American Identity Essay, Research Paper
The American Identity
It can strongly be argued, as it has for many years, whether or not an American identity ever occurred between 1776 and 1861. The answer to this question really depends on your definition of what an identity consists of. An identity is the sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing; oneness. The thirteen colonies tried hard to find a sense of themselves as a nation even before they had a nation. Nationality became an American invention (notes). To find an identity the thirteen colonies created a flag, symbols of nationality (bald eagle, pluribus Unum), and they established national heroes (George Washington). Next they began to shape a national character. They asked themselves what it is to be an American (notes). An American should have no ethnic roots, and they gave this country a moral definition in order to build an identity. They had three objectives as well. The people wanted freedom and justice for all, they made the understanding that we are one nation under God and they wanted to help distinguish America from Europe. Like nature America was young, vigorous and strong compared to civilization in Europe. These colonists were desperately trying to create their own identity, which would separate them from England and any other country. They were dedicated to live their lives of Christian brotherhood while being guided by the divine providence. They were dedicated to the expansion of human rights. From these thoughts and their common quest for freedom the thirteen colonies formed their identity. As years went on and the nation united politically, their views and ideas changed. The north and south separated and one national identity did not exist. Using slavery, sectionalism and it is quite clear that the nation?s first common goals of unity and peace were lost.
There were strong signs that the nation could very well divide. They did not have a strong central government because many people believed in states? rights. Sectionalism started to form and it divided the country into regions with diverse and conflicting beliefs. Sectionalism is the exaggerated devotion to the interests of a region. The sections that existed were the northeast, the south and the west. The main reason they began to separate was quarrels over tariffs, the idea of a central banking system and the issue of slavery. The north felt slavery contradicted the idea of liberty. The north also had mixed feelings about expansionism. Each section consisted of very different people. Westerners in the 1800?s had a romantic image. However, most were thought to be like barbarians because they had no type of civilization. An example of a westerner is Huckleberry Finn. He ran around having little formal schooling, and he was considered a heathen. Westerners moved to the west for their desire for land. They could be characterized as greedy, dirty and not educated. Some of their occupations were commercial farmers, traders and fisherman. Northerners were traditionally manufacturers. The textile industry began to flourish here. The stereotypical Yankees were known for their greed. They were very religious and well educated. The north produced some of the best literary figures. Northeast people had a ?Puritan temper?. They had strict morals; they were devoted to their principles and were set on organizing and improving. The southerners were more similar to the westerners then the north. They were the farmers. They had ?southern values? and were not open to change, unlike the north. They were very big on slavery and had different ideas about government, religion and economy than the north. As slavery grew in the south and in the west, the north grew cold to the idea of slavery and sectionalism became a big problem. In the 1850?s Lincoln won the election (he was against slavery) and South Carolina succeeded from the union. Ten other states followed and the Civil War was not far behind. Identity of this one nation was lost with sectionalism. The south wanted to become their own union. The dreams that the original thirteen colonies hoped for were lost and so was any identity established.
Slavery was a huge problem for the states. Southern plantations were swamped with black slaves. The south believed in slavery, contrary to northern beliefs. The north felt slavery was a contradiction to the saying ?All men are created equal? because they were still holding men in bondage. The north opposed the further extension of slavery. The North created a powerful impulse toward social reform?emancipation of the slaves as well as temperance. The south felt that any opposition to slavery would make them slaves. They thought racial defense of slavery justified it. Slavery came down to a moral issue. The north consisted of many abolitionists. Abolitionism grew due to charismatic leaders (Wendell Phillips etc..). Also because slavery was outlawed in England abolitionists were urging everyone to end sinful practices. This when the evangelical revolution began in the north. Most abolitionists were young women that were married to rich men. They felt like they were doing good with their time. Abolitionists only took up 25%of the northern population, so they were the minority. Abolitionist used propaganda, gag rules (1846-1854 no issues of slavery allowed in congress), the Compromise of 1850 (California would be a free state, but the free slave law was passed to catch runaway slaves) and the Dred Scott decision to fight against slavery. Abolitionist did not want blacks to become regular citizens. They did not believe they deserved the same rights as white men, but they believed they should not be owned and tortured by any other man. Slavery split families and degraded the African culture. Slaves lived to serve their masters and that went against their constitution. The South believed slaves were an asset. Farmers produced masses of crops because of all the field hands they had. However, the Northeast did indirectly depend on slave labor (the textile industry). As the West grew so did slavery. Slavery was spreading west and inching it?s way north. With this type of separation there can be no identity. The north was paranoid that the south was conspiring to overthrow the north and use slavery everywhere. The south had the idea of secession. They thought, ?there was a higher law than the constitution? (Sward). The south and the north ostracized each other. At this point the north had it?s own identity. The north was rich, powerful, going through a religious revival. The south had it?s own identity as well. The south wanted to break from the union. They were the poor farmers (large plantations were prosperous), old-fashioned, parsimonious and greedy. The idea of coming together to form one nation was gone. Freedom was a common goal for all. Now that they have it they forgot why they were there. Identity was lost in the need for power and money. The south will continue to resist modernization due to slavery. It only gets worse as upcoming elections emerge.
Major political events destroyed the idea of an American identity as well. Even before George Washington there was an early opposition to political parties. A political party is a group of people organized around principles who want political power in order to put these principles into power. They felt this way because most English theorists opposed them. In England they had two political parties: Whigs and Tories (terrorists and thieves). In the beginning Americans didn?t want separate parties because they were supposed to be united and they did not want separate groups. George Washington felt political parties were evil and needed to be crushed (notes). James Madison described them as evil, but natural. He wanted a system of checks and balances so not one party had complete control. In 1789 Washington became the first president. He was very conservative. Hamilton was not. He split and began to develop his own views. He wanted a strong central government, power to elitists, national credit and banking, and good ties with England. Thomas Jefferson wanted more states? rights and more democracy. Washington formed the Federalists and Jefferson formed the Republicans. Hey both became parties without realizing it. They even went as far as to accuse others of being in political parties. Republicans feared Federalists would take complete control of power. The beginning of political parties contradicted the American idea of belonging to one group. It seemed, as everyone wanted something different in his or her government. The unity of the union weakened as politics took issue. There were two types of governments, the aristocratic government and the democratic government. Aristocracy is a hierarchical, elitist, traditional idea. A democracy is mobile, equalitarian and future oriented. America had its first recession in 1819 and the aristocratic government did not help. People realized they must elect a common man. This separated the rich from the poor. One political issue that the south opposed was the Missouri Compromise. Many settlers in Missouri were from the south. When it warranted an admission to the Union as a state it was expected to become a slave state, however did not become one. The Kansas-Nebraska act changed this. The bill was reported in 1854 and contained the provision that the question of slavery should be left to the decision of the territorial settlers themselves. This angered the North because with southerners expanded quicker than the northerners, slavery was sure to spread. These acts aided in destroying the ?American identity? that was never fully established. A major political event that separated the Union was when Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election. He was from the north and he opposed slavery. This caused South Carolina to secede from the Union. Seven other states left the Union, formed a new government, and took over federal property; eight slaveholding states dangerously walked a tightrope between Union and secession; the Buchanan administration, after surrendering the loss of most federal posts, held firm at Forts Sumter; proposals to resolve the crisis and provide a means for the peaceable reconstruction of the country started, but never happened. This is the early beginning of the Civil War.
When the English settlers first came to the new land they had ideas of establishing their own lives in their own country. It would be based on freedom, understanding, and unity. They wanted to establish an ?American identity?. As their voracity and greed for money and land took over, they forgot how to listen to others and compromise in order to come together as one identity. The North and the South grew apart and became very different from each other. The Northeast captured its own identity because it represented modernization and the future. The West tried to form an identity by trying to keep up with the Northern movement. The South openly resisted modernization due to slavery. It probably could be argued that the United States formed an identity between 1776 and 1861. With these statements presented above it seems to prove the decline of any unity and common identity for the United States as a whole.