American nationalism

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Not to be confused with American patriotism.
An 1869 Thomas Nast cartoon espousing American nationalism. In the cartoon, Americans of different ancestries and ethnic backgrounds sit together at a dinner table with Columbia to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal as equal members of the American citizenry, while Uncle Sam prepares and sets the table. Thus, the cartoon espouses an inclusive form of American nationalism that is civic in nature, where membership in the nation is not dependent upon ethnicity.[1][2]

American nationalism is a form of nationalism found in the United States, which asserts that Americans are a nation and that promotes the cultural unity of Americans.[3]

American scholars such as Hans Kohn have claimed that the United States government institutionalized a civic nationalism based on legal and rational concepts of citizenship, and based on a common language and cultural traditions, rather than ethnic nationalism.[3] The founders of the United States founded the country upon classical liberal individualist principles rather than ethnic nationalist principles.[3] American nationalism since World War I and particularly since the 1960s has largely been based upon the civic nationalist culture of the country's founders.[4]


The United States traces its origins to some of the colonies founded by the Kingdom of England in northern America in the early 17th century. Each colony was independently governed and was under the authority of the British crown; colonists had no duty to colonies other than their own. By 1732, the Kingdom of Great Britain had over 13 colonies established in British America, from Rupert's Land to the Province of Georgia. When the colonies faced a threat during the French and Indian War from 1754 to 1763, the Albany Plan proposed a union between the colonies in 1754. Although unsuccessful, it served as a reference for future discussions of independence.[5]

Soon afterward, the colonies faced several common grievances over acts passed by the British parliament, including taxation without representation. As the disputes escalated, some colonists started to view British rule as oppressive and hostile, and sought cooperation with other colonies in response. This cooperation led to the Continental Congress, which lasted from 1774 to 1789, the U.S. Declaration of Independence of 1776, the American Revolutionary War, which lasted from 1775 to 1783, and ultimately independence. Ties between the thirteen states strengthened with the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1788.

In an 1858 speech, future U.S. president Abraham Lincoln alluded to a form of American civic nationalism originating from the tenets of the U.S. Declaration of Independence as a force for national unity in the U.S., stating that it was a method for uniting diverse peoples of different ethnic ancestries into a common nationality:

If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal", and then they feel that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote the Declaration, and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.

— Abraham Lincoln, address to Chicagoan abolitionists, (July 10, 1858), Chicago, Illinois.[6]

American Civil War[edit]

The American Civil War marked a significant transition in American national identity. The ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments settled the basic question of national identity, such as the criteria for becoming a citizen of the United States. Under these amendments, anyone born in the territorial boundaries of the United States or those areas subject to its jurisdiction was an American citizen, regardless of ethnicity or social status. After the war, Charles Sumner, a Republican senator, attempted to amend existing U.S. naturalization laws to remove ethnicity as a qualifier for naturalization. However, legislators from western U.S. states opposed this move, as they were opposed to Chinese immigrants becoming naturalized. The law was rather amended so that only Africans and Europeans could become naturalized American citizens, diminishing the ethnic barriers to naturalization, but not eliminating it outright.[7][8]

However, Native Americans were not to gain citizenship under the Reconstruction amendments. In 1919, all Native Americans who had served in the U.S. military were granted full citizenship, but the remainder of Native Americans on reservations were not included as U.S. citizens until 1924, when the Indian Citizenship Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by Republican president Calvin Coolidge.[9] Before the American Civil War, many Americans would consider themselves loyal to a specific state. After the war, the people considered themselves American citizens.[citation needed][opinion]

The New Nationalism[edit]

Main article: New Nationalism

During the 1912 Election, Theodore Roosevelt ran on a platform he called The New Nationalism. Roosevelt was inspired after reading the influential book The Promise of American Life, which has been credited as the inspiration for New Nationalism.[10]

Nativist nationalism[edit]

However prior to 1914, American nationalism in practice had strong ethnic nationalist elements – including nativism and efforts to exclude immigrants, African Americans, and others from receiving political power as citizens.[3] American nativist nationalism found some basis in early leaders of the United States – such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson who opposed immigration from absolute monarchies because they believed that such immigrants would bring the antidemocratic beliefs of their countries to the United States.[3]

Discriminatory immigration policies by the U.S. government continued until 1965 with the Immigration and Nationality Act that abolished the existing ethnic quota system and replaced it with an ethnic- system.[11] The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s resulted in American civic nationalism prevailing over ethnic nationalism, as legal barriers preventing African Americans from attaining full citizenship were removed, officially enfranchising African Americans as equal citizens as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.[11]

Nationalism in the contemporary United States[edit]

Nationalism and Americanism remain topics in the modern United States. The Rutgers University professor Paul McCartney, for instance, argues that as a nation defined by a creed and sense of mission, Americans tend to equate their interests with those of humanity, which in turn informs their global posture.[12]

The September 11 attacks of 2001 led to a wave of nationalist expression in the United States. This was accompanied by a rise in military enlistment that included not only lower-income Americans, but also middle-class and upper-class citizens.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kennedy, Robert C. (November 2001). "Uncle Sam's Thanksgiving Dinner, Artist: Thomas Nast". On This Day: HarpWeek. The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on November 23, 2001. Retrieved November 23, 2001. 
  2. ^ Walfred, Michele (July 2014). "Uncle Sam's Thanksgiving Dinner: Two Coasts, Two Perspectives". Thomas Nast Cartoons. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved March 5, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Motyl 2001, pp. 16.
  4. ^ Motyl 2001, pp. 558, 559.
  5. ^ Gavin rules the world , The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, 2004, Regnery Publishing, page 10
  6. ^ Address to Chicagoan abolitionists (July 10, 1858); quoted in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953), p. 501.
  7. ^ Engs, Robert F.; Miller, Randall M. The Birth of the Grand Old Party: The Republicans' First Generation. pp. 21, 183. Retrieved March 4, 2016. 
  8. ^ Sumner, Charles (July 4, 1870). "Speech". Retrieved March 4, 2016. 
  9. ^ Bruyneel, Kevin (2004). "Challenging American Boundaries: Indigenous People and the "Gift" of U.S. Citizenship.". Studies in American Political Development. 18 (1): 30–43. 
  10. ^ Cities and Citizenship
  11. ^ a b Motyl 2001, pp. 559.
  12. ^ McCartney, Paul (August 28, 2002). The Bush Doctrine and American Nationalism. Annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. American Political Science Association. McCartney-2002. Retrieved 2011-02-06. 
  13. ^ The Demographics of Military Enlistment After 9/11

Further reading[edit]

  • Arieli, Yehoshua. Individualism and nationalism in American ideology (Harvard University Press, 1964).
  • "French anti-Americanism: Spot the difference". The Economist. December 20, 2005. 
  • Lawson, Melinda. Patriot Fires: Forging a New American Nationalism in the Civil War North (University Press of Kansas, 2002).
  • Lieven, Anatol. America right or wrong: An anatomy of American nationalism (Oxford University Press, 2004).
  • Motyl, Alexander J. (2001). Encyclopedia of Nationalism, Volume II. Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-227230-7. 
  • Roosevelt, Theodore. The New Nationalism, 1910
  • Trautsch, Jasper M. "The origins and nature of American nationalism," National Identities (Sep 2016) 18#3 pp. 289–312.
  • Waldstreicher, David. In the midst of perpetual fetes: The making of American nationalism, 1776–1820 (University of North Carolina Press, 1997).