~ Posted by Charles Nevin, June 22nd 2012
The leading candidates in the American presidential election share a bond which I suspect has been overlooked by all but the most shrewd and diligent commentators. Indeed: the forebears of both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney hailed from Lancashire, the blooming red rose of England's northern counties.
As has been recently reported, Romney's great-great-grandparents, Miles and Elizabeth Romney, were among the first-ever British converts to Mormonism, and were baptised in the River Ribble in Preston shortly before emigrating in 1841 to America, where Miles, a carpenter by trade, became a noted Mormon preacher.
What is not so well known is that research has traced Barack Obama's lineage back to his maternal great-grandmother, 11 times removed, Martha Eltonhead, one of five sisters who left Sutton, also in Lancashire, after the family had finished on the losing side in the English civil war.
Many, of course, will dismiss the coincidence, doubting that the characteristics and qualities of a region can be inherited generally at such a distance, should they even exist.
As a Lancastrian who has studied such matters, I appreciate these reservations; but there are, all the same, some interesting points to be considered, which you might care to apply to what we know of Obama and Romney.
Lancastrians are usually imagined, like other inhabitants of northern England, to be dour, plain-speaking and unpretentious folk. Visitors will know that there is some truth in this; but the dourness is exaggerated. Should you wish to experience that, visit Yorkshire, to the East, much settled by Scandinavians, and subject to a harsh wind from that direction.
Lancashire has been impressed by its Irish arrivals, and its wind and climate is gentler, allowing the spinning of cotton which was once its fortune. The industrial revolution produced a strain of strong-minded working women which continues to this day, but the men, as if in balance, have tended to the whimsical: the county has long produced a disproportionate number of English entertainers, and particularly comedians, from Stan Laurel to Ken Dodd, Eric Morecambe to Peter Kay, and Les Dawson to Steve Coogan.
This whimsicality also expresses itself in a certain hesitancy, a tendency towards getting into what we might term "a bit of a dither". The 19th century's two Lancastrian prime ministers, for example, Sir Robert Peel and Lord Derby, were not its most decisive. It's also interesting that the American West's most charming but not successful outlaw, Butch Cassidy, was the son of a Mormon from Preston (and related to Charles Dickens, as it happens).
While, as I say, not wishing to exaggerate Lancashire's influence, it would nevertheless be remiss of me not to mention just three further of the county's characteristically unique contributions to world history and culture: communism owed much to Engels' time in Manchester; Hitler is believed to have spent the winter of 1912-13 in Liverpool; and, as a young man, Freud visited that splendidly brash seaside resort, Blackpool, twice, the second time sending a postcard showing its mighty erection, Blackpool Tower.