American Exceptionalism Reflected in a City Upon a Hill

Topics: United States, Iraq War, Thomas Jefferson Pages: 9 (3028 words) Published: June 19, 2013
AMERICAN HISTORY
American Exceptionalism reflected in A City upon a Hill.

In the 17th century, a religious group called The Puritans set sail for America, with the intention of purifying the Church of England. The Puritans’ beliefs were manifested in the ideas of John Calvin, who was a French theologian in the 16th century. They had devoted themselves to reform the church due to the increased corruption and materialism in England[1]. Led by John Winthrop, a famous English Puritan, the Massachusetts Bay Company traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and formed the region of New England. Onboard the ship, John Winthrop wrote, and allegedly held his sermon “A Model of Christian Charity” in which his famous line a “City upon a Hill” would serve as a foundation for the term; American Exceptionalism. American exceptionalism has been a common expression in the course of time, and was first noted by the French writer and political thinker, Alex de Tocqueville, who described America as exceptional in the late 19th century[2]. But what is American exceptionalism and why has this expression been revised and debated so many times, and continues to be part of an ongoing debate today? Is America truly exceptional from the rest of the world, or is the term misunderstood and falsely idolized by the American people? In this essay, I will discuss some of the various aspects of this debate, while touching upon American exceptionalism in history and as reflected in the idea of the United States as a “City upon a Hill”, the shining example for the rest of the world.

American exceptionalism is basically the assumption that the United States of America is in some way different from other countries in the world. This is not necessarily tantamount to the United States being superior in any way, even though this is still debated. Joyce Appleby gives reasons for American exceptionalism being more than just different by saying “Exceptional does not mean different. All nations are different; and almost all national sentiments exploit those differences”[3]. She claims that America is not only different, but also unique in every aspect, and that exceptionalism comes with a set of moral values and responsibilities for the well being of other nations. One could argue that the responsibility aspect became part of American exceptionalism late, because, as John B. Judis argues “In their first hundred years as a nation, Americans were preoccupied with their own continent… foreign policy was principally concerned with removing Mexicans and Indians from lands that American settlers coveted”[4]. A different opinion than Joyce Appleby’s is given by Seymour Martin Lipset, who refers to the term as “the ways in which the United States varies from the rest of the world.[5] On this basis, American exceptionalism originates with the American Revolution, where America becomes one of the latest independent countries in modern history, and as a result develops an unrivalled American ideology, founded on individual freedom, liberty for all, and a laissez-faire economy.

The United States varies from the rest of the world in many ways. A historian, John A. Kouwenhoven argues, that America has a long list of things that makes America American; “The Manhattan skyline, The gridiron town plan, The Skyscraper, The Model-T Ford, etc…”[6] but is this part of American exceptionalism? Not necessarily. One of the most profound aspects would be the country’s history of slavery and the racial issues it has suffered from ever since, even though America was founded on the notion of equality and considers liberty for all an essential value. The United States still has the highest criminal rate in any category and clearly stands out among comparable nations in difference between rich and poor and people living in poverty, especially children[7]. But even though these aspects are distinctive, and clearly make America different, one cannot count these as terms of American...

Bibliography: Appleby, Joyce. "Recovering America 's Historic Diversity: Beyond Exceptional- ism." Journal of American History 79, 1992: 419-31.
Hanson, Victor Davis. “Re-thinking Iraq – Nothing Succeeds Like Success.” Commentary. April, 2008.
Hoover, Dennis R. "American Exceptionalism and Religious Freedom." Capital Commentary. N.p., n.d. Web Accessed: 17 Dec. 2012. http://www.capitalcommentary.org/religious-freedom/american-exceptionalism-and-religious-freedom.
Jehlen, Myra. American Incarnation: Tlze Individual, the Nation, and the Continent. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1986.
Kouwenhoven, John A. "What 's American About America?"  Harper 's Magazine 213:1274 (July, 1956), 25-33
Landy, Marc Karnis., and Sidney M
Lipset, Seymour Martin. American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. New York: Norton, 1996.
Signer, Michael. "A City on a Hill." Democracy: A Journal of Ideas 1 (2006): 33-44. Democracyjournal.org. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
Signorelli, Mark A. "A City upon a Hill." Politics & Power (2011): Web. 11 Dec. 2012. .
Tocqueville, Alexis De. “Democracy in America” (1840), part 2, page 36
Winthrop, John
[2] Tocqueville, Alexis De. “Democracy in America” (1840), part 2, page 36: "The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional, and it may be believed that no other democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one."
[3] Appleby, Joyce
[6] Kouwenhoven, John A. "What 's American About America?"  Harper 's Magazine 213:1274 (July, 1956), 25-33
[7] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime." United Nations Surveys on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems
[8] Lipset, Seymour Martin. American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. New York: Norton, 1996. Page 18.
[9] Signer, Michael. "A City on a Hill." Democracy: A Journal of Ideas 1 (2006): 33-44. Democracyjournal.org. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
[10] Signer, Michael. "A City on a Hill." Democracy: A Journal of Ideas 1 (2006): 33-44. Democracyjournal.org. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.
[11] Hanson, Victor Davis. “Re-thinking Iraq – Nothing Succeeds Like Success.” Commentary. April, 2008.
[12] Hanson, Victor Davis. “Re-thinking Iraq – Nothing Succeeds Like Success.” Commentary. April, 2008.
[14] Hoover, Dennis R. "American Exceptionalism and Religious Freedom." Capital Commentary. Web Accessed. 17 Dec. 2012. http://www.capitalcommentary.org/religious-freedom/american-exceptionalism-and-religious-freedom.
[16] Landy, Marc Karnis., and Sidney M. Milkis. American Government: Balancing Democracy and Rights. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. Print.
[18] Peterson, Mark. "City Upon A Hill." Audio blog post. Www.backstoryradio.org. 27 July 2012. Web Accessed 17 Dec. 2012. .
[19] Signorelli, Mark A. "A City upon a Hill." Politics & Power (2011): Web. 11 Dec. 2012. .
Continue Reading

Please join StudyMode to read the full document

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • City Upon the Hill Research Paper
  • City Upon A Hill Essay
  • "City Upon a Hill" Analysis Essay
  • American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny Essay
  • city upon a hill essay Apush
  • City Upon a hill Essay
  • City Upon a Hill Essay
  • A City Upon a Hill Essay

Become a StudyMode Member

Sign Up - It's Free