There are Irish-Americans, Scots-Americans, Scotch-Irish-Americans, Welsh-Americans, Polish-Americans, German-Americans , Italian-Americans, Korean-Americans, Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans, Colombian Americans, Dominican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Spanish Americans, and Salvadoran Americans, Chinese-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Iranian-Americans, and a host of other hyphenated citizens in the USA. Sometimes the hyphenation is based not on nationality but religion, for example, Muslim-American or Jewish-American. Sometimes it is based on race as in African-American or Asian-American.
There is one seemingly glaring omission from the catalogue of the culturally undecided: English-Americans. I say seemingly because there is a most obvious explanation for their absence: England was the cultural founder of the USA. Englishness is the default culture of the USA. Consequently, when the English have emigrated to the USA over the centuries they have not come to a land they felt was wholly alien or with a sense of victimhood or paranoia about their new home.
The English were the numerically dominant settlers from the Jamestown settlement in 1607 until the Revolution. Moreover, and this is the vital matter, they were overwhelmingly the dominant settlers for the first one hundred years. At the time of the first US census English descended settlers formed, according to the historical section of the American Bureau of Census, sixty per cent of the white population (http://tinyurl.com/67faop70 )and the majority of the rest of the white population was from the non-English parts of Britain ( In 1790 the population of the USA was 3,929,214 of which 3,172,006 were white and 757,208 black. http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0056/tab01.pdf).
It is possible that English ancestry was downplayed in the 1790 census and for much of the 19th century because of the anti-British feeling caused by the American Revolution and various disputes afterwards such as the war of 1812. If so, the under recording of English ancestry would be amplified as the population expanded as time went on as the descendants of those wrongly classified continued the incorrect classification. However, whichever figures are taken one thing is certain, by 1790 the template for American society was cut and most importantly English was the dominant language, a fact which alone shows who were the dominant group for no minority could force a language on a majority.
In the House of Commons on 22 March 1775 Edmund Burke made a plea for understanding of the American colonists’ demands which was firmly based on their Englishness:
“…the people of the colonies are descendants of Englishmen…. They are therefore not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideas and on English principles. The people are Protestants… a persuasion not only favourable to liberty, but built upon it…. My hold of the colonies is in the close affection which grows from common names, from kindred blood, from similar privileges, and equal protection. These are ties which, though light as air, are as strong as links of iron. Let the colonies always keep the idea of their civil rights associated with your government,—they will cling and grapple to you, and no force under heaven will be of power to tear them from their allegiance. But let it be once
understood that your government may be one thing and their privileges another, that these two things may exist without any mutual relation,—the cement is gone, the cohesion is loosened, and everything hastens to decay and dissolution. As long as you have the wisdom to keep the sovereign authority of this country as the sanctuary of liberty, the sacred temple consecrated to our common faith, wherever the chosen race and sons of England worship freedom, they will turn their faces towards you. The more they multiply, the more friends you will have; the more ardently they love liberty, the more perfect
will be their obedience. Slavery they can have anywhere. It is a weed that grows in every soil. They may have it from Spain, they may have it from Prussia. But, until you become lost to all feeling of your true interest and your natural dignity, freedom they can have from none but you…”(http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15198/15198-h/15198-h.htm#CONCILIATION_WITH_THE_COLONIES).
The colonists for their part more often than not themselves as English. Even the rebels placed their rebellion on the ground that they were defending true English liberty, a liberty that had been usurped by the king. The Declaration of independence is a catalogue of breaches of what the colonists considered were their rights as Englishmen. (https://englandcalling.wordpress.com/american-declaration-of-independence/)
The early English predominance may not seem important at first glance because of the heavy non-Anglo-Saxon immigration which occurred from the eighteenth century onwards. Would not, a reasonable man might ask, would not the later immigration swamp
the earlier simply because of its greater scale? The answer is no because the numbers of non-Anglo Saxons coming into America were always very small compared with the existing population of the USA. At any time in the development of the USA the bulk of the population were practisers of a general culture which strongly reflected that of the
original colonisers, namely the English.
A distinction needs to be made between settlers and immigrants. Those colonising a land do not come with the intent to assimilate into an existing culture but to transplant their own ways onto fresh territory. The Greeks in the ancient world are a prime historical example.
The English who came to America in the 17th century were intent on creating a world in their own cultural image, albeit with certain variations most notably different religious regimes. This they did in ways which remain to this day.
When immigrants enter a country their descendants will generally in time adopt at least some of the social and cultural colouring of the native population. Where there is no barrier such as racial difference or membership of an ethnic group with a very strong sense of identity such as the Jews, assimilation will often be complete within a generation or two. Even in a situation of deliberate conquest, the invader if fewer in number than the conquered – as is normally the case – will become integrated through intermarriage
and the general pressure of the culture of the majority population working through the generations. The demographic working out of the Norman Conquest over several centuries as the French invaders became English is a good example.
In the creation of a society, the further the distance from the founding culture the greater the need to maintain a sense of separateness. It is interesting that other missing hyphenated Americans are Canadian-American, Australian-American and New Zealand-American. That is plausibly because they are coming from societies which derive ultimately from England and which were founded by predominantely English settlers. That does raise the question of why the non-English Britons who went to the USA have self-consciously maintained their hyphenated status, most notably the Scots and the Irish. The answer most probably lies in the fact that they felt themselves to be peoples who were subject to England. In short, they were people who bore a grudge against England. It is worth adding that Americans who call themselves Scots-American or Irish-American today are indistinguishable from American-Americans in everything except for a sentimental attachment to their Celtic ancestry and a residual polishing of an historical victimhood.
The demographic significance of the English in the USA remains to this day. It is true that the percentage of those formally identifying themselves as of English origin has diminished. The 1980 US Census showed 26.34% of the US population (49, 598,035) claiming English ancestry (http://www.census.gov/population/censusdata/pc80-s1-10/tab02.pdf). There is no up to date census information, but the US Census Office’s 2008 American Community Survey shows only 9% of respondents claiming English ancestry, although that still makes them the third most numerous national group after the Germans and the Irish (http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/ADPTable?_bm=y&-qr_name=ACS_2008_1YR_G00_DP2&-geo_id=01000US&-ds_name=ACS_2008_1YR_G00_&-_lang=en&-redoLog=false&-format=).
This strong diminution in 28 years makes no sense if it is taken as a literal reduction. Common sense says that millions of English descended people have not suddenly vanished from the USA. Nor, in view of their early predominance and continuing substantial emigration of the English to the USA after independence, does it make any sense for there to be more Americans with Irish or German ancestry than English ancestry.
The explanation for the fall is plausibly threefold: as the founding culture of the USA those with English simply think of themselves as Americans; as the oldest group in the USA, English ancestry on average is probably far more distant than other ethnic groups and lastly many of those with English ancestry will have mixed that ancestry with other groups especially more recent arrivals and will have claimed that allegiance instead of English. There is also the temptation in an age of group politics for people to claim an ancestry which they feel will be most advantageous to them. As the English in the USA do not make a song and dance about being English, other groups which do are likely to attract
those with a divided ancestry. The prime example of this is the way American presidents claim Irish ancestry no matter how tenuous whilst often ignoring much more substantial English ancestry. (http://presidentsparents.com/ancestry.html). There is also the general pressure of political correctness which casts WASPs (into which category English-Americans would generally fall) as an abusive and dislikeable elite ethnicity. That may
add to a general propensity to not identify as English.
A strong pointer to the continuing English connection with the USA are surnames. In 2000 the US Census Office released statistics showing that of the top ten most frequently occurring surnames in the USA, eight were of English/British origin. http://www.census.gov/genealogy/www/data/2000surnames/index.html
Because of her origins and history Englishness is spread throughout US society. Her law is founded on English common law. The most famous of American law officers is the English office of sheriff. Congress imitates the eighteenth century British Constitution
(President = King; Senate = Lords; House of Representatives = The House of Commons) with, of course, the difference of a codified constitution. (It would incidentally be truer to describe the British Constitution as uncodified rather than unwritten). It is an irony that their system of government has retained a large degree of the monarchical and aristocratic principles whilst that of Britain has removed power remorselessly from King and aristocracy and placed it resolutely in the hands of elected representatives who have no formal mandate beyond the representation of their constituents.
The prime political texts of the American revolution were those of the Englishmen John Locke and Tom Paine. The American Constitution is designed to alleviate faults in the
British Constitution not to abrogate it utterly. The first ten amendments which form the American Bill of Rights draw their inspiration from the English Bill of Rights granted by William of Orange.
The American Revolution was conducted by men whose whole thought was in the English political tradition. English influence is written deeply into the American landscape. Take a map of the States and see how many of the place names are English, even outside the original thirteen colonies which formed the USA. Note that they are divided into parishes and counties.
Above all other cultural influences stands the English language. Bismarck thought that the fact that America spoke English was the most significant political fact of his time. I am inclined to agree with him. But at a more fundamental level, the simple fact that English is spoken by Americans as their first language means that their thought processes will be broadly similar to that of the English. Language is the ultimate colonisation of a people.
Moreover, the English spoken by the majority of Americans is still very much the English of their forebears. It is, for example, far less mutated than the English spoken in India. The English have little difficulty in understanding USA-born white Americans whatever their regional origin. Americans often affect not to understand English accents other than received pronunciation, but it is amazing how well they understand them when they need something. Oscar Wilde’s aphorism that “America and England are two countries divided by a common language” was witty but, as with so much of what he said, utterly at variance with reality.
There is a special relationship between England and America but it is not the one beloved of politicians. The special relationship is one of history and culture. American culture is an evolved Englishness, much added to superficially, but which is still remarkably and recognisably English. English-American would be a tautology.
The importance of the continuing influence of the English for the USA can be seen by imagining what the situation would be were no unhyphenated Americans, if there was no group within the population which was devoid of a sense of victimhood, of being ill-at-ease with the society in which its members were born and raised. All that would be left would
be a society in which every racial or ethnic group competed,. There would be no stability or sense of social cohesion. At worst, it could be a recipe for incessant civil war. The English descended and English assimilated part of the population which sees itself as simply American provides the ballast which holds US society upright.