By John J. Duncan Jr.
In 2002, I received a call in my Washington, D.C., office from a man who identified himself as Robin Naysmith, head of the Scottish Section of the British Embassy.
He said they had done some research and found that I had more Scottish ancestry than any other member of the U.S. House.
He asked if I would be willing to start a Friends of Scotland Caucus in the Congress similar to the very active Friends of Ireland Caucus which had been in existence for many years.
I told him I would be glad to help. To have an official caucus in Congress, it has to be bi-partisan with both a Republican and a Democrat as co-chairs.
I was joined as a co-founder of the Friends of Scotland Caucus by Rep. Mike McIntyre, a Democrat from North Carolina.
Because I had been a judge, I was often asked to preside over the full House in the Speaker’s chair, and I frequently spoke on the Floor of the House.
I did my most important work on problems of my constituents and in three main committees: Transportation and Infrastructure, Oversight and Government Reform, and Natural Resources.
I also helped found and served as the Republican co-chair of the Scenic Byways Caucus (because of the Cherohala Skyway in my District) and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Caucus (because of Knoxville College).
The Friends of Scotland Caucus was a small but significant part of my work in Congress. I served as co-chair from its founding until I left the House at the end of 2019.
The caucus was set up to help establish closer business and personal ties between the U.S. and Scotland.
I led congressional delegations to Scotland three times at the invitation of (and expense paid by) the Scottish government. We also hosted meetings and receptions for Scottish officials, including Sean Connery, the great Scottish actor.
I give you all this background as a roundabout way to tell you that I recently was given the Tartan Day Award, the top award given each year by the Scottish Coalition, USA.
The coalition member organizations are The American-Scottish Foundation; The Association of Scottish Games and Festivals; Scottish American Military Society; Council of Scottish Clans and Association; Scottish Heritage, USA; and The Living Legacy of Scotland, Inc.
The coalition held a very nice reception in John Marshall’s historic residence, the DACOR-Bacon House, two blocks from the White House.
In my remarks, I told the group that if they came to East Tennessee, they would see Scotland. I told them that my hometown, Knoxville, had been named for a Scottish immigrant, Gen. Henry Knox, President George Washington’s Secretary of War.
I also told them the sports teams of Maryville College are nicknamed the Fighting Scots and the teams of Scott County High School, where my father was from, are the Highlanders.
Most of the first settlers of East Tennessee were Scottish and Scots-Irish Presbyterians. I am a lifelong Presbyterian, and my grandfather, Papa Duncan, used to say, “You could make it to Heaven if you were not a Presbyterian and a Republican, but you had a leg up if you were.”
I also told the group that while the great majority of East Tennesseans fought on the side of the Union in the Civil War that my grandmother, whose maiden name was Lee, used to claim she was a distant relative of Robert E. Lee.
Papa Duncan got something in the mail saying he was descended from the Scottish Kings Duncan. He then told my grandmother, “Mama, you’ve been lording over us all these years about being related to Robert E. Lee. Now that we know I’m descended from these kings, I don’t expect you to bow down to me every time you see me, but you might curtsy every once in a while.”
I mentioned in my remarks at the reception that Alex Kerr, former head of security for Fed-Ex and a native of Scotland, once told me: “With a name like Jimmy Duncan, you could get elected to anything in Scotland.”
Scottish Heritage, USA says 25,000,000 Americans claim Scottish ancestry and 30,000,000 Americans are of Scots-Irish descent.
Former Senator James Webb helped found the Friends of Scotland Caucus in the U.S. Senate. He also wrote one of the best books I have ever read called “Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America.”