Much has been written in the lead up to Independence Day about the United States, the Constitution and the future of America. Time magazine even asked if the Constitution is relevant for today. During this same period, many have discussed (either embracing or repudiating) the idea of American Exceptionally. These themes must be discussed and discussed together in order to understand either issue.
The United Sates of America was birthed in exceptional circumstances that set it apart from every other nation of the world. While we are not a perfect nation with a spotless history, the United States has remained one nation under one constitution for longer than any other republican government. Let us examine some of the elements that made the United States exceptional.
First, the United States was birthed in a tradition of representative government. Long before the Declaration of Independence was penned, the United States had a long history of representative government under the Magna Charta/ while the Magna Charta only applied to the nobility in England, it was one of the bases of American government.
Second, the United States was founded by people who came to the North American continent for diverse reasons, yet they were united by a common desire for freedom. Whether Puritan Massachusetts, Quaker Pennsylvania, or royal colonies of Maryland and Virginia each colony had a purpose of expanding personal freedom, even though they were founded as colonies loyal to the crown.
Third, America is exceptional in that they had the experience of self-governance long before they declared their independence from England. Each of the colonies had developed town and colonial governments that were able to make some decisions for colonial life. Added to this taste of self-governance, most Americans were part of churches that governed themselves on a congregational, on the level of the presbytery, as opposed to those who were governed by bishops and church hierarchies. This gave the masses confidence in their abilities at self-governance.
Finally, America was and is a nation of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds that is united in our desire to be one free nation. This is the aspect of American exceptionally that most needs to be cultivated. The principles of liberty MUST be taught and cultivated in this country or the freedom we have will disappear. In order to remain free, we must transmit the following ideas to the next generation
. 1) Individualism: We may be informed by our race, religion, career choices, income level etc., but we must continue to see ourselves as individuals, not just part of the group. This sounds like the contradiction to being one nation, but it is not. The one thing that the founders of the nation had in common was their love for individual liberty. When we see ourselves as individuals we are free to question other voices from our region, race, religion, career or economic status. We must even be free to question our own nation, when it’s decision lead in directions contrary to liberty.
2) Reason over passion: We need to cultivate reason over passion. As Americans we must encourage our children and fellow citizens to read broadly and deeply. We must be able to think rather than being programmed. We must be able to stand firm on truth and not be led astray by passions. America is exceptional. It is not however, exceptional because of race or heritage. We are exceptional in that we have striven to remain free throughout the years. We must all strive to maintain our liberty daily.