American nationhood

Peoples drift apart, Singapore and the Chinese, North and South Korea,

Posted by dianamuir on July 27, 2012
American nationhood, Nationhood / Comments Off on Peoples drift apart, Singapore and the Chinese, North and South Korea,

Long-time Singaporeans resent new immigrants form China despite the fact that Singapore’s carefully controlled immigration policies insures that most immigrants are ethnic Chinese (i.e., not ethnic Malay or ethnic Tamil; the government favors immigration of Straits Chinese).

The fact is that peoples drift apart, most Americans have an ancestor from somewhere in the British Isles, and Uncle Sam is an English-speaking grandson of John Bull.  But we are very different from the equally English-speaking people of Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.  David Hackett Fisher’s new book Fairness and Freedom is a deeply insightful look at how and why the British colonies in American and New Zealand evolved into such very different nations.

The most dramatic examples of how rapidly peoples can drift apart are Germany and Korea.   East and West Germany were divided for a mere three decades; but the substantive differences between the German governments on the eastern and western sides of the Iron Curtain produced significant cultural differences.  The reunion was  smoothed by the economic boom.

North Korea has been far more successful in cutting off contact with the outside world than East Germany ever was.    South Korea’s highly educated, prosperous  population, with its strong Buddhist traditions and one of the world’s most dynamic  Christian communities is light year’s away from the impoverished farmers and laborers kept in ignorance  world by the elite, totalitarian  rulers of  North Korean Communism.    Whether the peoples of these two now very different countries choose to unite as a single nation some day is an interesting question, but they certainly demonstrate how rapidly circumstances can produce dramatic cultural change.

Singaporeans, even the majority of the native-born population that has Chinese ancestry, understandably finds the sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of mainland Chinese unsettling.   Many Singaporeans do not speak Chinese as a native language, and many are from Straits Chinese families that left the mother country generations and even centuries ago.   Singapore was  a prosperous, British colony for over a century and has been one of the worlds’ most prosperous polities for the last generation.   Singapore’s combination of efficient government and lack of democracy is unique, and it has produced something of a unique local culture.

British rule and the remarkable regime run by the Lees, père et fils, has produced a culture that is different form Britain, different from China, one with a greater sense of trust, as one recent Chinese immigrant told the New York Times, “it is great to live in a country where you can trust people and trust the government.”

Singapore ranks # 5 in  Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.  China ranks #75.

That, and the fact that Singaporeans think that spitting on the sidewalk is gross, are among  the more glaring reasons why Singaporeans are less than enthusiastic about the huge influx of immigrants from the mainland.

Resentment of immigration is not necessarily bigotry.




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In the 237th year of the Independence of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA

Posted by dianamuir on July 01, 2012
American nationhood / Comments Off on In the 237th year of the Independence of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA

Done July 1 in the 236th year of the Independence of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA


This Wednesday, July Fourth, will mark the start of the 237th year of the Independence of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA.    Dating the year from July Fourth, 1776  was the American way of celebrating the right of self-determination that the founding generation wrested from Britain.   It used to be wildly popular.

I am not certain who the first American was to date a document according to the the Independence of the United States of America, but the Constitution of Georgia was “Done at Savannah, in convention, the fifth day of February, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-seven, and in the first year of the Independence of the United States of America. ”   And Hugh Grimes deeded 620 acres to his son James Grimes, and registered the transfer in Duplin County on “15 October 1777, and in the Second year of the Independence of the United States of America.”

Here, for example, is an image of the 1822 cornerstone of Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia.    Founded in the 1740’s, the congregation was legally incorporated in the Hebrew year 5542, the sixth year of the Independence of the United States of America, and erected a new building in 5583.

This was done all over the world, of course, but the rest of the world used regnal years, calenders that counted from the start of the reign of the current king.  Britain has many fusty documents dated this way; The Magna Carta was signed by King John “on the fifteenth day of June, in the seventeenth year of our reign”, and  the 1609 Charter of the Virginia Colony was signed by King James, on the  “23d Day of May, in the seventh Year of our Reign of England, France, and Ireland, and of Scotland.”    Others use both the regnal year and the Gregorian date; the radical Reformers aboard the Mayflower signed their Compact, “at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.”

But by the eighteenth century regnal years had largely gone out of style in Britain, used  mainly in the ritualized language of appointments to the Royal Court and in diplomatic treaties.    Americans, however, used the practice of dating the year from the Fourth of July 1776  as a way of making a statement about the importance of political self-determination.

The Articles of Confederation were authorized  on “in the Third Year of the independence of America” and  the text of the  Constitution of the United States was dated, “the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth.”

The copyright notice in Noah Webster’s American Dictionary was dated “on the fourteenth day of April, in the fifty-second year of the Independence of the United States of America.”   James Fennimore CooperMercy Otis Warren,  and Washington Irving, and thousands of other authors dated their books this way; it was quite the done thing.

Wills, deeds, laws, and books all celebrated the rights and responsibilities of independent nationhood by counting the years form the day the Declaration of Independence was issued.   But I will close where I began, with a cornerstone, this one is from  the Old College building at the University of Georgia.


The worn lettering reads “The Site of this Building was chosen on the VIth day of July 1801 in the XXVIth year of the Independence of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA by GEORGE WALTON, ABRAHAM BALDWIN, JOHN MILLEDGE, JOHN TWIGGS, and HUGH LAWSON, a Committee of the Senatus Academicus of the University of Georgia and for the benefit of the Institution the adjacent land was on that day given by JOHN MILLEDGE. Robt. Allan Sculpt. Savannah.”

With best wishes for a glorious Fourth of July, in this, the 237th year of the Independence of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA..

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