American Exceptionalism is a pervasive force in the United States. Since the founding Americans have believed themselves to be freer than the other nations of the globe. It is a philosophy which can been seen on both the political right and left in the United States. This exceptionalism has given Americans a feeling of almost divine mission, but is it in any way justified?
Yes, America is exceptionalShow moreShow less
The United States has a particular identity and historical context of revolution, expansion and development which makes it exceptional.
Since the founding of the United States, Americans have striven to differentiate their character from rest of the world. Drafter of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson argued that the United States had created a new kind of democratic prosperous man, writing "Before the establishment of the American States nothing was known to history, but the man of the old world crowded within limits either small or over changed and steeped in vices which the situation generates."
Writing on the United States he noted "Here every man may have land to labor himself; or preferring the exercise of any industry, may exact for it such compensation as not only to afford a comfortable subsistence but wherewith to province a cessation of labor in old age." The United States, Jefferson argued, had created a new man untethered to the social problems in Europe, freer and more independent. The availability of land in the United States and its democratic institutions freed people from the constraints and degradations of Europe.
This historian Frederick Jackson Turner also claimed at the end of the nineteenth century that the American context created new exceptional people. In his Frontier Thesis, Turner argued that Americans were not simply transplants from Europe but were created through the settlement of the American West. American qualities like individualism, self-sufficiency, and commitment to democracy were forged, Turner argued, through the adaptation of European immigrants to conditions on the frontier.
Both Turner and Jefferson agree that the unique American context, whether through the settlement of the frontier, or the creation of a new Democratic state has created a new exceptional kind of person.
[P1] The American context is distinct because it is Democratic and based on a frontier.
[P2] This context makes Americans different and exceptional.