"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."
Contemporary Quotes on America: Exceptional Founding
"Our Founders considered themselves heirs to principles that were timeless and truths that were self-evident. When Jefferson sat down to write, he was trying, he said, to place before mankind 'the common sense of the subject.' The common sense of the subject was that we should be free. And though great evils would linger, the world would never be the same after July 4, 1776.
A wonderful country was born and a revolutionary idea sent forth to all mankind: Freedom, not by the good graces of government but as the birthright of every individual; equality, not as a theory of philosophers but by the design of our Creator; natural rights, not for the few, not even for a fortunate many but for all people, in all places, in all times."
"It is something like a national heresy to suggest that the United States does not have a unique moral status and role to play in the history of nations, and therefore in the affairs of the contemporary world. In fact it does not."
"The true significance of the Declaration lies in its trans-historical meaning. Its appeal was not to any conventional law or political contract but to the equal rights possessed by all men and 'the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and nature's God' entitled them. What is revolutionary about the Declaration of Independence is not that a particular group of Americans declared their independence under particular circumstances but that they did so by appealing to-and promising to base their particular government on-a universal standard of justice. It is in this sense that Abraham Lincoln praised 'the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times.'"
"As a practical matter, the Declaration of Independence publicly announced to the world the unanimous decision of the American colonies to declare themselves free and independent states, absolved from any allegiance to Great Britain. But its greater meaning-then as well as now-is as a statement of the conditions of legitimate political authority and the proper ends of government, and its proclamation of a new ground of political rule in the sovereignty of the people. 'If the American Revolution had produced nothing but the Declaration of Independence,' wrote the great historian Samuel Eliot Morrison, 'it would have been worthwhile.'"
"Unlike the English Bill of Rights, both the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the American Declaration of Independence are rhetorical shots meant to be heard around the world. They are universal in their appeal; their language is open and universal. But they present two very different versions of natural rights, and the revolutions they began had two very distinct outcomes.
Issued in August of 1789, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man was meant to announce and solemnize the rights of man, not to announce the independence of one people from another as the American Declaration of Independence was intended to do. As a diplomatic document as well as a domestic document, our Declaration falls both under domestic law and under the law of nations, which is not true of its French counterpart.
The French Declaration can be distinguished from the American Declaration especially by its different treatment of natural rights, prudence, constitutionalism, and honor. The latter three play a greater role in the American document than they do in the French."
"Under the French Declaration, government derives its authority from the 'general will'-a term lifted directly from Rousseau's work. But if 'law is the expression of the general will,' the distinction between constitutional law and statutory law-implicit in the American Declaration and fundamental to our idea of constitutionalism-cannot be sustained, because the basis of all law is will. The American Founders, as opposed to the French Revolutionaries, maintained that the fundamental law-the Constitution-is an expression of public reason, not general will. It is a product of 'reflection and choice' as Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 1. The public reason is set over and above public passion to govern and limit public passion, as James Madison argued in Federalist No. 49.
The French Declaration further says that 'all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation,' which contrasts starkly with the American Declaration's careful statement that governments 'derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.' Given the absolute sovereignty of the nation in the French model, it follows that 'no body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.'
The French document further fails to describe or even imply how one goes from being a man to being a citizen. Instead, it argues that 'men are born and remain free and equal in rights.' Unlike in the American Declaration, there is no social compact in the French Declaration whereby consenting individuals form a people. There is no joining or leaving the nation, a pre-political group based on common ancestry, language, religion, and culture. Men are never given a chance, in other words, not to be a part of the nation."
“I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”
"'In the beginning, all the world was America,' John Locke wrote in his Second Treatise of Government in 1689. Well, times have certainly changed."
"Maybe every nation is exceptional in some respect. But exceptionalism has to mean more than making a great cheese. It involves putting your impress on the world — by military prowess initially perhaps, but more solidly by economic and technological advances, and ultimately by dazzling cultural achievements that lead to the sincerest form of flattery: the world wants to be like you."
"What do we, as American conservatives, want to conserve? The answer is simple: the pillars of American exceptionalism. Our country has always been exceptional. It is freer, more individualistic, more democratic, and more open and dynamic than any other nation on earth. These qualities are the bequest of our Founding and of our cultural heritage. They have always marked America as special, with a unique role and mission in the world: as a model of ordered liberty and self-government and as an exemplar of freedom and a vindicator of it, through persuasion when possible and force of arms when absolutely necessary."
"America indeed is an exceptional nation, but not because of what it has achieved or accomplished. American is exceptional because it is fundamentally dedicated to the principles of human liberty, grounded on the truths that all men are created equal and endowed with equal rights—permanent truths 'applicable to all men and all times,' as Abraham Lincoln once said. It was because of these principles that rather than ending in tyranny the American Revolution culminated in a constitutional government that has long endured.
America’s principles are responsible for a prosperous and just nation unlike any in the world. They explain why Americans strongly defend their country, look fondly to their nation’s origins, vigilantly assert their political rights and civic responsibilities, and remain convinced of the special meaning of their country and its role of the world. It is because of these principles, not despite them, that America has achieved its greatness."
"America is exceptional because Americans after the Founding showed that they really did take their new freedoms seriously. They did not expect much from their new government, other than to protect the peace and otherwise leave them alone. They didn’t wait for government to show them how to build a vibrant civil society; they just did it, and to a greater extent than any people before or since. In the 19th Century, they settled the continent; they formed endless and powerful problem-solving, private entities; they cultivated the virtues necessary for freedom to survive; and they welcomed millions to their shores to share the freedom experience with them."
"The Left hates the idea of American Exceptionalism because it sets boundaries on the power of the state. The Left’s desire for ever bigger government clashes with the core principles of America’s exceptional founding."
"The American Revolution was a political, not a social, revolution; it was about emancipating individuals for the pursuit of happiness, not about the state allocating wealth and opportunity. Hence our exceptional Constitution, which says not what government must do for Americans but what it cannot do to them."
"In the exceptionalist world of fantasy, Negro Slavery is barely mentioned; the exclusion of Asian immigrants from citizenship for more than a century is ignored; the near-extinction of Native Americans is passed over; the fierce bigotry white ethnic immigrants endured for nearly a century is suppressed; the denial of the vote and true opportunity for women is conveniently forgotten.
One could go on down a very long list.
In fact, that list is worth exploring in detail, not to damn America – which, for all its flaws, has been the modern era’s great hope. It is worth examining because that activity underscores what is truly exceptional about America. That is its capacity for democratic reform: to, ultimately, heed insistent demands to fix what’s wrong that come from a Frederick Douglass; a Samuel Gompers; a Jane Addams; a Cesar Chavez; or a Martin Luther King, Jr. – and, more importantly, from the Americans they represent."
"The assertion of a right of citizenship by birth was as 'exceptional' an idea in the nineteenth century as the idea that all human beings had an 'inalianble right' to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness had been a century earlier; and 'birthright citizenship' – which continues to make the U.S. 'exceptional' among the nations of the world — has to America’s great profit been consistently reaffirmed by the Supreme Court."
"Every nation derives meaning and purpose from some unifying quality—an ethnic character, a common religion, a shared history. The United States is different. America was founded at a particular time, by a particular people, on the basis of particular principles about man, liberty, and constitutional government."
"America's ideals are not unique to America, and America's success led it to the same temptations of great powers since ancient times. America's exceptional freedom and exceptional wealth did not exempt it from unexceptional human nature or the unexceptional laws of history. To believe anything else is to engage in nationalist idolatry."
"Americans became the richest people on earth not because we were endowed with inherently superior national traits nor because we are God’s chosen people, nor because we have an elegant and compact Constitution and a noble sounding Declaration of Independence. We became rich because we were exceptionally lucky.
But the myth that we became richer than other countries because of our blessedness encouraged us to develop a truly exceptionalist culture, one that has left us singularly unequipped to prosper when our luck changed, when inexpensive land and energy proved exhaustible, when the best and the brightest in the world began staying at home rather than emigrating to our shores, when wars began to burden us and enrich our economic competitors."
"The ideology of American exceptionalism holds that the Founders of the United States were the most brilliant individuals who ever lived and that the future prosperity and power of the country are to be attributed chiefly to the genius of the federal constitution, drafted in 1787 in Philadelphia (never mind that this was the second U.S. Constitution, replacing the first, the Articles of Confederation, a miserable failure). In the same way that Bible-thumping fundamentalists insist that all of the answers to all of today’s problems can be found in the Good Book, American exceptionalists thump the Federalist Papers. If the history that followed the American founding provides any guidance to us today, it is only the subsequent history of the United States itself. As good American exceptionalists, we are not allowed to peep beyond our borders, to learn from the successes and mistakes of people in other countries."
"The Founders had staked everything on the theory that the people could rule themselves. Looking back from the present we can fail to understand what a radical departure their experiment was, can fail to appreciate how boldly the Founders gambled on the theories of the eighteenth-century philosophers they had studied so closely. We can also fail to appreciate how carefully the Founders proceeded. Putting those bold theories 'effectively into practice' was itself a work of collective genius, something even rarer and more precious than great philosophy."
"I was taught that our exceptionalism was in the birth of our nation and the ideas behind it. It was the idea that our government was created by the people, exists by the consent of the people, and is subservient to the people. We hold that the individual is just as important, if not more important, than the state. We do not answer to anyone else, but we do live by our Lord’s leave.
The reason it was seen as exceptional was that all other countries at the time operated in reverse. The people were subservient to the government; they lived and worked by the consent of their superiors.
We were and are exceptional because our nation was created in a unique way at a unique time in history. The Founding Fathers were flush with the writings of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Adam Smith. America became a laboratory for a great experiment."