The Eleven States Of Violence

Poring through the cultural, historical and genealogical attributes of America’s regions and states is not a new phenomenon. But it’s always fascinated me. The different brands of religion that colonized different parts of the country in stages, the interaction with existing institutions, and the very different approaches to politics help explain why this fantastically diverse country comes close to being ungovernable as a whole. What Colin Woodward has done is create eleven states of North America and focus on their attitudes toward violence. Here’s the map:


He has a book out explaining his analysis – but here’s the essay’s money quote:

Most scholarly research on violence has collected data at the state level, rather than the county level (where the boundaries of the eleven nations are delineated). Still, the trends are clear. The same handful of nations show up again and again at the top and the bottom of state-level figures on deadly violence, capital punishment, and promotion of gun ownership.

Consider assault deaths. Kieran Healy, a Duke University sociologist, broke down the per capita, age-adjusted deadly assault rate for 2010. In the northeastern states—almost entirely dominated by Yankeedom, New Netherland, and the Midlands—just over 4 people per 100,000 died in assaults. By contrast, southern states—largely monopolized by Deep South, Tidewater, and Greater Appalachia—had a rate of more than 7 per 100,000. The three deadliest states—Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, where the rate of killings topped 10 per 100,000—were all in Deep South territory. Meanwhile, the three safest states—New Hampshire, Maine, and Minnesota, with rates of about 2 killings per 100,000—were all part of Yankeedom.

It’s this regional disparity that helps explain the impossibility of federal gun control of any bite. And on many issues, like stand-your-ground laws and the death penalty, deep cultural legacies about the permissibility of violence still propel the debate:

Of the twenty-three states to pass stand-your-ground laws, only one, New Hampshire, is part of Yankeedom, and only one, Illinois, is in the Midlands. By contrast, each of the six Deep South–dominated states has passed such a law, and almost all the other states with similar laws are in the Far West or Greater Appalachia …

The pattern for capital punishment laws is equally stark. The states dominated by Deep South, Greater Appalachia, Tidewater, and the Far West have had a virtual monopoly on capital punishment. They account for more than ninety-five percent of the 1,343 executions in the United States since 1976. In the same period, the twelve states definitively controlled by Yankeedom and New Netherland—states that account for almost a quarter of the U.S. population—have executed just one person.

The North-South rubric is way too crude. And the reality shows why federalism is the only workable system for this deeply divergent congeries of religion, culture and history.