scotch-Irish names figure abundantly in such enterprises. The list of the chief officers of the Pennsylvania Railroad from its inception to the present day presents very much the character of a Scotch-Irish dynasty.

The influence of Scotch-Irish immigration in establishing and propagating the Presbyterian Church in the United States is generally recognized. But its influence upon American religious life is of far wider scope. Almost from the time Scotch-Irish immigration began, the old identification of Ulster Scot and Ulster Presbyterian began to fail. For reasons heretofore presented in this work there was a large leakage from Presbyterianism to Congregationalism in New England, which section was, and still is, stony ground for Presbyterianism. At the same time Congregationalism has not shown proportionate gains. But even out of New England the strength of the Presbyterian Church is far from being commensurate with the strength of the Scotch-Irish element of the population and its diffusion throughout the United States. The case recalls the old fable of the traveler and his cloak, which he held tight during the storm but laid aside when the sun came out. The Scotch-Irish strain has participated in the religious variation that has been so marked in the United States. The Puritan movement originally aimed at reformation, not sectarianism. The actual consequences involve multiplication of agency with dissipation of energy quite opposed to the original intention. The final judgment of history upon the value of that movement will depend largely upon the solution of the problems raised by existing ecclesiastical conditions.

Early in our national history interest in popular education became noted as a distinctive American characteristic. School facilities for the masses of the people certainly did not figure in the institutional equipment inherited by America from England, in which respect the latter has not been a leader among nations. In this field the effect of Scotch-Irish immigration has been distinct and indubitable. The high rank speedily attained by the United States for literacy of citizenship must be ascribed to that stream of influence. There was no more familiar figure in American society in the formative period than the Scotch-Irish schoolmaster. Everywhere one hears of him in the early records.

In tracing this particular influence to its original source one must turn not only to Ulster but beyond it to Scotland. To this day the American school system has a Scottish stamp, and American Universities have still a closer resemblance to the Scotch than to the English. Exactly why it was that Scotland originally developed its peculiar zeal for popular education is not quite clear. While the Reformation had much to do with it, that crisis did not originate it. Three great Scottish universities were founded before the Reformation. In the fifteenth century interest in popular education was as distinctively characteristic of Scotland as interest in art was of Italy. The hereditary jurisdiction then exercised in Scotland by the landlord class was doubtless one source of this interest. This is indicated by the remarkable law enacted in 1496 by the Scotch Parliament requiring all persons and freeholders of substance, under pain of a heavy fine, to send their eldest sons to school until they had obtained a competent knowledge of Latin and sufficient familiarity with jurisprudence to distribute justice among their people. The statesmen of the Reformation built upon the existing educational foundations and enlarged their scope. In 1560 John Knox proposed an elaborate system of national education. A system of parochial schools, imitated from Geneva, was established during the seventeenth century. The system was accompanied by arrangements for special aid to deserving students which, according to Lecky, "brought the advantage of University education within the range of classes wholly excluded from it in England." Although the material welfare of the people was "considerably below the average standard in England, the level of intelligence among them was distinctly higher, the proportion of national faculties called into active exercise was distinctly greater than in any other part of the empire." This judgment of the English historian necessarily includes Ulster, since both ecclesiastically and educationally that was a Scottish annex.

The foregoing pages contain numerous particulars showing the educational intimacy of Ulster and Scotland. A striking evidence of the general literacy of the people of Ulster is supplied by the petition to Governor Shute in 1717 signed by 322 persons, nearly all of the signatures being in fair autograph. Only eleven of the signers had to make their marks. Nowhere in England at that time would so little illiteracy have been found in so large a body of poor people planning to emigrate to better their condition. And wherever the Scotch-Irish went the establishment of schools was one of their first cares. As has been pointed out, education was a necessary incident of their ecclesiastical system, and concern for education was a deeply implanted race instinct, abundantly manifested in their history. To the activity of that characteristic the remarkably prompt and rapid spread of popular education throughout America is to be mainly attributed.

Generally in new settlements professional vocation does not set in until after the community is well rooted. The first call is for the artificer, and this class of employment usually absorbs the energies of the first generation. But among the Scotch-Irish the aptitude for scholarship was so strong that almost from the first this stream of immigration brought recruits to all the learned professions. John Rutledge who arrived in South Carolina about 1735, became a practicing physician in Charleston. Two sons were distinguished lawyers, one becoming a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the other a member of the constitutional convention of 1787 and eventually justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. James McHenry, after whom the fort was named whose bombardment inspired the Star Spangled Banner, was surgeon to the Fifth Pennsylvania battalion in the Revolutionary War. He was a delegate from Maryland to the constitutional convention of 1787 and was Secretary of War during Washington's second term, continuing under Adams. The Breckinridge family of Kentucky, which has produced numerous clergymen, military officers, lawyers and statesmen, is derived from Alexander Breckinridge who emigrated from Ulster to Pennsylvania in 1728 and a few years later settled in Augusta County, Virginia.

In preceding chapters numerous particulars have been given showing the influence of the Scotch-Irish schools in recruiting the Presbyterian ministry with men of sound scholarship. The effect upon the legal profession was almost as strongly marked. This profession became strong and influential in the colonies at an early date. Recruits to it were numerous from all the Scotch-Irish settlements. The importance of this element has been specially marked in Pennsylvania and in the settlement of the West. John Bannister Gibson, born at Carlisle, November 8, 1780, Chief Justice of Pennsylvania from 1827 to 1851, is regarded by students of jurisprudence as one of the greatest jurists America has produced. The rapidity with which legal and political institutions, in advance of provision by central authority, were erected in the interior of the national domain, is an extraordinary occurrence that is hardly intelligible until one considers the character of the Scotch-Irish immigration that was the dominating influence in the westward movement of population. So many Scotch-Irish lawyers were prominent in public affairs in the formative period of the West that any attempt to give particulars would transcend the bounds of a general history.[6]

With the growth of the nation and the blending of its elements complications of heredity increase and the race dominant in particular cases may be brought into question. The Scotch-Irish in America have never organized on racial lines.

Their social and political activities have mixed freely and spread freely through the general mass of American citizenship. Hence when one turns from the collective aspect of the case to genealogical particulars one enters a region of controversy. An instance is supplied by the various classifications made of the racial origins of Presidents of the United States. Whitelaw Reid's examination of the subject is carefully done. According to it Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Chester A. Arthur and William McKinley are of Ulster ancestry. General Grant has Scotch ancestry on his father's side, Scotch-Irish on his mother's side. Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt have Scotch-Irish ancestry on the mother's side. The paternal ancestry of James Munroe and Rutherford B. Hayes goes to Scotland direct. Since Mr. Reid's book was published, the Presidency has been attained by Woodrow Wilson, whose presumably authorized biography in Who's Who states that he is Scotch-Irish on both sides. Mr. Reid gives a long roll of distinguished Americans of Scotch-Irish ancestry.[7]

Whatever questions be raised as to the controlling heredity in particular cases there can be no question that there is a distinct Scotch-Irish type of frame and physiognomy. It is well known and easily recognized. The long chin gives a characteristic square effect to the lower part of the face. One may notice it in the pictures of Woodrow Wilson as in the pictures of Andrew Jackson. And the race character is as persistent as the physical type. Professor Heron's description of the distinguishing characteristics of the Ulster Scots is applicable also to their kinsmen, the Scotch-Irish in America:

"An economy and even parsimony of words, which does not always betoken a poverty of ideas; an insuperable dislike to wear his heart upon his sleeve, or make a display of the deeper and more tender feelings of his nature; a quiet and undemonstrative deportment which may have great firmness and determination behind it; a dour exterior which may cover a really genial disposition and kindly heart; much caution, wariness and reserve, but a decision, energy of character, and tenacity of purpose, which, as in the case of Enoch Arden, 'hold his will and bear it through'; a very decided practical faculty which has an eye on the main chance, but which may co-exist with a deep-lying fund of sentiment; a capacity for hard work and close application to business, which, with thrift and patient persistence, is apt to bear fruit in considerable success; in short, a reserve of strength, self-reliance, courage and endurance, which, when an emergency demands (as behind the Walls of Derry), may surprise the world."

The activity and influence of that race have a securely established importance among the factors of American history.