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American Ethnic Geography
Valpariso University

The map above is from Valpariso University and shows the spread across America and Canada of the more populous of the various ethnic groups that now make up America.  The base colour, pink, represents those whose majority ethnic background is English, Yellow is German and so on.  A veritable melting pot indeed, or maybe more like an ethnic mosaic.

Absolutely fascinating.  And, for a Brit who was taught that America was settled by the English, with assistance from a smattering of Scots and Irish, who then took the continent from the Dutch and the Spanish, the sight of that vast enormous tract of Germans sweeping across the northern states is almost horrific!  I mean when the hell did that happen?  We should have been told!

So naturally, to a blog like this, a question occurs, do we see this range of ethnicity represented in the administration?  Perhaps we might expect it to come out in those who become President?  Well, if that is so you will be disappointed.

Even those who hold that Obama is a sign of a move forward for racial politics forget (or choose to forget) that Obama’s Kenyan father was not a representative of the established African-American stock who had been brought over to the States in the seventeenth and eighteenth century.  He is not from a family of those enslaved Africans brought to toil in southern plantations.  His people did not fight against repression and intolerance.  Rather than Obama being one of their own, African-Americans were passed over by Obama’s elevation not vindicated.

Indeed the backgrounds of the Presidents rarely if ever represent the wide spread of ethnic backgrounds that make up the real Americans that one is likely to meet walking down Main Street.  Certainly it bears little resemblance to the map above. Below is a chart I have created to show when the earliest ancestor of each President first came to America.

A table to show the first landing of their ancestor in America

No; President Ancestor settled Date
1 Washington Virginia 1656
2 Adams Massachusetts 1638
3 Jefferson Virginia 1677
4 Madison Virginia 1653
5 Munroe Maryland C 1641
6 Adams Massachusetts 1638
7 Jackson S. Carolina 1765
8 Van Buren NY 1631
9 Harrison Virginia 1633
10 Tyler Virginia 1604
11 Polk Pennsylvania 1700
12 Taylor Virginia 1635
13 Fillmore Massachusetts 1704
14 Pierce Massachusetts 1633
15 Buchanan Pennsylvania 1783
16 Lincoln Massachusetts 1635
17 Johnson Carolina 1778
18 Grant Massachusetts 1630
19 Hayes Connecticut 1680
20 Garfield Massachusetts 1630
21 Arthur 1815
22 & 24 Cleveland Massachusetts 1635
23 Harrison Virginia 1633
25 McKinley Pennsylvania 1743
26 T. Roosevelt Before 1648
27 Taft Massachusetts 1678
28 Wilson Philadelphia 1807
29 Harding Rhode island Before 1669
30 Coolidge Massachusetts 1630
31 Hoover Maryland 1738
32 F D Roosevelt NY 1692
33 Truman Virginia Before 1783
34 Eisenhower Philadelphia 1741
35 Kennedy 1848
36 Johnson Virginia Before 1662
37 Nixon Delaware 1731
38 Ford Virginia Before 1853
39 Carter Virginia 1637
40 Reagan Illinois 1823
41 Bush New England 1690’s
42 Clinton Virginia 1684
New England

These early dates and the limited group of colonial families from which the Presidents arise from is something we should find more than just simply “interesting”.  It is more than some peculiar historical oddity.  Sixteen of these Presidential families arrived before 1677, and fully a dozen arrived before 1640.  Indeed the only Presidents whose families were not already established before the Declaration of Independence in 1776 were Buchanan, Arthur, Wilson and Kennedy.

So most of the families that produced the Presidents arrived in the seventeenth century and none of the ancestors of American Presidents came to the States after the Civil War!  One might reflect that most immigration to America occurred after the 1860’s with the optimal year being 1907.  Not one of that cohort of immigrants has seen their family elevated to President.


Closer examination of the families shows that 27 of the 43 Presidents are related by blood or marriage or adoption.  Which is strange in a country as large, as wide and as supposedly democratic and meritocratic as the States.

So it is clear that “family” in some form is important in American Political life – though not in the way of Dynasty.  Dynasty has a sense of exclusivity – within these ruling families – which simply is not there. Yes, true, the Harrisons were Presidents, being a father and his grandson.  John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams were both Presidents as indeed were papa Bush and baby Bush.  But there the dynasties finish as far as Presidents go.  Rather, they form an oligarchy.

An oligarchy is a form of political control where power rests in a small group of players – individuals, corporate bodies or families.  Some are military in nature, others more resemble the mafia.  Examples of oligarchies of individuals would be the triumvirates of late Republican Rome and these naturally can be understood to be short lived by their very nature.  With companies, several such oligarchies – or cartels as they are usually termed – have existed in the past and still do today.  OPEC, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries or the “Seven Sisters” group of oil companies, are examples that exercised great power in the 1970’s.   Cartels are most effective when they control the supply of essential elements of the economy such as energy.  The latest such is the Gas Exporting Countries cartel controlling supply of natural gas supplies to Europe.

The United States has long recognised that such economic cartels, where they exercise such controls, are unfair to the customers of the good supplied, and have sought to strike down those they can reach through acts such as the Sherman Anti-Trust Acts.  However, when it comes to cartels of political influence exercising control of the democratic process, far from seeking to remove these, also in the name of their consumers – the electors – they rather entrench such cartels or oligarchies.

So, this time round, we again have a clash of the oligarchs with Obama and Romney.  All the others who might have represented the genealogy and ethnicities of the peoples of the United States have been removed from the contest.

Copyright David Macadam 2012