Birth of American National Identity

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Before Americans could distinguish themselves as “American”, they had to differentiate from the English. The culture within the colonies around the time of the revolution was merely a depiction of the culture in Britain. It would be fraud for them to take that culture and claim it as their own established identity. Breaking away from the lifestyle shared with England defined the attitude of the American people during colonial/revolutionary period. In fact, the revolution was a result of this shared sense of contrast which brought the Americans to fight for their independence and freedom to constitute their own government. Although the independence of the US generated its novel democracy, its identity was still a reflection of the motherland. It was because the US was constructed on different principles, principles of freedom and equality that a new identity was able to form. The citizens of America valued their ability to have a voice within the government and were ready to prove themselves on the global stage. It was the separation from British culture, independence, and engagement in commercial relations that created an American identity defined by Christianity, consumerism, liberty of self-governance, along with the excessive pride our independence had produced.

As many settlers came from England with the motive of practicing religious freedom, Christianity was planting its roots in the soils of the new world. It can be seen as early as 1682 that Christianity was a focal point within the colonists’ society. “The Lord preserved us in safety that night, and raised us up again in the morning, and carried us along, that before noon, we came to Concord. Now was I full of joy, and yet not without sorrow; joy to see such a lovely sight, so many Christians together, and some of them my neighbors.” Christianity played an important role in bringing the colonists together helping them realize they had more in common than they understood. The “Great Awakening” of the 1730’s acted as a social movement towards equality and democracy. Its push for unbiased press as well as religious rights created the environment necessary for a revolution. George Whitefield’s ideas of education, conversion, and itinerancy were heard by most colonists and seriously challenged authority. His ideas of equality and education developed the democratic thoughts and ideas of free press that signify the American identity. His preaches for equality were some of the first that actually stood for conversion of Africans. “For in Jesus Christ there is neither male nor female, bond nor free; even you may be the children of God, if you believe in Jesus.”Whitefield’s preaching of equality among all races scared southern plantation owners for they feared the rebellion of their slaves. This fear is an example of the greed the colonist society established and maintained throughout the time period.

In the years following the revolution the United States of America may have been an independent nation, but its desire for the commodities from Britain kept it under control of the British market. The Americans accumulated debts from the outrageous taxes on such goods. As manufactures flooded the American market, the consumers were faced with something they had never seen before: the accessibility of socially preferred British commodities. People used such commodities to define their social standing. “Within these localities Americans began to define social status in relation to commodities…And though this process differentiated men and women in new ways, it also provided them with a common framework of experience, a shared language of consumption.” This national obsession for goods from Britain was something that was seen all over the colonies. People in New England were exposed to an identical range of goods as people in the South. “As Americans purchased the same general range of British manufactures – in other words, as they had similar consumer experiences – they...
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