Culture of the United States

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Statue of Liberty

The culture of the United States is a distinct culture that has gone through significant changes over its 200+ year lifespan.

The concept of Liberty, even to this day, is an intricate part of the unique culture of America, and forms the bulk of what became known as American Exceptionalism.

In 1854, in response to a petition to abolish the position of chaplain in the Army and in Congress, a committee report of Congress noted the distinct Christian character of the country: "Had the people, during the Revolution, had a suspicion of any attempt to war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in its cradle. At the time of the adoption of the Constitution and the Amendments, the universal sentiment was that Christianity should be encouraged, not any one sect."[1][2][3]

History

The early influences of American Culture can be traced to English settlers, seeking a place they could worship their God. Additionally, Western enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke had a profound influence on what would later lead to America separating from England as a separate nation.

In an 1818 letter to Hezekiah Niles, John Adams points out that "the real American Revolution" was already concluded by the time war began with the British. He wrote:

But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. While the king, and all in authority under him, were believed to govern in justice and mercy, according to the laws and constitution derived to them from the God of nature and transmitted to them by their ancestors, they thought themselves bound to pray for the king and queen and all the royal family, and all in authority under them, as ministers ordained of God for their good; but when they saw those powers renouncing all the principles of authority, and bent upon the destruction of all the securities of their lives, liberties, and properties, they thought it their duty to pray for the continental congress and all the thirteen State congresses.[4]

Rejection of Monarchism

Going back as far as the 1680s, evidence of America's belief in liberty and rejection of tyranny can be seen. John Wise, a preacher in Ipswich, Massachusetts, was a leader in the fight against Governor Edmund Andros.[5][6][7][8]

The process of the American Revolution, as noted by Adams, involved changing the people's views about the role of government in their lives. Coming from an English background, many of the colonists already held skeptical views of the crown as seen in the 1100 Charter of Liberties, the Magna Carta, and other important documents of the 600 years prior to the colonies declaring independence. Critical in the shaping of the colonist's views was the church and the role it played in the process. Unlike today, where churches have pretty much removed themselves completely from the political process, churches were central to the lives of every day citizens and had a whole lot to say about the tyranny of the King. More importantly, the churches taught their members the importance of God's gift of Liberty. An abundance of sermons from the era demonstrate these concepts:

  • A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers, by Jonathan Mayhew[9] (1750)
  • Religion and Patriotism the Constituents of a Good Soldier[10] (1755)
  • An Election Sermon, by Daniel Shute[11] (1768)
  • An Oration, Upon the Beauties of Liberty, Or the Essential Rights of the Americans[12] (1772)
  • An Election Sermon, by Simeon Howard[13] (1773)
  • A Plea Before the Massachusetts Legislature, by Isaac Backus[14] (1774)
  • First Prayer Given in the Continental Congress, by Jacob Duche[15] (1774)
  • Sermon on Civil Liberty, by Nathaniel Niles[16] (1774)
  • Defensive War in a Just Cause Sinless, by David Jones[17] (1775)
  • Government Corrupted by Vice, and Recovered by Righteousness, by Samuel Langdon[18] (1775)
  • On Civil Liberty, Passive Obedience, and Nonresistance, by Jonathan Boucher[19] (1775)
  • The American Vine, by Jacob Duche[20] (1775)
  • The Church's Flight into the Wilderness, by Samuel Sherwood[21] (1776)
  • The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men, by John Witherspoon[22] (1776)
  • On the Right to Rebel against Governors, by Samuel West[23] (1776)
  • Divine Judgements upon Tyrants: And Compassion to the Oppressed, by Jacob Cushing[24] (1778)
  • Election Sermon, by Phillips Payson[25] (1778)
  • A Sermon on the Day of the Commencement of the Constitution, Samuel Cooper[26] (1780)

By the time the actual battles of the American Revolution were taking place, pastors and preachers again stood and claimed their rightful place on the front lines in the Black Robed Regiment.

Citizenship

Early in America's history, the people of America did not identify with the nation itself as they did with their states, which are themselves sovereign political entities. Today Americans respond as Americans, but at the time of the Founding, citizens regarded themselves as "Virginians", "Pennsylvanians" and "Marylanders".[27]

See also

Bibliography

  • Lutz, Donald S. The Origins of American Constitutionalism (1988), Chronicles the influences that led to early American cultural beliefs

References

  1. Reports of Committees of the House of Representatives Made during the first session of the thirty-third congress
  2. Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States: Developed in the Official and Historical Annals of the Republic
  3. Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, and Religion
  4. To H. Niles, February 13, 1818
  5. Magazine of Western History, Volume 8
  6. Historical Dictionary of Colonial America
  7. God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution
  8. Calvin Coolidge Challenges Progress in the Name of the Declaration of Independence, Heritage Foundation
  9. A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers
  10. Religion and Patriotism the Constituents of a Good Soldier
  11. American Political Writing During the Founding Era: 1760-1805
  12. An Oration, Upon the Beauties of Liberty; Or the Essential Rights of the Americans
  13. An Election Sermon
  14. A Plea Before the Massachusetts Legislature
  15. First Prayer Given in the Continental Congress
  16. Sermon on Civil Liberty
  17. Defensive War in a Just Cause Sinless
  18. Government Corrupted by Vice, and Recovered by Righteousness
  19. On Civil Liberty, Passive Obedience, and Nonresistance
  20. The American Vine
  21. The Church's Flight into the Wilderness
  22. The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men
  23. On the Right to Rebel against Governors
  24. Divine Judgements Upon Tyrants
  25. Election Sermon
  26. A Sermon on the Day of the Commencement of the Constitution
  27. The Holmes Lectures: The Living Constitution, p. 1743, "We understand ourselves today as Americans first and Californians second. But the amendment system was written for a people who thought of themselves primarily as New Yorkers or Georgians."

External links