19th Century Quotes on America: Exceptional Founding

"Our peculiar security is in possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction."

Thomas Jefferson
TeachingAmericanHistory.org
September 7, 1803
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"Were we directed from Washington when to sow, & when to reap, we should soon want bread. It is by this partition of cares, descending in gradation from general to particular, that the mass of human affairs may be best managed for the good and prosperity of all. I repeat that I do not charge the judges with wilful and ill-intentioned error; but honest error must be arrested where it’s toleration leads to public ruin. As, for the safety of society, we commit honest maniacs to Bedlam, so judges should be withdrawn from their bench, whose erroneous biases are leading us to dissolution. It may indeed injure them in fame or in fortune; but it saves the republic, which is the first and supreme law."

Thomas Jefferson
The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 1
January 6, 1821
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[T]he Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings & security of self-government. [T]hat form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. [A]ll eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. [T]he general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view. [T]he palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. [T]hese are grounds of hope for others. [F]or ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them."

Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson's Library
Library of Congress
June 24, 1826
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"Scarcely any one has looked at the United States with any other apparent purpose than to find arguments for and against popular government. America has been discussed, as if she were nothing but a democracy: a society, differing from other human societies in no essential point, except the popular character of her institutions. The friends or enemies of parliamentary reform have been more or less in the habit of ascribing to democracy whatever of good or evil they have found or dreamed of in the United States. One class of writers, indeed, the political economists, have taken notice of a second circumstance, namely, that population in America does not press upon the means of subsistence—and have traced the consequences of this as far as high wages, but seldom further; while the rest of the world, if their partialities happened to lie that way, have gone on ascribing even high wages to the government; which we are informed is the prevalent opinion among the Americans themselves, of all ranks and parties. But the Government is only one of a dozen causes which have made America what she is. The Americans are a democratic people: granted; but they are also a people without poor; without rich; with a 'far west' behind them; so situated as to be in no danger of aggressions from without; sprung mostly from the Puritans; speaking the language of a foreign country; with no established church; with no endowments for the support of a learned class; with boundless facilities to all classes for 'raising themselves in the world;' and where a large family is a fortune.

Without analysing minutely the effects of all these causes, let us glance at some few of the numerous considerations which they suggest.

America, then, is a country in which there are no poor. This is not the effect of the government. There are, indeed, governments in the world which would make any people poor; but to such governments, a people as civilized as the Americans never would submit. Where there is sufficient protection of property, and sufficient freedom from arbitrary exaction, to enable capital to accumulate with rapidity, and where population does not increase still more rapidly, no one who is willing to work can possibly be poor. Where there is no poverty, there will be a remarkable freedom from the vices and crimes which are the consequences of it."

John Stuart Mill
Essays on Politics and Society, Part 1
1836
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"[T]he original founders of the colonies, from whom the present race of Americans are descended, were of the middle class, were people who could read, and who valued reading as the means of being instructed in their religion, we shall not wonder that this well-paid people are also a reading people; and that this well-paid and reading people are a democratic people. High wages and universal reading are the two elements of democracy; where they co-exist, all government, except the government of public opinion, is impossible. While the thirteen states were dependent colonies of Great Britain, they were, as to internal government, nearly as complete democracies as they now are; and we know what was the consequence of attempting to impose burdens upon them without their own consent."

John Stuart Mill
Essays on Politics and Society, Vol. 1
1836
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"MR. MADISON remarked to me, that the United States had been 'useful in proving things before held impossible.' Of such proofs, he adduced several. Others, which he did not mention, have since occurred to me; and, among them, the pursuit of the a priori method in forming a constitution:--the a priori method, as it is styled by its enemies, though its advocates, with more reason, call it the inductive method. Till the formation of the government of the United States, it had been generally supposed, and it is so still by the majority of the old world, that a sound theory of government can be constructed only out of the experience of man in governments; the experience mankind has had of despotisms, oligarchies, and the mixtures of these with small portions of democracy. But the essential condition of the fidelity of the inductive method is, that all the elements of experience should be included. If, in this particular problem, of the true theory of government, we take all experience of government, and leave out all experience of man, except in his hitherto governing or governed state, we shall never reach a philosophical conclusion. The true application of the inductive method here is to test a theory of government deduced from the principles of human nature, by the results of all governments of which mankind has had experience. No narrower basis will serve for such an induction. Such a method of finding a good theory of government was considered impossible, till the United States 'proved' it.

This proof can never be invalidated by anything that can now happen in the United States. It is common to say 'Wait; these are early days. The experiment will fail yet.' The experiment of the particular constitution of the United States may fail; but the great principle which, whether successfully or not, it strives to embody,--the capacity of mankind for self-government, --is established for ever. It has, as Mr. Madison said, proved a thing previously held impossible. If a revolution were to take place to-morrow in the United States, it remains an historical fact that, for half a century, a people has been self-governed; and, till it can be proved that the self-government is the cause of the instability, no revolution, or series of revolutions, can tarnish the lustre, any more than they can impair the soundness of the principle that mankind are capable of self-government. The United States have indeed been useful in proving these two things, before held impossible; the finding a true theory of government, by reasoning from the principles of human nature, as well as from the experience of governments; and the capacity of mankind for self-government."

Harriet Martineau
1837
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"The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional, and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one."

Alexis de Tocqueville
1840
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"Talk, I say again, of going to Europe, of visiting the ruins of feudal castles, or Coliseum remains, or kings' palaces -- when you can come here."

Walt Whitman
Specimen Days
1855-1892
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"If I ask the first American I meet, either at home or abroad, whether he considers religion to be of service to law and social order, he will answer unhesitatingly that civilized society, especially if it be free, can not exist without religion. Respect for religion is in his eyes the best safeguard for political stability and private security. Those who know least about government know this much. There is no country in the world where the boldest political doctrines of the eighteenth century philosophers have received so general a practical application as in America. But, notwithstanding the unlimited freedom of the press, their infidel doctrines have never made any progress there."

Alexis de Tocqueville
Harper & Brothers
1856
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"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that 'all men are created equal.'

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.

...we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

President Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863
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"The world has never before seen such huge fortunes exercising combined control over the economic life of a people, and such luxury as has come out of the individualistic pioneer democracy of America in the course of competitive evolution. At the same time the masters of industry, who control interests which represent billions of dollars, do not admit that they have broken with pioneer ideals. They regard themselves as pioneers under changed conditions, carrying on the old work of developing the natural resources of the nation, compelled by the constructive fever in their veins, even in ill-health and old age and after the accumulation of wealth beyond their power to enjoy, to seek new avenues of action and of power, to chop new clearings, to find new trails, to expand the horizon of the nation's activity, and to extend the scope of their dominion. 'This country,' said the late Mr. Harriman in an interview a few years ago, 'has been developed by a wonderful people, flush with enthusiasm, imagination and speculative bent.... They have been magnificent pioneers. They saw into the future and adapted their work to the possibilities. . . . Stifle that enthusiasm, deaden that imagination and prohibit that speculation by restrictive and cramping conservative law, and you tend to produce a moribund and conservative people and country.' This is an appeal to the historic ideals of Americans who viewed the republic as the guardian of individual freedom to compete for the control of the natural resources of the nation."

Frederick Jackson Turner
1893
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"Two ideals were fundamental in traditional American thought, ideals that developed in the pioneer era. One was that of individual freedom to compete unrestrictedly for the resources of a continent--the squatter ideal. To the pioneer government was an evil. The other was the ideal of a democracy--'government of the people, by the people and for the people.' The operation of these ideals took place contemporaneously with the passing into private possession of the free public domain and the natural resources of the United States. But American democracy was based on an abundance of free lands; these were the very conditions that shaped its growth and its fundamental traits. Thus time has revealed that these two ideals of pioneer democracy had elements of mutual hostility and contained the seeds of its dissolution. The present finds itself engaged in the task of readjusting its old ideals to new conditions and is turning increasingly to government to preserve its traditional democracy. It is not surprising that socialism shows noteworthy gains as elections continue; that parties are forming on new lines; that the demand for primary elections, for popular choice of senators, initiative, referendum, and recall, is spreading, and that the regions once the center of pioneer democracy exhibit these tendencies in the most marked degree. They are efforts to find substitutes for that former safeguard of democracy, the disappearing free lands. They are the sequence to the extinction of the frontier. It is necessary next to notice that in the midst of all this national energy, and contemporaneous with the tendency to turn to the national government for protection to democracy, there is clear evidence of the persistence and the development of sectionalism."

Frederick Jackson Turner
1893
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"American democracy was born of no theorist's dream…It came out of the American forest and it gained strength each time it touched a new frontier."

Frederick Jackson Turner
1893
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Using the pen name of the "Ohio Farmer," the Ashbrook Center attempts to create the spirit of early Americans--both Federalist and Antifederalist--and their concerns for constitutional self-government. In this vein, the "Ohio Farmer" writes to the Members of the 112th Congress in a letter exploring the exceptional example and experiment of America.

"Unlike most of the 111 that preceded it, the 112th Congress must begin the process of restoring the national regime and civic culture the Founders bequeathed. This will require reviving the rule of law, reasserting the relevance of the Constitution and affirming the reality of American exceptionalism."

"The terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 have not only widened the differences between America and the rest of the world, but have also deepened divisions within the country itself, says John Parker."

American Exceptionalism does not come from our military might or that we are some kind of super race, but comes from the limited government provided in the founding documents.

Bromund gives a modern overview of American exceptionalism, from a British perspective, arguing that American confidence, free speech tradition, and natural rights pave its exceptional nature. Importantly, Bromund also explores political language, outlining that America was originally a 'liberal' experiment, but that it now has a 'conservative' obligation to uphold its legacy of 1776 and 1787...

"For nearly four centuries, we as a people have believed that America has a special and unique role to play in the world. Here is a land of new beginnings and new promise, not merely one nation among others. But we have to ask: Do our leaders still believe this?"

Born out of revolution, the United States is a country organized around an ideology which includes a set of dogmas about the nature of a good society. Americanism, as different people have pointed out, is an 'ism' or ideology in the same way that communism or fascism or liberalism are isms.

"[T]he idea of a special, even divine, role for America can be fairly slippery. At its best, it has inspired Americans to hold themselves to a high moral standard, serving as exemplar to other nations. At its worst, it becomes a license for rationalizing away morality itself. The former demands humility and responsibility and ties us to the moral human community, making our exceptionalism...

The major issue, the elephant in the room, is that the doctrine of American exceptionalism is theological, not political.

"'American Exceptionalism' is one of those phrases that seems to get tossed around a great deal by political pundits. Often they act like everyone knows what they mean by it, but in most cases, their use of it implies it is almost a force of nature, a blessing by God. Others believe it is nothing but propaganda for American nationalism. Both definitions are what I would call Manifest Destiny,...

"Why was it that Washington was no Cromwell, setting himself up as a military dictator after leading to victory in a war against tyranny, and that the young American Republic did not experi­ence the fratricidal slaughter of its revolutionary leaders by each others’ hands and the changes in ideals that marked the aftermaths of the French and Russian up­heavals? Many reasons may be cited. But...

"If the American moment passes, or U.S. power in other ways declines, it will not be because of demography."

"In the United States, civil liberties are seen as the province of the left. The ACLU, the Bar Association, the Democratic Party, people who err in favor of procedural protections for criminals and even terrorists—this is what tends to come to mind to conservatives who condemn civil liberties as a leftist interest, and to liberals who celebrate it as a great anchor of their political...

"Robert Curry’s continuing exposition of the Scottish enlightenment’s influence on the founding of the United States looks back at a vanishing greatness in the soul of America, a greatness that is anathema to liberal-progressives."

"Some Straussians see Lincoln as the Second Founder and the abolition of slavery as the return of the West to natural rights. And it certainly seems true that in Lincoln's words and America's example, key ideas about human equality and dignity gained momentum - and you can hear those ideas today in the mouths of a new Arab generation, in a culture so alien to our own it is close to impossible...

Michael Novak retells stories from early American history to highlight the importance of religion and the influence of both Judaism and Christianity on the formation of American government. He stresses the emphasis on Old Testament language and values in order to keep the various Christian denominations united.

Rabbi Spiro provides a brief history of the impact of Judaism on the American Founding as well as the treatment of Jews in early America.

"Historians have very little use for the idea of American exceptionalism and its supporting religious rhetoric. The historical record points not to the exceptional experience of America but to its common history with other nations. America is, after all, a nation of immigrants, and it is one shaped by both transatlantic and transpacific exchanges. Apart from this historical challenge to...

While Generation Yers may have the stereotype of being self-centered, many of them not only view themselves as exceptional — they hold the same view of America as well.

"The exceptional issue may be political, but it isn't only that. The idea lies smack at the heart of how Americans view themselves, and the role of government in their lives and in the broader world. Is America exceptional or isn't she? Is there something about this country that makes us unique in the world?"

"Though the phrase 'American exceptionalism' does get tossed around a lot, confusion reigns over its actual meaning. Before deciding whether American exceptionalism is a good or bad thing, whether it’s threatened or not and whether the President actually embraces it, shouldn’t we first figure out what it actually means?"

Leftists mocking those who believe in the greatness of the U.S. is nothing new. But their bizarre insistence that it's an artifact of right-wing jingoism and xenophobia certainly isn't helping Obama.

This article dismisses the idea of American exceptionalism by arguing that the Founders and subsequent Americans copied their exceptional ideas from European nations. Lind argues, "Americans have always been proud of their republic -- but not too proud to learn from others. When America worked, Americans did not hesitate to copy the innovative ideas and best practices of other countries."

American Exceptionalism is an idea as old as our country itself. The Founding Fathers understood that the vast resources at our fledging country’s disposal coupled with our puritan roots and lack of a feudal past meant that the United States was uniquely positioned to thrive as an exception to the corruption and poverty of other countries."

"A few men who did look into 'the law of liberty' bequeathed to present-day Americans a unique heritage. They were the authors of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. In what respect were these political documents unique? First, they unseated government as the endower of men’s rights and placed the Creator in that role. Second, they more severely limited...

Cohen is gravely suspicious of American exceptionalism and points out examples in which America lags behind international averages. Cohen proposes that exceptionalism is merely a buzz word of the Christian Right.

The author takes a negative view of American exceptionalism, arguing that the misleading theory leads to militarization and conquest, imposing American ideals upon the world.

Morris takes a contrarian view of American exceptionalism, arguing that America is not endowed with special gifts by God or politics. Rather, he believes America grew up in exceptional circumstances throughout its first two hundred years, yet did an exceptional job in squandering those circumstances.

The theory that Americans are better than everybody else is endorsed by an overwhelming majority of U.S. voters and approximately 100 percent of all U.S. politicians, although there is less and less evidence to support it.

"Despite the struggling economy and broad dissatisfaction with national conditions, the public has a positive view of the United States' global standing. But more think that the U.S. is one of the greatest countries in the world than say it stands above all other countries."

"In the course of the American revolutionary war, the New York-based lawyer and political pampleteer John Stevens observed that 'The path we [Americans] are pursuing is new, and has never been trodden on by man.' That well-founded sense of originality was accompanied by remarkable confidence in our abilities and optimism about our future. In the historian Bernard Bailyn’s words, 'The Founding...

"Here’s a suggestion: Whenever you hear or read someone boasting of 'American exceptionalism,' — the notion that America has since its founding been uniquely ordained by God and its own moral character to lead the world – reach for your wallet. Because, intellectually speaking, someone is surely trying to pick your pocket."

In 1776, when America announced its independence as a nation, it was composed of thirteen colonies surrounded by hostile powers. ... Is America exceptional?

To commemorate American Independence and the nation's founding, the Heritage Foundation asks prominent libertarian and conservative thinkers to explain why they believe America is exceptional.

After prompting a debate over the possibility of American exceptionalism, National Review Online engages in a symposium, showcasing the differing opinions of Yuval Levin, John O'Sullivan, and Matthew Spalding.

Chart or Graph

Among white Americans who say God has granted the U.S. a special role in history, a majority (52%) say the best way to ensure peace is through military strength rather than through diplomacy, a rate twice as high as among white Americans who do not affirm American exceptionalism.

"Americans widely agree that the United States has a unique character because of its history and Constitution that sets it apart from other nations as the greatest in the world. This view, commonly referred to as 'U.S. exceptionalism,' is shared by at least 73% of Americans in all party groups, including 91% of Republicans."

The country is exceptional in more profound ways [than military capacity alone]. It is more strongly individualistic than Europe, more patriotic, more religious and culturally more conservative. Al-Qaeda's assaults stimulated two of these deeper characteristics.

Young people are less likely than older Americans to say that the U.S. stands above all other nations.

"Despite the struggling economy and broad dissatisfaction with national conditions, the public has a positive view of the United States' global standing."

In opinions about whether the American people can solve major problems, the typology groups split mostly on economic, rather than partisan, lines.

Among the eight major typology groups, Staunch Conservatives -- who are strongly anti-government and pro-business -- are the only one in which a majority (67%) says that the U.S. stands above all other nations.

Analysis Report White Paper

"Most Americans think...that the United States is an exceptional country that differs sharply from the rest of the world and that must therefore have its own laws and Constitution."

"In this essay, Bruce Thornton first shows that, merely on practical grounds, many of these EU ideals have been ineffective if not dangerous. He then demonstrates that the EU model is predicated on philosophical assumptions about human nature and the human good that are diametrically opposed to those that underlay the American Founding."

Noted political scientist James Q. Wilson argues here that the observations Tocqueville made about America's uniqueness remain true today.

"Americans across the political spectrum embrace individualism, skepticism about government, and a faith in social mobility. Other developed nations, in contrast, have often embraced socialism and a strong state. Two new books document the advantages of this 'American Exceptionalism.'"

"This article is about the concept of American exceptionalism. The term has a long history and has been applied to a whole range of features that are unique to US society, particularly its history, identity, and culture."

American exceptionalism has been repeatedly dismissed by the academy, yet recent historical schools and trends continue to take it up as a topic of discussion, whether in a positive or negative light. Dale Carter takes a look at exceptionalism's role in modern intellectual debates such as New Left historiography.

"American political forms are unique, partially be­cause of the great opportunities which America has enjoyed on this continent and partially from what Daniel Boorstin has described as 'a peculiar and unrepeatable com­bination of historical circum­stances.'"

"America’s Founders sought to define a national good that transcended local interests and prejudices. The national good included the common benefits of self-defense and prosperity.... But it was only with the constitutional rule of law that the higher purpose, or true national interest, of America could be realized."

"No form of government devised in history was so careful to avoid the dangers of concentrated power and so favorable to letting the citizen go as far and as fast as his individual capacity would carry him, without state coddling, state regulation and state domination, which always go hand in hand."

"The era of the American Revolution was the greatest and most creative age of constitutionalism in American history. During the last part of the eighteenth century Americans established the modern idea of a written constitution. There had been written constitutions before in Western history, but Americans did something new and different."

This essay focuses on the great prevalence and influence that religious ideas had on America's founding. Michael Novak gives a variety of fascinating anecdotes and quotes from the founding fathers which demonstrate their familiarity with the Bible and other Christian and Judaistic elements of faith.

"To this day, Douglass endures unequalled as the invincible adversary of racial despair and disaffection—the preeminent exemplar and apostle of hopefulness in the American promise of justice for all."

This piece discusses the Declaration of Independence and its unique role in history. According to Spalding, the Declaration was "a statement of the conditions of legitimate political authority and the proper ends of government."

"We conclude that claims of exceptional U.S. external behavior have been exaggerated, although more research is needed to determine whether other dimensions of U.S. foreign policy that have been widely discussed, such as its presentation to domestic audiences, are indeed highly atypical."

"I propose first, to unpack precisely what we mean by American exceptionalism; second, to clarify both the negative and the overlooked positive faces of American exceptionalism; and third, to suggest how we, as American scholars and lawyers, should respond to the most negative aspects of American exceptionalism in the wake of September 11."

Daniel Bell's famous 1975 essay declares American exceptionalism dead. He emphasizes that for a radical experiment like the American Revolution to be indeed radical, it must lack a history. Revolutions must be fresh and future-oriented. But after over 200 years--particularly in the wake of Vietnam--Americans can not look forward, only back.

"There are three dimensions of the Declaration of Independence which should be carefully considered for a clear understanding of it. The first is the contemporary context within which it was written, adopted, proclaimed, and served its purpose....The second dimension is its past....The third dimension is its future."

"Republics had been notoriously unstable, fiscally irresponsible, subject to being pulled hither and yon by foreign influences, divided and laid open to civil commotions by partisan conflicts, and rent by contests over succession to leadership. No fact troubled the more thoughtful of the Founders of the United States more than this one."

"This Article critically evaluates the widely held view inside and outside the United States that American constitutional rights jurisprudence is exceptional. There are two dimensions to this perceived American exceptionalism: the content and the structure of constitutional rights."

This essay discusses "what it means to base democratic government on the notion of natural rights, what these rights are, and what they mean for public policy" by comparing "three revolutions' theories of natural rights: the English Glorious Revolution of 1688, the French Revolution, and the American Revolution."

"In the following excerpt, the authors examine the major factors, real and imagined, that contribute to this growing alienation between America and other countries, both friends and foes, around the globe."

If it is merely a neutral characterization for 'uniqueness' or 'distinctiveness,' however, the question then arises why the notion of 'exceptionalism' needs emphasizing at all.

"The key to the uniquely successful story of American immigration is its deliberate and self-confident policy of patriotic assimilation: America welcomes newcomers while insisting that they learn and embrace its civic culture and political institutions, thereby forming one nation from many peoples—e pluribus unum."

"Today, the United States is a country of fifty states covering a vast continent. Its military forces are the most powerful in the world. Its economy produces almost a quarter of the world's wealth. The American people are among the most hard-working, church-going, affluent, and generous in the world. Is America exceptional?"

Americans are more individualistic, more religious, more patriotic, more egalitarian, and more hostile to unions and Marxism than are the people of any other advanced democracy. This positive account of the ways in which the United States truly is exceptional will call into question the practicality and wisdom of our Supreme Court imposing foreign ideas about law on us.

Video/Podcast/Media

"Matthew Spalding discusses American exceptionalism and why it's still important today."

"In Episode 23, Chris Gondek speaks with Eric J. Sundquist about the significance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 'I have a dream' speech, and Godfrey Hodgson about the history behind America’s notion of its exceptionalism and the consequences for foreign policy today."

At the ISI regional conference, "America in the Clash of Civilization," Professor Thorton explores the Western building blocks of American exceptionalism.

"Americans across the political spectrum embrace individualism, skepticism about government, and a faith in social mobility. Other developed nations, in contrast, have often embraced socialism and a strong state. Two new books document the advantages of this 'American Exceptionalism.' In It Didn't Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States, Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary...

"This panel examines the question whether there is an American ideology of exceptionalism that is deeply rooted in 400 years of our history. Have Americans from John Winthrop to the Founding Fathers to Abraham Lincoln to Ronald Reagan believed that we are a shining city on a hill – a beacon of liberty and democracy for the rest of the world? How has the idea of American exceptionalism changed...

"On this edition of Peter Lavelle's CrossTalk, he asks his guests whether American exceptionalism is a self-serving myth."

"With the emergence of democracies in Europe and the New World at the beginning of the nineteenth century, political philosophers began to re-evaluate the relationship between freedom and equality. Tocqueville, in particular, saw the creation of new forms of social power that presented threats to human liberty. His most famous work, Democracy in America, was written for his French...

"The 'Judaism: A Way of Being' author makes the case for Judaism as the most important intellectual development in Western history."

After today’s forum, Princeton professor Robert P. George spoke with reporters. Below are his excellent remarks on 'what distinguishes American exceptionalism from nationalism.'

History professor Rob McDonald of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point gives a lecture on the conflict between the ideals of the American Revolution, such as individual liberty, and unfortunate realities of the time, such as slavery.

"Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon Wood presented a series of essays that examines the underpinnings of the American Revolution. Mr. Wood explored the origins of American exceptionalism, the Founders' belief in the universality of the revolution, and the radicalism of republicanism in the 18th century. Gordon Wood discussed his essays in conversation with author and historian Jay Winik...

"In a world of moral confusion, and of arbitrary and unlimited government, America's founding principles are our best access to permanent truths and the best ground from which to question the current direction of our nation. Join Matt Spalding, author of We Still Hold These Truths and an authority on American political thought and religious liberty at The Heritage Foundation, as he...

"What makes some laws worth obeying, while others demand to be overturned? In Part 4, Bill examines the difference between Natural Law and Political Law."

Primary Document

Before this reaches you, the resolution for finally separating from Britain will be handed to Congress by Colonel Nelson. ... I put up with it in the present form for the sake of unanimity. ’Tis not quite so pointed as I could wish.

Written aboard the Arbella in 1630, John Winthrop's most famous sermon cites the Book of Matthew and man's logical nature as the source of a civilization that is new, unique, and divine. Preparing his Puritan followers for the society they must forge amidst difficult odds, Winthrop spoke of "A City upon a Hill" in their New England community.

As the title suggests, this sermon was delivered in commemoration of the American rule of law under the Constitution. Cooper emphasizes the greatness of liberty established by the founding of America, pointing out a variety of biblical support for the nature of its republican government.

At the beginning of Operation Overlord, the largest seaborne invasion in history, and the beginning of the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny, General Eisenhower delivered this moving address to his forces.

Arguing for the annexation of Texas to the United States, this piece by John O'Sullivan coined the phrase "manifest destiny." The concept of manifest destiny has sometimes been equated with the concept of American exceptionalism.

Walt Whitman's poetry is often cited for its innovative free-verse and celebration of America. Here is a selection from Specimen Days, in which Whitman questions if any accomplishment of old Europe can rival America's 'peculiar' beauty.

At the age of 77, I begin to make some memoranda and state some recollections of dates & facts concerning myself, for my own more ready reference & for the information of my family.

"It was during those Republican years that the thrust of Communist imperialism was blunted. It was during those years of Republican leadership that this world moved closer, not to war, but closer to peace, than at any other time in the three decades just passed. And I needn't remind you - but I will - that it's been during Democratic years that our strength to...

"We meet to celebrate the birthday of America. That coming of a new life always excites our interest. Although we know in the case of the individual that it has been an infinite repetition reaching back beyond our vision, that only makes it more wonderful. But how our interest and wonder increase when we behold the miracle of the birth of a new nation.

Thomas Paine's famous and radical 1776 pamphlet made a bold case for American Independence from Britain, at a time when the notion of Independence was still contested among the colonists.

Predominantly written by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence formally and eloquently justified the independence of the United States from British monarch King George III.

Tocqueville's famous analysis of the American economic and political system, as he observed during his travels of the country in the 1830s.

Finally, we gather on this Fourth of July--as our forefathers did at Independence Hall--more than 9 score years ago--to emulate them as they pledge their common adherence to basic principles, and their common obligation to uphold these principles regardless of differences of opinion, even of policy.

One hundred fifty years ago tonight, thirty-eight weary delegates to a Convention in Philadelphia signed the Constitution. Four handwritten sheets of parchment were enough to state the terms on which thirteen independent weak little republics agreed to try to survive together as one strong nation.

On this Fourth of July, 2001, a great anniversary of our Nation's birth and a great anniversary of religious liberty, we remember the ideals of America and the things of the spirit that sustain them.

No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States.

TWO HUNDRED years ago we, the people of the United States of America, began a great adventure which stirred the imagination and quickened the hopes of men and women throughout the world. The date was July 4, 1776; the occasion, the signing of our Declaration of Independence.

"Perhaps the most famous battle of the Civil War took place at Gettysburg, PA, July 1 to July 3, 1863. At the end of the battle, the Union's Army of the Potomac had successfully repelled the second invasion of the North by the Confederacy's Army of Northern Virginia. Several months later, President Lincoln went to Gettysburg to speak at the dedication of the cemetery for the Union war dead......

You have come to the Nation's Capital to visit its monuments and to look at the basic documents on which our Government was founded. Many people come to Washington to do these things, but you have come here for a special purpose. You have come here to emphasize the fact that this Nation was founded on religious principles.

Perhaps one of the most well known and rhetorically powerful speeches on civil rights, King's speech calls for racial equality and an end to discrimination. His dream of a color blind society specifically resonates with conservative thinkers.

On July 4, 1976, we joyfully celebrated the 200th anniversary of our Nation's independence. Now, on September 17, 1977, we commemorate the 190th anniversary of a quieter but equally momentous event: the signing of the Constitution of the United States, at Independence Hall, Philadelphia.

But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty once lost is lost forever. When the People once surrender their share in the Legislature, and their Right of defending the Limitations upon the Government, and of resisting every Encroachment upon them, they can never regain it.

"I am aware of the force of the observations you make on the power given by the Constn to Congress, to admit new States into the Union, without restraining the subject to the territory then constituting the U S.

A Frenchman living in American, Crevecoeur expounded upon the wonders of farm life and its benefits to the American culture.

"In the critical year of 1944 a vast 'I Am an American Day' ceremony was held in Central Park, New York City, on May 21. Many thousands of people were present, including a large number of new citizens. Learned Hand’s brief address was so eloquent and so moving that the text immediately became the object of wide demand. It was quickly printed and reprinted and also put into anthologies. The...

This famous speech at Lincoln's Second Inaugural, known for its phrase 'with malice toward none', calls for a forgiveness between the American North and South, a sense of common charity, and a retribution for the horrors of slavery.

When it was determined that they would be settling further North in the New World than originally anticipated, the Pilgrims of Plymouth County entered into a social contract. They consented to rules by which they would survive, proclaiming a sense of liberty, but also allegiance to the King.

The transcript of President Obama's interaction with a French journalist over American exceptionalism. The President famously replied, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."

The Bishop George Berkeley was a well-regarded philosopher and theologian of the 19th century. This poem speaks of Berkeley's fondness for the West and American promise and later inspired settlers in Berkeley, California.

If the United States mean to obtain or deserve the full praise due to wise and just governments, they will equally respect the rights of property, and the property in rights: they will rival the government that most sacredly guards the former; and by repelling its example in violating the latter, will make themselves a pattern to that and all other governments.

why is America a great country? Sometimes the quick answer to that, 'Why, we are great because we are the strongest country in the world.' We are. And others say we are great because we are the richest country in the world, and that is true, too. But the secret of America's greatness goes far beyond its wealth and far beyond its strength.

The calendar can't measure America because we were meant to be an endless experiment in freedom—with no limit to our reaches, no boundaries to what we can do, no end point to our hopes. The United States Constitution is the impassioned and inspired vehicle by which we travel through history.

Then Governor Ronald Reagan delivered a moving summary of America's exceptional roots to the First Annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

In seeking for methods by which I might communicate what I have observed in my travels, without offering any pretension to teach the English, or judge the Americans, two expedients occurred to me; both of which I have adopted. One is, to compare the existing state of society in America with the principles on which it is professedly founded

In attempting to find a way for both Parliament and the American colonies to have their demands met, Burke notes that while the Parliament may indeed retain the right to legislate for the colonies, they do not need to exercise that right. This allows the colonies some measure of de facto autonomy (which would be pleasing to the increasingly riled American colonists), but still maintains Parliament’s superior position.

Scarcely any one has looked at the United States with any other apparent purpose than to find arguments for and against popular government. America has been discussed, as if she were nothing but a democracy: a society, differing from other human societies in no essential point, except the popular character of her institutions.

"In Democracy in America (1835) the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville interpreted American society through the lens of democratic political theory. A half-century later the Scotsman James Bryce examined 'the institutions and the people of America as they are.' Bryce presented his findings in The American Commonwealth, first published in London in three volumes in 1888. This new Liberty Fund two-...

A collection of 16 pamphlets, written between 1776 and 1783, whereby Thomas Paine rallied everyday colonists to embrace American Independence.

The Federal Constitution did not deal with the question of religious liberty. The rules for the election of the president and for that of the vice–president proved a failure. Slavery was deplored, was denounced, and was retained. The absence of a definition of State Rights led to the most sanguinary civil war of modern times. Weighed in the scales of Liberalism the instrument, as it stood, was a monstrous fraud. And yet, by the development of the principle of Federalism, it has produced a community more powerful, more prosperous, more intelligent, and more free than any other which the world has seen.

"President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared 'that all persons held as slaves' within the rebellious states 'are, and henceforward shall be free.'

Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states...

The famous "Turner Thesis" remarks upon the unique American character that arose from the frontier experience. The notion of an ever-continuing frontier line captured the American imagination and instilled a sense of confidence, explaining an important American difference from Europe. However, when the U.S. Census Bureau declared in 1890 that the American West had been officially "closed",...

After Tocqueville retired from public service, he wrote this political commentary on his own nation. He discusses how the French Revolution came about and what its effects were, concentrating on the intellectual influences.

Locke's Second Treatise develops his descriptions of the state of nature along with natural law. His work was extremely influential in the founding of America and its Constitution.

The Constitution of the United States established the federal governmental system currently in place with three branches of government. The premise of executive privilege developed from the separation of powers clause.

Thomas Jefferson's last written letter, just before his death, remarkably touches upon the 50th anniversary of American Independence.

The new president’s letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, captures his belief in America as a shining example of liberty.

We have seen a world passion spend its fury, but we contemplate our Republic unshaken, and hold our civilization secure. Liberty--liberty within the law--and civilization are inseparable, and though both were threatened we find them now secure; and there comes to Americans the profound assurance that our representative government is the highest expression and surest guaranty of both.

George WashingtonPreparing to leave office, Washington wrote his now famous "Farewell Address" to placate American concerns that a country without his leadership could not survive. Washington stresses the importance of unity, the supremacy of the Constitution, the danger of...

Let me begin my American impressions with two impressions I had before I went to America.

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