American nationalism

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American nationalism or United States nationalism is a form of nationalism found in the United States.[2] Essentially, it indicates the aspects that characterize and distinguish the United States as an autonomous political community. The term often serves to explain efforts to reinforce their national identity and self-determination within their national and international affairs.[3]. American scholars such as Hans Kohn have claimed that the United States government institutionalized a civic nationalism based on legal and rational concepts of citizenship, and based on a common language and cultural traditions, rather than ethnic nationalism.[2] The Founding Fathers of the United States established the country upon classical liberal individualist principles rather than ethnic nationalist principles.[2] American nationalism since World War I and particularly since the 1960s has largely been based upon the civic nationalist culture of the country's founders.[4]

About 50 men, most of them seated, are in a large meeting room. Most are focused on the five men standing in the center of the room. The tallest of the five is laying a document on a table.
John Trumbull's famous painting is often identified as a depiction of the signing of the Declaration, but it actually shows the drafting committee presenting its work to the Congress.[1]


The United States traces its origins to the Thirteen Colonies founded by Britain in the 17th and early 18th century. Residents identified with Britain until the mid-18th century when the first sense of being "American" emerged. The Albany Plan proposed a union between the colonies in 1754. Although unsuccessful, it served as a reference for future discussions of independence.

Soon afterward, the colonies faced several common grievances over acts passed by the British parliament, including taxation without representation. Americans were in general agreement that only their own colonial legislatures—and not Parliament in London—could pass taxes. Parliament vigorously insisted otherwise and no compromise was found. The London government punished Boston for the Boston Tea Party and the 13 colonies united and formed the Continental Congress, which lasted from 1774 to 1789. Fighting broke out in 1775 and the sentiment swung to independence in early 1776, influenced especially by the appeal to American nationalism by Thomas Paine. His pamphlet Common Sense was a runaway best seller in 1776.[5] Congress unanimously issued a Declaration of Independence announcing a new nation had formed, the United States of America. The American patriots won the American Revolutionary War and received generous peace terms from Britain in 1783. The minority of Loyalists (loyal to King George III) could remain or leave; about 80% remained and became full American citizens.[6] Frequent parades along with new rituals and ceremonies—and a new flag—provided popular occasions for expressing a spirit of American nationalism.[7]

The new nation operated under the very weak national government set up by the Articles of Confederation, and most Americans put loyalty to their state ahead of loyalty to the nation. Nationalists, led by George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison had Congress call a constitutional convention in 1787. It produced the Constitution for a strong national government which was debated in every state and unanimously adopted. It went into effect in 1789 with Washington as the first president.[8]

In an 1858 speech, future U.S. president Abraham Lincoln alluded to a form of American civic nationalism originating from the tenets of the Declaration of Independence as a force for national unity in the U.S., stating that it was a method for uniting diverse peoples of different ethnic ancestries into a common nationality:

If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal", and then they feel that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote the Declaration, and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.

— Abraham Lincoln, address to Chicagoan voters, (July 10, 1858), Chicago, Illinois.[9]

Civil War

White Southerners increasingly felt alienated—they saw themselves as becoming second-class citizens as aggressive anti-slavery Northerners tried to end their ability to take slave property to the fast-growing western territories.They questioned whether their loyalty to the nation trumped their loyalty to their state and their way of life, since it was so intimately bound up with slavery, whether they owned any slaves or not[10]. A sense of Southern nationalism was starting to emerge, though it was inchoate as late as 1860 when the election of Lincoln was a signal for most of the slave states in the South to secede and form their own new nation.[11] The Confederate government insisted the nationalism was real and imposed increasing burdens on the population in the name of independence and nationalism. The fierce combat record of the Confederates demonstrates their commitment to the death for independence. The government and army refused to compromise and were militarily overwhelmed in 1865.[12] By the 1890s the white South felt vindicated through its belief in the newly constructed memory of the "Lost Cause of the Confederacy". The North came to accept or at least tolerate racial segregation and disfranchisement of black voters in the South. The spirit of American nationalism had returned to Dixie.[13]

The North's triumph in the Civil War marked a significant transition in American national identity. The ratification of the Fourteenth amendment settled the basic question of national identity, such as the criteria for becoming a citizen of the United States. Everyone born in the territorial boundaries of the United States or those areas and subject to its jurisdiction was an American citizen, regardless of ethnicity or social status. (Indians on reservations became citizens in 1924. Indians off reservations had always been citizens.)[14]

With a very fast growing industrial economy, immigrants were welcome from Europe, Canada Mexico and Cuba, and millions came. Becoming a full citizen was an easy process of filling out paperwork over a five-year span.[15]

However, new Asian arrivals were not welcome. Restrictions were imposed on most Chinese immigrants in the 1880s, and informal restrictions on most Japanese in 1907; by 1924 it was difficult for any Asian to enter the U.S., but children born in the U.S. to Asian parents were full citizens. The restrictions were ended on the Chinese in the 1940s and on other Asians in 1965.[16]

Uncle Sam%27s Thanksgiving Dinner (November 1869), by Thomas Nast
An 1869 Thomas Nast cartoon espousing American nationalism. In the cartoon, Americans of different ancestries and ethnic backgrounds sit together at a dinner table with Columbia to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal as equal members of the American citizenry, while Uncle Sam prepares and sets the table. Thus, the cartoon espouses an inclusive form of American nationalism that is civic in nature, where membership in the nation is not dependent upon ethnicity.[17][18]

Nationalism in the contemporary United States

Nationalism and Americanism remain topics in the modern United States. Political scientist Paul McCartney, for instance, argues that as a nation defined by a creed and sense of mission, Americans tend to equate their interests with those of humanity, which in turn informs their global posture.[19] In certain cases, it may be considered a form of ethnocentrism and American exceptionalism by those outside the United States.

Due to the distinctive circumstances involved throughout history in American politics, its nationalism has developed in regards to both loyalty to a set of liberal, universal political ideals and a perceived accountability to propagate those principles globally. Acknowledging the conception of the United States as accountable for spreading liberal change and promoting democracy throughout the world's politics and governance has defined practically all of the U.S. foreign policy. Therefore, democracy promotion is not just another measure of foreign policy but is rather the fundamental characteristic of their national identity and political determination.[20].

The September 11 attacks of 2001 led to a wave of nationalist expression in the United States. This was accompanied by a rise in military enlistment that included not only lower-income Americans, but also middle-class and upper-class citizens.[21]

Trump presidency

U.S. President Donald Trump has been described as a nationalist,[22] and has embraced the term himself.[23] Several current and former officials within his administration, including White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon,[24] Senior Advisor to the President Stephen Miller,[24] Director of the National Trade Council Peter Navarro,[25] Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka,[24] Special Assistant to the President Julia Hahn,[26] Deputy Assistant to the President for Strategic Communications Michael Anton,[27] Attorney General Jeff Sessions,[28] and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn[29] have been described as representing a "nationalist wing" within the federal government.[30]

In a February 2017 article in The Atlantic journalist Uri Friedman described "populist economic nationalist" as a new nationalist movement "modeled on the 'populism' of the 19th-century U.S. President Andrew Jackson" which was introduced in Trump's remarks to the Republican National Convention in a speech written by Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. Miller had adopted Sessions' form of "nation-state populism" while working as his aid.[31] By September 2017, Greg Sargent, a journalist with the Washington Post observed that "Trump's nationalism" as "defined" by Bannon, Breitbart, Miller and "the rest of the 'populist economic nationalist' contingent around Trump", was beginning to have wavering support among Trump voters.[32]

Some Republican members of Congress have also been described as nationalists, such as U.S. Representative Steve King.[33]

During the Trump era, commonly identified American nationalist political commentators include Ann Coulter,[34] Alex Jones,[35] Laura Ingraham,[34] Michael Savage,[36] Tucker Carlson,[37] and Mike Cernovich.[38]

See also


  1. ^ Wills, Inventing America, 348.
  2. ^ a b c Motyl 2001, p. 16.
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Motyl 2001, pp. 558, 559.
  5. ^ Trish Loughran, "Disseminating Common Sense: Thomas Paine and the Problem of the Early National Bestseller." American Literature 78.1 (2006): 1–28.
  6. ^ Max Savelle, "Nationalism and other Loyalties in the American Revolution." American Historical Review 67.4 (1962): 901–23 in JSTOR
  7. ^ David Waldstreicher, "Rites of rebellion, rites of assent: Celebrations, print culture, and the origins of American nationalism." Journal of American History 82.1 (1995): 37–61. in JSTOR
  8. ^ Edward J. Larson, George Washington, Nationalist (U of Virginia Press, 2016).
  9. ^ Address to Chicagoan voters (July 10, 1858); quoted in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953), vol 2 p. 501.
  10. ^ Hans Kohn, "The Idea of Nationalism: A Study in Its Origins and Background" (1961)
  11. ^ John McCardell, The Idea of a Southern Nation: Southern Nationalists and Southern Nationalism, 1830–1860 (1979).
  12. ^ Paul Quigley, Shifting Grounds: Nationalism and the American South, 1848–1865 (2012)
  13. ^ Gaines M. Foster, Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause and the Emergence of the New South, 1865–1913 (1988).
  14. ^ Charles E. Larsen, "Nationalism and States' Rights in Commentaries on the Constitution after the Civil War." American Journal of Legal History 3.4 (1959): 360–69. in JSTOR
  15. ^ Thomas J. Archdeacon, European Immigration from the Colonial Era to the 1920s: A Historical Perspective (2000) online.
  16. ^ Erika Lee, "The 'Yellow Peril' and Asian Exclusion in the Americas." Pacific Historical Review 76.4 (2007): 537–62. in JSTOR
  17. ^ Kennedy, Robert C. (November 2001). "Uncle Sam's Thanksgiving Dinner, Artist: Thomas Nast". On This Day: HarpWeek. The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on November 23, 2001. Retrieved November 23, 2001.
  18. ^ Walfred, Michele (July 2014). "Uncle Sam's Thanksgiving Dinner: Two Coasts, Two Perspectives". Thomas Nast Cartoons. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  19. ^ McCartney, Paul (August 28, 2002). The Bush Doctrine and American Nationalism. Annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. American Political Science Association. McCartney-2002. Retrieved 2011-02-06.
  20. ^ Jonathan Monten, "The Roots of the Bush Doctrine: Power, Nationalism, and Democracy Promotion in U.S. Strategy" 29.4 (2005): 112-156 [2] in JSTOR
  21. ^ "The Demographics of Military Enlistment After 9/11".
  22. ^ "Trump visits Poland and not everyone is happy about it". USA Today. July 3, 2017.
  23. ^ "Trump: I Am A Nationalist In A True Sense". RealClearPolitics. February 27, 2017.
  24. ^ a b c "Trump pressured to dump nationalist wing". The Hill. August 15, 2017.
  25. ^
  26. ^ "Breitbart writer expected to join White House staff". Politico. January 22, 2017.
  27. ^ "The Populist Nationalist on Trump's National Security Council". The Atlantic. March 24, 2017.
  28. ^ "State? Colony? To Jeff Sessions, Hawaii is Just 'an Island in the Pacific'". TeleSUR. April 20, 2017.
  29. ^ "The Alt-Right and Glenn Greenwald Versus H.R. McMaster". New York Magazine. August 8, 2017.
  30. ^ "The White House struggle between Stephen Bannon and H.R. McMaster is apparently coming to a head". The Week. August 14, 2017.
  31. ^ Friedman, Uri (February 27, 2017). "What is a populist? And is Donald Trump one?". The Atlantic. Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  32. ^ Sargent, Greg (September 15, 2017). "Trump's top supporters are in a full-blown panic. They're right to be afraid". Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  33. ^ "Steve King ingests the poison of nationalist ideology". March 13, 2017.
  34. ^ a b Brownstein, Ronald. "Why Trump's Agenda Is Tilting in a More Conventional Direction".
  35. ^ "Donald Trump still calls Alex Jones for advice, claims the InfoWars founder and far right conspiracy theorist". The Independent.
  36. ^ "Misunderstood Nationalist — Understanding Michael Savage". National Summary. Archived from the original on January 22, 2008. Retrieved June 24, 2009.
  37. ^ Coppins, McKay. "Tucker Carlson: The Bow-Tied Bard of Populism".
  38. ^ Stack, Liam (5 April 2017). "Who Is Mike Cernovich? A Guide" – via

Further reading

  • Arieli, Yehoshua. Individualism and nationalism in American ideology (Harvard University Press, 1964).
  • Bonikowski, Bart, and Paul DiMaggio. "Varieties of American popular nationalism." American Sociological Review (2016) 81#5 pp. 949–80 online
  • "French anti-Americanism: Spot the difference". The Economist. December 20, 2005.
  • Faust, Drew G. The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South (LSU Press, 1988).
  • Kramer, Lloyd S. Nationalism in Europe and America: Politics, Cultures, and Identities since 1775 (2011).
  • Lawson, Melinda. Patriot Fires: Forging a New American Nationalism in the Civil War North (University Press of Kansas, 2002).
  • Li, Qiong, and Marilynn Brewer. "What Does It Mean to Be an American? Patriotism, Nationalism, and American Identity after September 11." Political Psychology (2004). 25(5): 727–39
  • Motyl, Alexander J. (2001). Encyclopedia of Nationalism, Volume II. Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-227230-7.
  • Maguire, Susan E. "Brother Jonathan and John Bull build a nation: the transactional nature of American nationalism in the early nineteenth century." National Identities 18.2 (2016): 179–98.
  • Quigley, Paul. Shifting Grounds: Nationalism and the American South, 1848-1865 (2012)
  • Trautsch, Jasper M. "The origins and nature of American nationalism," National Identities (Sep 2016) 18#3 pp. 289–312.
  • Waldstreicher, David. In the midst of perpetual fetes: The making of American nationalism, 1776–1820 (U of North Carolina Press, 1997).
  • Zelinsky, Wilbur. Nation into State: The Shifting Symbolic Foundations of American Nationalism (U of North Carolina Press, 1988).
  • Mitchell, Lincoln A. "The Democracy Promotion Paradox" (2016).

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