Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day 2011: Life, Liberty, and the Meaning of American Exceptionalism

by Michael Kaplan

Declaration of Independence, by John Trumbull, 1818.  Architect of the Capitol, Wikimedia Commons.

Today we celebrate the two hundred and thirty-fifth anniversary of the birth of our nation, the United States of America, the most exceptional nation mankind has ever created. This year the great anniversary festival (as John Adams called it[1]) comes tinged with sadness for me, as it is the first time I will commemorate it without my beloved mother, whose earthly journey came to an end in May. Mother departed this life full of years, honor, wisdom, and love. She made me who I am and I will love her always. But life does go on and so does the work of studying, teaching, and writing America’s history and securing America’s future.

Americans today tend to take America for granted. We have forgotten the tremendous effort, the blood and sacrifice of lives and property, that was needed to secure American liberty and create an independent republic. We have forgotten what a miracle America is. George Washington, for one, saw the hand of God at work in the course of the American Revolution. He declared in his farewell orders to the Continental Army in 1783, that it was “little short of a standing miracle” that the United States had won the War of Independence against the mighty British empire.[2] Now, on July 4, 2011, the Marist Poll tells us that 42% of their respondents were unsure in what year independence was declared, and 26% were unsure which nation the United States declared its independence from! To say this is very disturbing is an understatement. Were the sacrifices and heroism of the Revolutionary generation and those that followed, whose lives were dedicated to building an exceptional nation committed to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, all for nought?

So this Independence Day is a good time to reflect on the origins and meanings of American exceptionalism and the American Dream, and the struggles of those who fought to make the dream a reality. American exceptionalism refers to America’s unique culture of democratic self-government and liberty, rugged individualism, and stubborn, feisty independence. Its motto is “Don’t tread on me.” The late sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset defined the American Creed in five terms: liberty, egalitarianism—which in America means equality of opportunity and respect, but not equality of outcomes—individualism (rugged of course), populism, and laissez-faire economics. To this list should be added the rule of law and justice for all. “The revolutionary ideology” Lipset wrote, “which became the American Creed is liberalism in its eighteenth- and nineteenth-century meanings, as distinct from conservative Toryism, statist communitarianism, mercantilism, and noblesse oblige dominant in monarchical, state-church-formed cultures.” This American Creed, in synthesis and creative tension with the nation’s strong religious sensibility and the Jacksonian code of honor, military pride, and nationalism (with its distinct blood-and-soil element), forms the core of American exceptionalism.[3]

Jim Cullen, who teaches history at New York’s Ethical Culture Fieldston School, points out that a distinctive Anglo-American culture with a unique American Dream was born long before Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Its first seeds were planted at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, and Plymouth and Boston, Massachusetts in 1620 and 1630. “What happened in the 1770s and 1780s” Samuel Huntington writes, “was rooted in and a product of the Anglo-American Protestant society and culture that had developed over the intervening one and a half centuries.” Colonial America, as it developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, was a society of independent householders bound together in strong communities, which developed habits and institutions of self-government. Religious pluralism, a voluntaristic self-help ethic, a relatively high standard of living, and a belief in individual aspiration to upward mobility, what Alexis de Tocqueville would later call “the charm of anticipated success,” also defined the society of British North America, making it the freest and most prosperous on earth.[4] Jefferson may have invented the term “pursuit of happiness,” but he was merely giving a name to what had long been the driving force in British North America’s society of independent, self-governing householders.


It’s no doubt ironic to point out on Independence Day what should be self-evident: that American exceptionalism has its roots in British exceptionalism. American culture began as British Protestant culture stripped of the restraints hierarchy and aristocracy. America derived its ideas and institutions of liberty, representative self-government and the rule of law, the right to be secure in one’s property, and freedom of religion and conscience from the mother country, a tradition going back to the Magna Carta. More specifically it was the culture of British Dissenting Protestantism—Puritans, Presbyterians, Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, and many others—that shaped American exceptionalism. British Dissenting Protestantism encouraged habits of independent and critical thinking. It challenged both religious and secular authority—the authority of bishops and kings. Dissenters, most famously the Puritans of New England, developed autonomous self-governing religious congregations, which prepared them to develop habits and institutions of self-government. “Religion, always a principle of energy, in this new people is no way worn out or impaired; and their mode of professing it is also one main cause of this free spirit.” Edmund Burke clearly understood the revolutionary nature of dissenting Protestantism when he spoke these words. Dissenting Protestantism, Burke insisted, was a creed built on liberty. In his famous speech to Parliament on March 22, 1775 calling for reconciliation between Britain and the colonies, Burke proclaimed that “the religion most prevalent in our northern colonies is a refinement on the principle of resistance; it is the dissidence of dissent, and the protestantism of the protestant religion. This religion, under a variety of denominations agreeing in nothing but in the communion of the spirit of liberty, is predominant in most of the northern provinces.” Dissenting Protestantism, with its spirit of liberty, encouraged ideas of natural rights and human dignity. The mass of common men came to be seen as more than beasts of burden. Instead they could become free men and women with the right to aspire to a better life. British Protestant dissenters had the right traditions for a people who would create societies centered on liberty. They were fully convinced that they could determine what the Bible meant and how to apply its message in the conduct of their lives.[5]

One cannot emphasize enough how important it was for America’s future development, that its original colonial societies were founded by British Protestant settlers. As Samuel Huntington explained:
America’s core culture has been and, at the moment, is still primarily the culture of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century settlers who founded American society. The central elements of that culture can be defined in a variety of ways but include the Christian religion, Protestant values and moralism, a work ethic, the English language, British traditions of law, justice, and the limits of government power, and a legacy of European art, literature, philosophy, and music. Out of this culture the settlers developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the American Creed, with its principles of liberty, equality, individualism, representative government, and private property. Subsequent generations of immigrants were assimilated into the culture of the founding settlers and contributed to and modified it. But they did not change it fundamentally. This is because, at least until the late twentieth century, it was Anglo-Protestant culture and the political liberties and economic opportunities it produced that attracted them to America.[6]
This core Anglo-Protestant culture and its ideals, outlined by Huntington, as modified and leavened by Irish and Southern and Eastern European Catholic immigrants, and Eastern European Jewish immigrants, remained the basis of America’s national identity until the Aquarian counterculture in the 1960s challenged its very legitimacy. In the eyes of the Aquarian liberals who after 1968 gained control of the Democratic Party, the dominant Anglo-Protestant culture was irredeemably racist, sexist, and homophobic. Jacksonian America, of course, in opposition to the counterculture continues to champion the Anglo-Protestant culture of America’s founding.[7]


North Carolina Emigrants: Poor White Folk, by James Henry Beard, 1845.  A Jacksonian yeoman family of modest means heads west in search of the American dream of land ownership and the dignity of economic independence.  Cincinnati Art Museum.

The vast abundance of fertile land in North America was of decisive importance in the emergence of American exceptionalism. The land provided the material basis for the liberty, independence, and self-government of the British dissenters who settled in the New World. Most American colonists would own their own land, not work in thrall to a hated overlord. Historian Daniel Richter locates the origins of America’s householder society in a “downsized, sweat-of-the-brow version of the dream of patriarchal landed power” for men of small or modest means. The richness of the land allowed such modest households to produce surplus harvests for their own material profit and benefit. This in turn gave them the economic resources for a degree of social assertion and political power unimaginable in hierarchical England. While perhaps two percent of English householders owned enough property to vote for members of Parliament, in America something like fifty percent of householders owned sufficient property to take part in their colony’s politics. Many of the settlers of New England in particular were urban artisans who abandoned city life for rural life in the original “back to the land” movement.[8]

Captain John Smith was the son of a yeoman who made a career as an adventurer. He’s best remembered today as the leader who saved the Jamestown colony from starvation and collapse in 1607, and the hero saved from death by the Indian princess Pocahontas. Smith was also a propagandist for English colonization. At the very beginning of America’s colonial experience, Smith understood the role of the land as a liberating force, which could create a freer and more just society. As one of his last works, Smith wrote a pamphlet to advise John Winthrop and the Puritan settlers of Massachusetts on how to build a successful colony. Looking back at over more than a decade of Virginia’s experience, Smith suggested that the Puritans base the economy of their colony on a vital and renewable resource like fish rather than a luxury cash crop like tobacco. “Therefore (honorable and worthy countrymen) let not the meannesse of the word Fish distaste you, for it will afford as good gold as the mines of Guiana or Potassie, with lesse hazard and charge, and more certain facilitie.” Smith also urged the colonists to give each man and family a stake in the enterprise through private ownership of land. Smith also believed that merchants, not aristocrats, needed to plan the colony. Smith advised the colonists:
to make your plantations so neere and great as you can; for many hands make light worke, whereas yet your small parties can doe nothing availeable; nor stand too much upon the letting, setting, or selling those wild Countries, nor impose too much upon the commonality either by your maggazines [supply ships or stores] which commonly eat out all poor mens labours; nor any other too hard imposition for present gain; but let every man so it bee by order allotted to him, plant freely without limitations so much as hee can, bee it by the halfes or otherwayes . . . . or as you finde hee hath extraordinarily deserved, by it selfe to him and his heires for ever.
Smith realized that America was a new world that offered opportunities for the hard-pressed farmers and laborers—men of modest means—to escape their burdens and become masters of their own lives. The hope of opportunity, of achieving freedom and mastery in one’s life, was the dream that would lure men from the Old Word to the New. Individual colonists would take the initiative to build new lives and societies. “In doing so, a servant that will labour within foure or five yeares may live as well there [America] as his master did here [England]: for there there is so much land lie waste, it were a madnesse in a man at the first to buy, or hire, or pay any thing more than an acknowledgement to whom it shall be due; and hee is double mad that will leave his friends, meanes, and freedom in England, to be worse there than here.” Colonization made no sense without the lure of liberty and prosperity. Why risk your life in an unknown wilderness if your lot in life would be no better than it was in England? Freedom was the key to the creation of successful colonies—freedom of land ownership and economic enterprise and freedom of self-government. “Therefore let all men have as much freedome in reason as may be, and true dealing; for it is the greatest comfort you can give them, where the very name of servitude will breed much ill bloud, and become odious to God and man.” Make freedom the law and ethos of your colony and “doubtlesse God will blesse you, and quickly triple and multiply your numbers.”[9]

So in both New England and Virginia “men of small means achieved their patriarchal landed dreams, while living modest Protestant lives that amassed few other kinds of riches in this world.” This hard-won liberation from medieval servitude to the landed aristocracy of the Old World brought the dignity of independence and the emergence of that new man, the American, whose ambition would become over time as expansive as the New World landscape. Thus was born the first Jacksonian American Dream of owning one’s own farm, which in the twentieth century would become the second Jacksonian American Dream of suburban homeownership.[10]

Of course the patriarchal dreams of the middling British dissenters were fulfilled at the expense of the land’s original inhabitants. “The Indian,” as historian Gary Nash put it, “it was understood, had little to contribute to the goals of English colonization and was therefore regarded merely as an obstacle.” Protestant faith and the quest for land came together to provide religious, economic, and political justifications for the expulsion, and sometimes the genocide, of the Indians. “Our first worke is expulsion of the Salvages to gaine the free range of the countrey for encrease of Cattle, swine &c which will more then restore us,” wrote Virginia’s governor Sir Francis Wyatt in the wake of the great Indian war of 1622, “for it is infinitely better to have no heathen among us, who at best were but as thornes in our sides, then to be at peace and league with them.” Wyatt in Virginia, like John Winthrop in Massachusetts, invoked Biblical injunctions calling on the Israelites to drive the Canaanites out of the land. William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony and one of the Pilgrim Fathers, took an especially grisly delight in the destruction by fire of the Pequot village of Mystic, Connecticut, during the war of 1637. Though many of those burned to death were women and children, Bradford saw this as God’s just punishment of a malicious enemy:
Those that scaped the fire were slain with the sword, some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived that they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy.
Captain John Underwood, who along with Captain John Mason, led the Massachusetts militia against the Pequot, gave a graphic eyewitness account of the slaughter of over four hundred men, women, and children accomplished within the space of half an hour. Explaining his use of merciless cruelty to defeat the enemy, Underwood, rather than pleading military necessity, claimed the sanction of the Old Testament. Like Bradford, Underwood insisted that his men were doing God’s will. Comparing the Pequot War to King David’s holy wars against the enemies of Israel, Underwood wrote:
Mercy did they deserve for their valor, could we have had opportunity to have bestowed it. Many were burnt in the fort, both men, women, and children. Others forced out, and came in troops to the Indians, twenty and thirty at a time, which our soldiers received and entertained with the point of the sword. Down fell men, women, and children; those that scaped us, fell into the hands of the Indians that were in the rear of us. It is reported by themselves, that there were about four hundred souls in this fort, and not above five of them escaped out of our hands. Great and doleful was the bloody sight to the view of young soldiers that never had been in war, to see so many souls lie gasping on the ground, so thick, in some places, that you could hardly pass along. It may be demanded, Why should you be so furious? (as some have said). Should not Christians have more mercy and compassion? But I would refer you to David’s war. When a people is grown to such a height of blood, and sin against God and man, and all confederates in the action, there he hath no respect to persons, but harrows them, and saws them, and puts them to the sword, and the most terriblest death that may be. Sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents. Sometimes the case alters; but we will not dispute it now. We had sufficient light from the word of God for our proceedings.
In the nineteenth century Jacksonian Americans would likewise see themselves as Israelites engaged in the holy work of winning the land from the Native American Canaanites. While fighting the Seminoles in Florida in 1818, Andrew Jackson declared that his soldiers were “like the Iseralites of old in the wilderness.” Jackson believed his army acted as “the hand of heaven . . . pointed against the exciters of this war,” on a mission to scatter the enemy “over the whole face of the Earth.”[11]

Trail of Tears by Robert Lindneux. The dark side of American exceptionalism. The ethnic cleansing of the Cherokee by the U.S. Army, 1838. Woolaroc Museum.

The pages of history are filled with tales of winners and losers: those individuals and nations who succeeded in the quest for survival and prosperity, and those who got thrown under the bus. James Mooney, a pioneer ethnologist at the turn of the twentieth century, wrote of Andrew Jackson’s policy of Indian removal: “The history of this Cherokee removal of 1838 . . . may well exceed in grief and pathos any other passage in American history.” The hard truth that we often try to avoid is that the Indians paid the ultimate price for the American pursuit of happiness. America as a land of opportunity for settlers of modest means would not have been possible without the expropriation of the native inhabitants. The rise of romantic nationalism and states’ rights—the determination of Georgia, for instance, to assert its sovereignty over Cherokee lands—intensified the push for Indian removal that led to the horrors of the Cherokee Trail of Tears.[12] Jackson understood this and he understood that his Indian removal policy expressed the democratic will of the American people. As he told Congress in his Second Annual Message in 1830:
Humanity has often wept over the fate of the aborigines of this country, and Philanthropy has been long busily employed in devising means to avert it, but its progress has never for a moment been arrested, and one by one have many powerful tribes disappeared from the earth. To follow to the tomb the last of his race and to tread on the graves of extinct nations excite melancholy reflections. But true philanthropy reconciles the mind to these vicissitudes as it does to the extinction of one generation to make room for another. . . . Nor is there anything in this which, upon a comprehensive view of the general interests of the human race, is to be regretted. Philanthropy could not wish to see this continent restored to the conditions in which it was found by our forefathers. What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?[13]
Jackson’s sorrow over the fate of the Indians may have been contrived and hypocritical (though some historians argue that it was genuine). His words show that in 1830 white supremacy was taken for granted. Yet most Americans, then and now, would endorse Jackson’s analysis without reservation. Gustaf Unonius, a Swedish immigrant and Episcopal minister who settled in Waukesha County, Wisconsin in 1841, wrote with deep insight into the behavior and worldview of the Jacksonian pioneers and the contradictions of the Jacksonian American character when it came to the Indians:
The frontiers are often settled by a peculiar kind of people who nourish inwardly a mortal hatred of the red man. . . . They have been characterized, strikingly enough, by the statement that they have two kinds of conscience, one for whites, another for Indians. They are people whose behavior in their relations with their own race, whose kindliness—yes, whose often meticulous obedience to the commandments of religion—would entitle them to respect and esteem in any ordered community. For them, however, the red man’s rights and privileges, his possessions, and his life weigh no more than down on the scales, and they consider any injustice toward the Indians justifiable and permissible. Brave, seasoned, and enterprising, faithful, honest, benevolent, and hospitable toward a white stranger, they lack in their hearts all kindly feeling, all compassion for nature’s wild children and have not the least notion that they also should be treated with friendliness and loving-kindness.
Unonius presents here a powerful example of what anthropologists consider a central paradox of human nature: the connection between violence and sociality. Human nature is tribal and people divide the world into “us” and “them”; and while the boundaries of what constitutes “us” and “them” changes over time, “them” are by definition the enemy who must be defeated. Socialbility, kindness, and empathy are reserved exclusively for those who are within the group. Those outside the group are treated as less than human. Conflict and violence between groups (such as Jacksonian America and the Indians) actually fosters social cooperation, altruism, and even self-sacrifice within the group or tribe. Those groups that are more cohesive and organized are in a better position to defend their existence and triumph over less cohesive enemies. The Jacksonian America described by Unonius was one example of a society driven by these imperatives of human nature. This is another way of saying that Jacksonian America in the nineteenth century was a Herrenvolk democracy: an egalitarian white society of small producer farmers and artisans—householders of modest means—that excluded nonwhites. And that Jacksonians, then and now, make a sharp distinction between those who are inside the folk community and accorded its honor and protection, and those who are part of the dark world outside.[14]

I bring all of this up to make the point that there was, as Unonius understood, a dark side to American exceptionalism. The triumph of the American Revolution and its empowerment of the average white American of modest means was a disaster for the American Indian. The story of liberty and independence that we celebrate every July 4 was in fact the beginning of the end for the native Americans. Thirty years ago the late historian Page Smith wrote that “The story of the whites and Indians is the story of the relationship of democracy to original sin. . . . The Indian issue was the issue of the democracy” It was not the elite liberal reformers of New England or the patrician aristocrats of New York who pressed for the ethnic cleansing of the Indians. It was the populist Jacksonian Democrats, hard-working, sturdy, God-fearing yeoman farmers—the salt-of-the-earth Americans who then and now make this country work—who demanded that the red man be swept aside so they could take his lands to build new farms and create new wealth. Such new farms and wealth would provide the economic base for the liberty and independence of white families of modest means. The American Indian paid the price for American exceptionalism and the American Dream.[15]

But we must remember that the Indians were not helpless victims; they fought tooth and nail against the British dissenter settlers and their independent American descendants for control of North America. Indians gave as good as they got. The Americans won, in the end, because they had technology, social and political organization, and most important perhaps, demographics, on their side. Historian Walter McDougall concludes that:
English colonists did not come to America intent on killing, enslaving, or for the most part converting or consorting with the Indians at all. They just wanted them out of the way, and thanks to their microbes, technology, organization, and agriculture they swiftly displaced the indigenous people in what amounted to a Darwinian contest for an ecological niche. There is simply no plausible “what if” scenario for a successful Indian defense of the continent once Europeans determined to make their colonies stick.[16]
The truth is that most nations came into being through long histories of invasion, conquest, bloodshed, exploitation, persecution, and dispossession. Most don’t give it a second thought today. America was the only nation born with a commitment to the highest ideals of liberty, justice, and human dignity, and which has struggled for over two hundred years to actualize those high ideals, however imperfectly, in its civil society. The tragedy of the Indians made possible the creation of the greatest concentration of economic and human potential in history, institutionalized in a democratic republic, and embodied in a culture devoted to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And the United States has contributed more to the sum total of human happiness and liberty than any other nation in history. America’s sins are those shared by all nations. Her ideals and triumphs are uniquely her own.


American liberty is the gift of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The absence of hostile powers and imperial predators in the New World, the product of its separation from the Old World by the two oceans, was of prime importance for the development of American exceptionalism. North America had no empires with professional warrior aristocracies capable of reducing communities of independent householders into submission and servitude. America had no need for standing armies or military elites. Therefore there was no need for British North America’s increasingly rugged individualists to surrender their independence to a strong, intrusive, overbearing state, in the dog-eat-dog struggle for survival and supremacy. This was even more true after the defeat of France, the only power with the capacity to threaten the British colonies, and its expulsion from Canada in 1763. When King George III and his ministers tried to impose a much tighter level centralized control over the colonies from London after 1763, they unleashed the American Revolution. Frontier warfare with the Indians was savage, but the Indians’ tribal societies never had a chance of defeating and stopping the ever more numerous Anglo-American settlers with their advanced technologies and political organization. There was no need to train a special class of professional warriors to deal with the Indians. Those men who knew how to use guns would be able to organize themselves into voluntary militias (a concept institutionalized in the Second Amendment). There were just no external threats strong enough to compel Americans to abandon their rugged individualist way of life. As the American colonists did not have to contend with the law of the jungle, they had the freedom to build societies based on the rule of law, where liberty and the pursuit of happiness became the defining cultural traits.

The lack of predatory powers in the New World and its geographical separation by two oceans from the Old World, made America unique and exceptional. It could permit liberty to flourish to an extent unthinkable in a nation surrounded by immemorial tribal enemies waiting to devour it. Both the lack of formidable enemies among the natives as well as geographical separation provided by the oceans were not the work of the British dissenters who settled America. It was the gift of Providence.

In addition, the western frontier provided a safety valve and outlet for those dissatisfied with the social and political status quo. The government would not have the responsibility of keeping the resentful and discontented in their place. This was Frederick Jackson Turner’s famous frontier thesis, first proposed in 1893, and which fell out of favor with liberal progressive historians many years ago. Again there was no need for an oppressive state because there was relatively little danger that those who were resentful of their position in the world would pose a threat to political or social stability. Potential rebels (such as the young Andrew Jackson in 1788) went west to seek their fortunes.[17] Many pioneers failed and lost everything, including their lives, while others succeeded, achieving at least “a modest competence” for their efforts. Charles Pancoast, a young New Jersey-born Quaker who went west in 1840 to establish himself as a pharmacist in Missouri, wrote that “I never sought a great fortune, but was anxious to secure a competency.” Looking back on six years of failure to keep a number of drug stores and business ventures financially solvent, moving from town to town in search of new opportunities, Pancoast observed:
My ruling desire had always been to find a fixed location where I might spend a lifetime of rest; but now this desire was again thwarted, and I realized the I was only a Splinter cast off from God’s Creation by some Centrifugal Force, and doomed to wander until some attractive Gravitation should fix me to a point on the Earth.
Pancoast spoke for many young men in Jacksonian America whose pursuits of happinessquests for modest success—were neither certain nor secure and whose lives took them in many unexpected directions. In 1849 Pancoast’s pursuit of happiness would lead him to take part in the greatest adventure of the day, the California Gold Rush. It was an article of faith for Jacksonian Americans that every man could be the master of his destiny provided he was willing to risk everything for a chance at success on the beckoning frontier.[18]

To be continued.


1. John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776, L. H. Butterfield, ed., Adams Family Correspondence, Vol. 2 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963), pp. 29-31.

2. George Washington, Farewell Orders to the Army of the United States, November 2, 1783, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources (Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1931-1944), Vol. 27, p. 223.

3. Seymour Martin Lipset, American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1997), pp. 19, 31.

4. Jim Cullen, “The Declaration of Independence and the American Dream,” History News Network, June 29, 2011,; Samuel Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004), p. 40; Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Henry Reeve, tr., revised by Franics Bowen, corrected and edited by Phillips Bradley (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), Vol. 2, p. 71.

5. Richard Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru, “An Exceptional Debate: The Obama Administration’s Assault on American Identity,” National Review, March 8, 2010, pp. 31-38; Edmund Burke, “Speech on Moving His Resolutions for Conciliation with the Colonies, March 22, 1775,” Burke: Select Works, E. J. Payne, ed. (3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1904), Vol. 1, pp. 180-181.

6. Huntington, Who Are We?, pp. 40-41.

7. Huntington, Who Are We?, pp. 17-18, 38-41, 59-62, 141-145, 171-177, 183, 316.

8. Daniel Richter, Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Pasts (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011), p. 187; T. H. Breen and Stephen Foster, “Moving to the New World: The Character of Early Massachusetts Immigration,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 30, No. 2 (April 1973), p. 216.

9. John Smith, The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles (2 vols. Glasgow, UK: James MacLehose and Sons, 1907), Vol. 1, p. 101, Vol. 2, p. 93; Smith, Advertisements for the unexperienced Planters of New England, or any-where, in Works, 1608-1631, Edward Arber, ed. (Westminster, UK: Archibald Constable and Co., 1895), Vol. 2, pp. 947-948; Karen Ordahl Kupperman, The Jamestown Project (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007), pp. 325-327.

10. Richter, Before the Revolution, pp. 194, 201; Walter Russell Mead, “American Dreams, American Resentments,” American Interest, Vol. 6, No. 3 (January/February 2011), pp. 16-21; Mead, “The Death of the American Dream I,” Via Meadia, American Interest Online, June 2, 2011,; Mead, “The Death of the American Dream II.” Via Meadia, American Interest Online, June 3, 2011,

11. Gary B. Nash, Red, White and Black: The Peoples of Early America (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1974), p. 67Gary B. Nash, “The Image of the Indian in the Southern Colonial Mind,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 29, No. 2 (April 1972), pp. 197-230; Alden T. Vaughan, “‘Expulsion of the Salvages’: English Policy and the Virginia Massacre of 1622,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 35, No. 1 (January 1978), pp. 57-84; “Letter of Sir Francis Wyatt, Governor of Virginia, 1621-1626,” William and Mary Quarterly, Second Series, Vol. 6, No. 2 (April 1926), p. 118; Ronald Dale Karr, “‘Why Should You Be So Furious?’: The Violence of the Pequot War,” Journal of American History, Vol. 85, No. 3 (December 1998), pp. 876-909; William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647, Samuel Eliot Morison, ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952), p. 296John Underhill, Newes from America, Paul Royster, ed. (1638; Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Electronic Texts in American Studies, 2007), pp. 35-36; John Mason, A Brief History of the Pequot War, Paul Royster ed. (1736; Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Electronic Texts in American Studies, 2007), pp. 6-9; Richter, Before the Revolution, pp. 165-166201Alfred A. Cave, “Canaanites in a Promised Land: The American Indian and the Providential Theory of Empire,” American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Autumn 1988), pp. 277-297Walter Russell Mead, “The New Israel and the Old: Why Gentile Americans Back the Jewish State,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 87, No. 4 (July/August 2008), pp. 28-46; Andrew Jackson to Rachel Jackson, April 20, 1818, John Spencer Bassett, ed., Correspondence of Andrew Jackson, Vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1927), p. 360.

12. James Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee, Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Part 1 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1900), p. 130; William G. McLoughlin, “Georgia’s Role in Instigating Compulsory Indian Removal,” Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 70, No. 4 (Winter 1986), pp. 605-632; Michael Morris, “Georgia and the Conversation Over Indian Removal,” Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 91, No. 4 (Winter 2007), pp. 403-423; Ronald N. Satz, “The Cherokee Trail of Tears: A Sesquicentennial Perspective,” Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 73, No. 3, Special Issue Commemorating the Sesquicentennial of Cherokee Removal, 1838-1839 (Fall 1989), pp. 431-466.

13. Andrew Jackson, Second Annual Message to Congress, James D. Richardson, ed., A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1907, Vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Bureau of National Literature and Art, 1908), pp. 520-521.

14. F. P. Prucha, “Andrew Jackson’s Indian Policy: A Reassessment,” Journal of American History, Vol. 56, No. 3 (Decmeber 1969), pp. 527-539; Gustaf Unonius, A Pioneer in Northwest America, 1841-1858: The Memoirs of Gustaf Unonius, Jonas Oscar Blacklund, tr., Nils William Ollson, ed., Vol. 1 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1950), p. 370;  Bruce M. Knauft, “Violence and Sociality in Human Evolution,” Current Anthropology, Vol. 32, No. 4 (August-October 1991), pp. 391-428; Nicholas Wade, “Sign of an Advancing Society?: An Organized War Effort,” New York Times, August 2, 2011, p. D4; Charles Stanish and Abigail Levine, “War and Early State Formation in the Northern Titicaca Basin, Peru.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Early Edition, July 25, 2011; Kenneth P. Vickery, “‘Herrenvolk’ Democracy and Egalitarianism in South Africa and the U.S. South,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 16, No. 3 (June 1974), pp. 309-328; Walter Russell Mead, “The Jacksonian Tradition in American Foreign Policy.” National Interest, No. 58 (Winter 1999/2000), p. 14.

15. Page Smith, The Nation Comes of Age: A People’s History of the Ante-Bellum Years (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981), p. 107; David A. Nichols, “Land, Republicanism, and Indians: Power and Policy in Early National Georgia, 1780-1825,” Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No 2. (Summer 2001), pp. 199-226; John Mack Faragher, “‘More Motley than Mackinaw’: From Ethnic Mixing to Ethnic Cleansing on the Frontier of the Lower Missouri, 1783-1833,” in Andrew R. L. Cayton and Fredrika J. Teute, eds., Contact Points: American Frontiers from the Mohawk Valley to the Mississippi, 1750-1830 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), pp. 304-326.

16. Walter A. McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History, 1585-1828 (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), p. 40. Along these same lines, a commenter named Neville on Walter Russell Mead’s Via Meadia blog, finds similarities between America’s current difficulties with the Arab world and the conflict with the native Americans: “Our ancestors never found a way of dealing with native American cultures that lived up to their own ideals, and as a result the bulk of whatever those cultures may have had to offer did not survive. Many Americans today are taught to despise their ancestors for that reason, but it is not clear that our generation will prove able in the end to find superior answers.”

17. Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1893 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1894), pp. 199-227; Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, “A Meaning for Turner’s Frontier: Part I: Democracy in the Old Northwest; Part II: The Southwest Frontier and New England,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 69, No. 3 (September 1954), pp. 321-353, No. 4 (December 1954), pp. 565-602; Martin Ridge, “The Life of an Idea: The Significance of Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Winter 1991), pp. 2-13; Ridge, “Turner the Historian: A Long Shadow,” Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Summer 1993), pp. 133-144Patricia Nelson Limerick, “Turnerians All: The Dream of a Helpful History in an Intelligible World,” American Historical Review, Vol. 100, No. 3 (June 1995), pp. 697-716; John Lauritz Larson, “Grasping for the Significance of the Turner Legacy: An Afterword,” Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Summer 1993), pp. 241-249.

18. Charles Edward Pancoast, A Quaker Forty-Niner: The Adventures of Charles Edward Pancoast on the American Frontier, Anna Paschall Hannum, ed., Foreword by John Bach McMaster (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1930), pp. 85, 123.

© 2011 Michael Kaplan


  1. Michael,

    so sorry about your mother. I know the feeling as I lost my Mom two weeks ago.

    So good to see your stuff again as I've missed. As always, a well laid out essay and one in which I agree with every word.


  2. Joe,

    Thank you for your kind sentiments. My condolences as well on the death of your mother.

    This new essay I'm working on is unfinished and I'll be adding to it. So check back in on it in a couple of days.