What Does it Mean to be an American?

The importance of being a true American is a duty that many citizens of our country have long since left behind. Though many are citizens by legality, it is important to consider the qualities and ideals that truly make one an “American”. Throughout history, there have been countless examples of what an American should look like. Going back to the Revolutionary War era, men like Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, and George Washington are shining examples of what an American should be. These men believed in liberty, justice, the importance of just laws, equality, and individual responsibility. All of these values and ideals are very “American” in their nature. Samuel Adams once said, “Our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty” (American History Central Staff, 2020). The United States is meant to be a refuge to those who are seeking liberty.

The modern political climate of the United States has put a shroud on true American, patriotic qualities and how they should be displayed. Dependence on the two-party system has created reliance on an establishment that diminishes true American values. In depth understanding of the need for individual responsibility as an American needs to be at the forefront of conversation and understanding of patriotic principle. The polarization of political parties has created a divide between families, neighbors, friends, classmates, co-workers, and more. The involvement and identity that many find in their alignment with a political party has decreased individualization in the United States, creating an echo chamber of regurgitated ideas and solutions. In actuality, an emphasis on patriotism, Constitutional adherence, individual liberty, personal responsibility, and equal justice under the law would create a unified, yet individualized society where freedom would flourish. 

At the founding of the United States “the two parties were in agreement on the most essential points. Neither one had to destroy an old order or turn an entire social state upside down in order to win” (Tocqueville, 1835, p. 282). The system that favors political parties is inevitable and is unable to be disrupted, especially in a system with voting and civil fights as the United States is experiencing now. The difference though, between modern party systems and those of the founders, is demonstrated in the agreement on issues at the forefront of debate. In modern America there is a high level of debate on the fundamentals of freedom, interpretation of the Constitution, faith, value on life, and even things as simple as the structure of the family. Throughout the founding, there was agreement on many of the issues. The founders and those who came shortly after realized the value of freedom and they worked to uphold it. That was their common goal. These are the goals that reveal the cornerstone of what every American should be unified on.

American tradition is made up of many previously stated qualities and ideals, but these traditions have been lost in recent times. The reason is because the United States has lost much of its adherence to the basis of morality and spiritual guidance which are, “almost wholly from Christian and Jewish sources” (What Are American Traditions?, 2010). With the deterioration of moral and spiritual absolutes, comes the decline of American tradition. This does not in any way say that freedom of belief and religious viewpoints should be negated in the United States, as many in modern American would argue, but it alludes to the fact that there must be common ground on base issues like morality, equality, self-dependence, and the like. Without this common ground, the chance for unity and a common sense of patriotism is done away with. At the time of this country’s founding, there were numerous ideas about how the government should be run and what the basis of our Republic should be. Along with all those ideas and differences of opinion, there was an underlying moral and spiritual basis that the founding fathers took account of. They all were striving to create a nation that would ensure freedom for the individual. 

This is the foundation and basis by which an “American” should be defined. The United States is a diverse place, no doubt; but it is also a place that requires and insists that its’ citizens fight for freedom and justice for the individual. The idea that individualism is evil is a threat to the American ideal. Individualism is a fundamental American principle. All man is created with different strengths, weaknesses, looks, and longings; but all are individuals and must be treated as such. Freedom for the individual and the upholding of the law, in this case being the Constitution and all created laws (with the understanding that they must abide by Constitutional law) is fundamentally American. To be a true American, one must value individualism, patriotism, freedom and justice under the law, and equality under this law. 

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition of De la démocratie en Amérique, ed. Eduardo Nolla, translated from the French by James T. Schleifer. A Bilingual French-English editions, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010). Vol. 2. [Online] available from https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2286; accessed 11/16/2020; Internet.

American History Central Staff. (2020, October 3). Sam Adams Quotes. American History Central. https://www.americanhistorycentral.com/entries/samuel-adams/view/quotes/#:%7E:text=Samuel%20Adams%20Quotes&text=%E2%80%9CWe%20cannot%20make%20events.,is%20wisely%20to%20improve%20them.%E2%80%9D&text=%E2%80%9CThe%20natural%20liberty%20of%20man,of%20nature%20for%20his%20rule.%E2%80%9D

What Are American Traditions? (2010, August 11). The Russell Kirk Center. https://kirkcenter.org/politics-and-social-order/what-are-american-traditions/

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