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Are you a Yankee?


Are You A Yankee?
by L.R. Olsen

There used to be a time in the not so distant past when Americans were welcomed wherever we went in the world.

Those days are long gone.

We were once known and praised for our Yankee ingenuity, our ability to get things done with the materials on hand and our self-reliance.  Our Yankee inventive and improvisation, our ability to adapt and overcome in the face of what seemed impossible odds and our unwillingness to give up made us the envy of the world.  Because of this Yankee spirit, at one time in their history the Japanese were called “the Yankees of the East” due to their industriousness and drive to modernize.

Yet today in Japan the term Yanki is used to refer to a delinquent youth.  That is how far we have fallen in the eyes of the world.

We’re no longer envied.  Now we’re ridiculed and laughed at, our country used as a dumping ground for people who do not want to take advantage of the “American dream” but want to take advantage of the American people.  The term “Yankee” is used by people of other nations not to praise the American spirit but to disparage us.  In Latin America and East Asia when they say “yanqui” it’s usually to say “Yankee go home” or “we struggle against the yanqui, enemy of mankind.”  Even the British, Australians, Canadians and Irish, our racial cousins, use the shortened term Yank in a mostly derogatory term for Americans, although it can also be used colloquially or playfully.  For most countries, the term Yankee is considered mildly derogatory.

Where once Americans could be proud Yankees and revel in our Heritage, today when we travel overseas we’re actually taught now not to look American.  The word Yankee had a proud and noble association for Americans, ruined for southerners by the War of Northern Aggression.  But today the meaning has changed to one less acceptable.  Word meanings change over the centuries.  Consider the word “gay.”  Any dictionary written before the middle of the 20th century will define the word as merry, happy and cheerful.  Women were once given the word as a first name.  No longer.  Today the word “gay” is associated with homosexuality and perversion.  “Decimate” used to mean to kill one in ten.  “Brave” meant cowardice, hence the word “bravado” or false bravery and an Indian “brave” wasn’t – brave!  Awful” meant full of awe, something wonderful and delightful.  “Nice” meant not to know and a nice person was an ignorant person.  You can see how word meanings change over time and the word Yankee has also had its own metamorphosis.

In our own country, people from the South consider any non-Southerner to be a Yankee.  A Northerner who has migrated to the South just might be a damn Yankee.  Senator Fulbright of Arkansas pointed out in 1966 that “The very word ‘Yankee’ still wakens in Southern minds historical memories of defeat and humiliation, of the burning of Atlanta and Sherman’s march to the sea, or of an ancestral farmhouse burned by Cantrill’s raiders.” Southerners have good reasons to put the word “damn” before Yankee.

E. B. White, himself a native of New York and a writer for The New Yorker magazine stated this about a Yankee:

To foreigners, a Yankee is an American.
To Americans, a Yankee is a Northerner.
To Northerners, a Yankee is an Easterner.
To Easterners, a Yankee is a New Englander.
To New Englanders, a Yankee is a Vermonter.
And in Vermont, a Yankee is somebody who eats pie for breakfast.

A variant says that To a Vermonter, a Yankee is somebody who still uses an outhouse.

Even in our own country we can’t decide who a Yankee should be.  Makes one wonder, just where did the word come from?

British General James Wolfe made the earliest recorded use of the word Yankee to refer to the people who came from what was to become the country we now call the United States.  General Wolfe was part of the British military success of the French and Indian War.  During the closing months of that war, in 1758, General Wolfe referred to the New England soldiers under his command as Yankees.  During the Revolutionary War the British ridiculed American soldiers using the same phrase in a derogatory way.  Even the colonial settlers themselves couldn’t decide who was a Yankee and who wasn’t.  During the Pennamite-Yankee War between settlers along the Susquehanna River, the settlers from Connecticut were termed as Yankees while those from Pennsylvania were not.  Where did they get the word?

One thing is certain; Yankee is not derived from any Cherokee word, or any other Indian word for that matter.  Linguists have found no Indian origin to the word.

If you study the founding of the United States, you’ll recall that the Dutch were the original settlers of New York state, New Jersey, Delaware and western Connecticut.  The British settled Massachusetts, Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut, not to mention Virginia and all points south.  There were, of course, a handful of other nations scattered in between the Dutch and British, but these were the two major nations that settled the New World in colonial times.  It was common for the Dutch to combine first names, still is, and two very popular names were “Jan” and “Kees.”  They’re still common today.  The two names were and still are combined into a single name, “Jan-Kees.”  In the Dutch the “J” is pronounced as a “Y” so the name would have sounded “Yan-Kees.”  Also, the name “Jan” can have “-eke” added to the end to mean “little John.”  Anglicized both would sound like Yankee.

In 1664 the British invaded and took over the Dutch territory.  Most likely the word Yankee also referred to English settlers moving into previously Dutch areas.  Over time the term obviously grew to include all non-Dutch colonists.

The original Yankees lived in villages consisting of clusters of separate farms.  With miles between settlements, they relied on themselves and each other for food, protection from Indians, socialization and other necessities.  This village life fostered what became known as the Yankee free spirit, inventiveness and virtue.  Their government was built on self-reliance and civic virtue and based on mutual oversight of moral behavior.  Yankees had seaports in Boston, Salem, Providence and New London.  They traded textiles and machine tools as far away as China by 1800.

These industrious Yankees were originally Puritan and mainly belonged to the Congregational church.  But during the late colonial period many become Episcopalian, Methodist, Baptist and later even Unitarian.  Their straight-laced morality that emphasized personal piety and devotion to civic duty was gradually replaced with the idea of Christian nurture.  After 1800, Yankees and some Quakers spearheaded most reform movements including those for abolition of slavery, temperance in use of alcohol, increase in women’s political rights, and improvement in women’s education.  Yankees dominated the new Republican party that came into power during the lead up to the Civil War.  This was especially true for the Congregationalists and Presbyterians and then later the Methodists.  Yankees comprised most of the reformers who went South during Reconstruction after the Civil War.

Ivy League universities, including the minor “little ivy” liberal arts colleges, were bastions of old Yankee culture until well after World War II.  Think of Harvard and Yale and the students they produced and you’ll think Yankee.

Think of the fictional character Thurston Howell, III, of Gilligan’s Island, a Harvard graduate, and you’ll have your typical old Yankee elite, although in a comical way.

Paul Revere, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were Yankees.  President George W. Bush is a Yankee, as is his father.  Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean and Senator John Forbes Kerry are both Yankees.

Even President Barack Obama is of Yankee descent on his mother’s side.

The Yankees that invaded and occupied the Southern states after the Civil War had a mindset that said, “We have won.  You are conquered.”  That mindset didn’t have the word “compromise” as part of their vocabulary.  There was no Christian charity for their brothers because they didn’t see Southerners as their equals.  That Yankee mindset said, “We know better than you do about how to run your land, your schools, your government and your people.”

The South would take almost a hundred years to recover from the Yankee invasion.

It has been said that while growing up, Southern children didn’t even know that “damn Yankee” was two separate words.  If you study the true history of Reconstruction, you’ll understand why.

Today, the same Yankee, north-eastern elite mentality that invaded the South in the 1860s is not isolated in the north-eastern states.  Yankees can be found anywhere in this great land of ours.  California is filled with Yankees.  Most big cities are over-run with them.  I’ve met many a southern Yankee who was born and raised right here in the South.  Yet they’re still a Yankee.

Why?  Because being a Yankee today has nothing to do with where you live and everything to do with how you think.  The Yankee mindset has long ago stopped being about what is best for America and instead is about what is best for them and their group.  That’s why a Yankee can be either Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative.  A Yankee believes they know best, not the American people.

Once, when our country was young, we were known for our inventiveness, our hard work, our determination.  We would not quit.  During the colonial era, many of our ancestors willingly sacrificed all that they possessed in order to ensure the success of the New World they discovered.  During the American Revolution the people of this country came together and sacrificed yet again for the greater good of each other.  Some families willingly lost everything they possessed.  Many lost their lives.  They proudly wore the Yankee label.

The Yankee of today is a thorn in the flesh of all hard-working Americans.  Today’s Yankee is not willing to sacrifice for the greater good of all Americans.  Today’s Yankee will use what is good about the American people to advance his own self-interest.  The Yankee that infects our country has an elitist mentality that declares he knows best, he is superior to the rest of us who share this great country and toil to recover the goodness that was once ours.

There is no compromise with a Yankee.  His arrogance is leading our country to destruction while he revels in his power, not caring about future generations of Americans.  Read about the elitist attitude that the Radical Republicans had during and after the Civil War and you’ll be reading about today’s Yankee.

The Yankee can be found in our schools, our government, our financial institutions, and our businesses.  The Yankee can be found in our own families.  Wherever there’s someone who has an attitude of “give it to me, I deserve it,” or “listen to me, I know better than you,” or “now is the time, to hell with the future,” is where you’ll find a Yankee.  They won’t be so blatant in their declarations but it’s the attitude that counts.  That north-eastern elite Yankee mentality has pervaded our society at every level.

It’s time to rip out the Yankee from our midst.  It’s time to return America to her historic roots.  It’s time to get back to the basics of self-reliance, shared sacrifice and overcoming against impossible odds.  It’s time to sacrifice our all for the greater good.  It’s time to ask yourself,

Am I a Yankee or an American?