International

American Exceptionalism

American Exceptionalism is the claim of the United States’s ideology of its uniqueness and superiority over and above all the other nations in the world in both positive and negative connotations as far as its history is concerned. America since its independence has always glorified itself as a nation that stands out among other countries due to its history, democracy and personal freedom. The theory of exceptionalism in the US has developed over time and can be traced to many sources. It is believed that American history of its Civil War of 1861-1865, which is the central event of its historical consciousness has created a sense of “Americanism” amongst its people. This Americanism is an amalgamation of various principles such as egalitarianism, republicanism, equality and democracy. In the formulation of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, proclaimed that America is a nation that stands for liberty of its people and utmost democracy, which is “for the people, by the people and of the people”, for which it exists. America also considers its visions and achievements over and above all nations which is why it is exceptional.

In the 18th Century when the United States was undergoing American Revolutionary War or American War of Independence (1775-1783), which was fought between the Great Britain and its thirteen colonies allied with France, one prime feature of American Exceptionalism erupted – its principle of “two foldness”. America in the past has always had a twofold approach towards itself as a nation. Firstly, the approach against the mother nation which was Great Britain. Secondly, its approach against the central authority. This concerns the period of 1861-1865 wherein this problem prevailed amongst the thirteen American states which were enjoying equal sovereignty with less supervision of any central government. Some states within America supported centralization and some wanted to remain decentralized .

From these two approaches, two schools of thoughts emerged in America; the conservatives and the liberals. The conservatives are now popularly known as the Republicans and the liberals are the Democrats. The Conservatives believed in the realist political ideology of respect for American traditions which spread across the message of American superiority throughout the world. At the same time they wanted to remove the tag of British imperialism from America. They believed in embracing the American flag and whosoever refuted this practice was considered to be an anti-national. Hence, they did not allow any criticism of the prevailing system. Other tradition and beliefs were republicanism, Judeo-Christian values, moral absolutism, free markets, free trade, anti-communism, individualism, and advocacy of American exceptionalism. The realists supported the notion of interest over ideas and self determination.

On the other hand, liberals or the Democrats had a broad system of political beliefs which were idealistic in nature. They believed that all nations are superior along with America and were not that relatively hardcore in their approach towards nationalism. They glorified and accepted America’s past and celebrated revolutionary patriots. They supported the rights of the people and believed that Democracy is the fundamental ethos of America and is inseparable. The Conservatives believed in centralization of power in the central authority. The United States was an amalgamation of 13 states and each state had utmost sovereignty of its own having no central authority. The Conservatives argued against decentralized authority and wanted power to be vested in the hands of few elites at the center. On the other hand, the Liberals favoured the decentralization and did not want any change in the existing order.

The conservatives believed in the first settlers policy and considered non-Americans or anyone from a different race, tribe or origin as secondary citizens of America and subjected them to racial bias. The liberals on the other hand fought for equal rights of all sects of the American society and various movements were initiated against Black suppression and women’s voting rights. The liberals as idealists glorified America’s past and took pride in it. It glorified American democracy and American history of civil war. Take the example of American President Woodrow Wilson whose sense of American Exceptionalism made first want him stay out of World War I and later compelled him to enter the fray. Both in the early days of neutrality and during the subsequent movement toward belligerency, the President repeated that the uniqueness of the United States lent his nation’s diplomacy a moral quality the rest of the world lacked. This ideology of American Exceptionalism and the consideration of United States’ countrymen as special and superior is engraved in the mindsets of American citizens and the policy makers which has formed the basis of American foreign policy and even reflects in many of their diplomatic measures.

Picture Credits : stgeorgeutah



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