Monday, March 2, 2009

An Argentine Tocqueville?

I'm reading (for the first time) James McPherson's acclaimed 1988 book Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford U.P.). The opening chapter is a portrait of U.S. economy and society in the mid-19th century. On page 19, McPherson quotes Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, an Argentine who traveled in the U.S. in 1847 (with a footnote referencing Michael Rockland, trans., Sarmiento's Travels in the United States in 1847 [1970]).

Here's the passage from McPherson:
"...[M]any American technological innovations were...contributed by workers themselves. Elias Howe, a journeyman machinist in Boston who invented a sewing machine, was one of many examples. This was what contemporaries meant when they spoke of Yankee ingenuity. They used 'Yankee' in all three senses of the word: Americans; residents of northern states in particular; and New Englanders especially. Of 143 important inventions patented in the United States from 1790 to 1860, 93 percent came out of the free states and nearly half from New England alone -- more than twice that region's proportion of the free population.... An Argentine visitor to the United States in 1847 reported that New England migrants to other regions had carried 'to the rest of the Union the...moral and intellectual aptitude [and]...manual aptitude which makes an American a walking workshop.... The great colonial and railroad enterprises, the banks, and the corporations are founded and developed by them.'"
OK, Sarmiento was probably not a genius like Tocqueville, but I needed a catchy title for the post, and it's still an interesting tidbit.

2 comments:

Donald Douglas said...

Just saw your comment. You haven't explained why the authors would mention war proness of Islamic cultures as "dubious," unless it conflicts with an unsaid but underlying ideological agenda. Their findings, moreover, conflict with comparative politics research finding the subordination of women in those societies. That's a contradiction that needs explanation.

Perhaps you might write this up in a blog post?

LFC said...

The above comment refers to something I said at D. Douglas's blog. I'll reply to him elsewhere.