This essay is adapted from "America's Revolutionary Mind: A Moral History of the American Revolution and the Declaration That Defined It" (Encounter Books, 447 pages, $32.99)

Americanism and the Spirit of American Liberty

In 1782, just as the American War of Independence was coming to an end, Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, who had come to North America from France in 1755 and by 1765 had settled in New York, published Letters from an American Farmer. In it, he asked a fascinating and enduring question: “What then is the American, this new man?” Crèvecoeur’s question suggests that 18th-century Americans were somehow different from all other peoples, and thus he invites us, some 230 years later, to reflect on the nature and meaning of America.

Crèvecoeur’s new man was the existential embodiment of Thomas Jefferson’s “American mind.” He practiced and made real the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence. The moral, political, social, and economic philosophy associated with the American mind is sometimes reduced to a single word: “Americanism.” The “ism” suggests that being an American is part ideology, part way of life, part attitude, and even part personality. Broadly defined, Americanism is that philosophy which identifies the moral character and sense of life unique to the people of the United States, and which, under distinctive conditions, was translated into practice by millions of ordinary men and women in late 18th- and early 19th-century America.

Interestingly, the idea of Americanism has no foreign counterpart. No other nation has anything quite like it. We may speak of a French, an Italian, or a Persian culture, but there is no Frenchism, Italianism, or Persianism. Americanism, by contrast, is more than just a culture steeped in historically evolved folkways (i.e., the forms and formalities associated with speech dialects, food, music, dress, architecture, etc.). America’s traditional folkways are no doubt different from those of any other nation, but such cultural accouterments do not capture the essence of the American mind. My book attempts to explain the revolution in thought that culminated in the creation of what Jefferson called the American mind. We now conclude with a brief overview of the world created by Crèvecoeur’s new man—the world later described by Alexis de Tocqueville in his magisterial account of Democracy in America.

As we now know, the content of the American mind was synonymous with the self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration forever associated the American way of life with a social system that recognized, defined, and protected as sacrosanct the rights of individuals. The greatest achievement of the American Revolution was to subordinate society and government to this fundamental moral law.

The radical transformation in thought and practice that followed would have enormous implications for the development of a new American society in the century that followed. The revolutionaries’ ethical individualism promoted the idea that human flourishing requires freedom—the freedom to think and act without interference, which means security from predatory threats against one’s person or property. Freedom requires government, but only government of a particular sort—the sort that protects individuals from force and coercion and that defines a sphere of liberty in which individuals are free to pursue their own welfare and happiness. Within that protected sphere, American revolutionaries and their 19th-century heirs created a new world unlike anything anywhere else.

The revolutionaries’ natural-rights republicanism was the product of a relatively recent revolution in thought that had its source in 17th-century England, originating in the Enlightenment ideas of Bacon, Newton, and, most importantly, Locke. These ideas were first injected into the intellectual life of the colonies in the early 18th century through the universities and the book trade; polemical writings such as Cato’s Letters, by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, then democratized these ideas through the newspapers. The radical individualism associated with the natural-rights philosophy armed the Americans with an entirely new morality that would provide the foundation for an unprecedented political, social, and economic system.

The moral philosophy of the American Revolution was closely associated with the idea of self-government—that is, with the idea that individuals must govern their own lives in the fullest sense of the term. Prior to the American Revolution, wrote John Taylor of Caroline, “the natural right of self-government was never plainly asserted, nor practically enforced; nor was it previously discovered, that a sovereign power in any government was inconsistent with this right, and destructive of its value.”

Ultimate sovereignty rests with the individual and not government. After the Revolution, “the natural right of self-government” was made “superior to any political sovereignty.” The Americans now believed, said Tocqueville, “that at birth each has received the ability to govern himself.”

In this new world, the individual replaced the government as the primary unit of moral and political value. This meant sovereign power began with self-governing individuals and extended outward in concentric circles of voluntary association, but never beyond the reach of a man’s control. Thomas Jefferson described the relationship between individual self-government and the various layers of political government this way:

The way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. Let the national government be entrusted with the defense of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best.

All government in postrevolutionary America (local, state, or federal) was grounded on the free political association of individuals who retained ultimate authority and sovereignty over its power. Political power was imploded down to the local level. The Americans, Tocqueville observed, “have a secret instinct that carries them toward independence . . . where each village forms a sort of republic habituated to governing itself.” Government was to have no power that was not explicitly delegated to it by the people and for specific purposes. Or, as John Taylor put it, the “sovereignty of the people arises, and representation flows out of each man’s right to govern himself.”

The ideal of individual self-government set in motion forces that weakened the centralizing tendencies of government power. “What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun?” asked Jefferson. His answer was clear: “The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body.” The men who designed America’s constitutional system understood and accepted the truth that Lord Acton’s famous maxim would much later capture: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In 1788, James Madison wrote in Federalist 48 that “power is of an encroaching nature, and . . . ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it.” A few months later, Jefferson noted pithily, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” 

Thus the great question confronted by America’s revolutionary constitution-makers was this: How could the grasping power of government be tamed and harnessed in a way that would serve the legitimate functions of government? The Founders’ revolutionary solution to the problem posed by the expansionary nature of power was to subordinate governments (the rule of men) to constitutions (the rule of law). By constitutionalizing their governments, they would constrain arbitrary political rule with the rule of law—laws universal and objective, known and certain. Government officials would be denied discretionary power in applying the law, and the law applied to one man would apply to all men. 

“In questions of power,” Jefferson declared, men were not to be trusted, and so they should be bound “from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

Between 1765 and 1788, American revolutionaries invented and then implemented the architectonic idea of the American Revolution: the idea of a written constitution as fundamental law. Written constitutions would capture and guide liberty-promoting subsidiary principles, such as the separation of powers, bicameralism, federalism, judicial review, bills of rights, and various limitations on executive, legislative, and judicial power. These were the principal means by which individual rights and the rule of law would be protected and promoted. By explicitly and exactly defining both the power that may be exercised by government and the rights of individuals, written constitutions would create protected spheres of human action that were knowable and predictable.

The founders’ vision of government was the original version of what is sometimes called the “night-watchman” state—a government strictly limited to a few necessary functions, supported by low taxes, a frugal budget, and minimal levels of regulation. Ideally, government’s role was to protect individuals in their rights by serving as a neutral umpire, sorting out and judging conflicting rights claims. Even Alexander Hamilton, the founding generation’s greatest advocate of energetic government, saw the purpose and power of the national government as strictly limited to a few functions: “the common defence of the members—the preservation of the public peace as well against internal convulsions as external attacks—the regulation of commerce with other nations and between the states—the superintendence of our intercourse, political and commercial, with foreign countries.” 

Jefferson offered the classic statement of the limited purpose of government in his First Inaugural Address: “Still one thing more, fellow citizens—a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.” The classical liberals of the early republic supported a form of government that would ensure their liberty and property by prohibiting murder, assault, theft, and other crimes of coercion and fraud. James Madison summed up the entire revolutionary generation’s definition of a “just government” as one that “impartially secures to every man whatever is his own.”

This was the great paradox of American society: it united radical individualism with tight bonds of civil association.

Jefferson was particularly sensitive to the tendency of government officials to intervene in both the spiritual and material lives of their fellow citizens. This is why, on the one hand, he claimed that the “opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction,” and, on the other, that the acquisition, production, ownership, and trade of men’s property is not the proper purview of government. Jefferson therefore supported both the separation of church and state as well as the separation of economy and state. He did not think that government should be in the business of religion, nor did he think it should be in the business of business. He strongly inclined toward supporting a policy of religious and economic laissez-faire.

Jeffersonian Republicans envisioned a government that would function without a standing army, that would eliminate debt and dramatically reduce federal taxes and tariffs, that would shun public works projects and internal improvements, and that would reduce controls and regulations on the economy. The founders’ emerging view of the purpose and role of government was most clearly described by William Leggett, one of the great antebellum, Locofoco individualists. “Governments,” Leggett announced, “possess no delegated right to tamper with individual industry in a single hair’s-breadth beyond what is essential to protect the rights of person and property.”

Like Leggett, most Americans of his time distrusted political power, believing that a good society was defined by the paucity of its laws. Accordingly, in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was little government in America relative to the major countries of Europe. In fact, government at all levels before the Civil War was Lilliputian compared to what followed in the postbellum period. Political power—what little of it there was—was concentrated in the states and localities.

In 1839, John L. O’Sullivan, editor of The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, memorably captured the postrevolutionary view of government:

The best government is that which governs least. No human depositories can, with safety, be trusted with the power of legislation upon the general interests of society, so as to operate directly . . . on the industry and property of the community Legislation has been the fruitful parent of nine-tenths of all evil, moral and physical, by which mankind . . . since the creation of the world has been self-degraded, fettered and oppressed.

The only proper purpose of legislation, according to O’Sullivan, was to protect individual rights. In domestic affairs, the action of legislatures

should be confined to the administration of justice, for the protection of the natural equal rights of the citizen, and the preservation of social order. In all other respects, the voluntary principle, the principle of freedom . . . affords the true golden rule. The natural laws which will establish themselves and find their own level are the best laws. This is the fundamental principle of the philosophy of democracy, to furnish a system of administration of justice, and then leave all the business and interests of society to themselves, to free competition and association—in a word, to the voluntary principle.

Government in America before the Civil War had limited power: Its primary responsibilities were to protect the nation fromforeign invasion, to preserve the peace, and to adjudicate disputes among citizens. Much beyond that, it dared not go. William Leggett summed up the prevailing political worldview with the following maxim, which he recommended “be placed in large letters over the speaker’s chair in all legislative bodies”: “do not govern too much.”

Indeed, too much government was not a feature of life in the early republic. As William Sampson, a recent émigré from Ireland, observed, “the government here makes no sensation; it is round about you like the air, and you cannot even feel it.” Americans, said Leggett, were an independent lot who wanted little to “no government to regulate their private concerns; to prescribe the course and mete out the profits of industry.” They wanted “no fireside legislators; no executive interference in their workshops and fields.” In America, wrote the 19th-century individualist Josiah Warren, “Everyone must feel that he is the supreme arbiter of his own [destiny], that no power on earth shall rise over him, that he is and always shall be sovereign of himself and all relating to his individuality.” America’s new-model man mostly just wanted to be left alone.

Over the course of a century, the American idea of freedom and the experience of life on the frontier worked together to create and define the uniquely American spirit—a spirit defined by honesty, adventure, energy, daring, industry, hope, idealism, enterprise, and benevolence.

Wherever there was a frontier in the early republic, government was especially thin, light, and weak. American pioneers, having broken free from the mother country, began a process of declaring independence from their own national and then their state governments, and, finally, from each other as they migrated in ever-increasing numbers to the western frontier, which continued to move toward the setting sun until the close of the 19th century. What was happening politically in late 18th- and early 19th-century America was unlike anything else seen anywhere in the world.

In the end, the new world order created by America’s Founding Fathers asked only three things of its citizens: first, that they not violate each other’s rights; second, that they live self-starting, self-reliant, self-governing lives by practicing certain uniquely American virtues and character traits (e.g., independence, initiative, industriousness, frugality, enterprise, creativity, adventurousness, courage, and optimism); and third, that they deal with each other by means of persuasion and voluntary trade. In return, the free society made certain promises to those who lived by the American creed: it promised to protect all citizens’ freedom and rights from domestic and foreign criminals; it promised to govern by the rule of law; and it promised a sphere of unfettered opportunity that made possible their pursuit of material and spiritual values undreamed of in other societies.

The changes wrought by the Revolution were truly momentous. The individual-rights revolution of 1776 launched the greatest moral, social, and political transformation not just in American history but also in world history. A new civilization—a republican civilization—was born, free from the dead weight of the past, free from the encrusted hierarchies of old-regime Europe, free from artificial privilege and haughty arrogance, free from ostentation, decadence, and corruption, free from vicious, medieval laws, free from overweening state power, and free from the cynicism of low expectations.

The society Tocqueville discovered in America did not experience a brutal revolutionary upheaval after 1776. There were no guillotines or revolutionary calendars that began with Year One. Instead, the moral, social, political, and economic revolution that followed the end of the War of Independence and the Treaty of Paris was unlike anything ever seen before. The revolution in thinking, principles, and sentiments that preceded 1776 resulted in a gradual, evolutionary, but thorough transformation in American life that blended the Revolution’s libertarian philosophy and the circumstances of life on an ever-expanding frontier.

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The American Mind in Practice

The American Revolution began as a revolution in ideas, but its ultimate success required that theory be translated into practice. Ultimately, as Alexis de Tocqueville noted, the “American mind turns away from general ideas; it does not direct itself toward theoretical discoveries.” The whole purpose of the Declaration’s ideas was to liberate men to act.

The way of life associated with the American spirit of liberty was thus born of a fortuitous meeting between the ideas of men like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and the actions of men like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. As the ideas of the Revolution spread westward through the Cumberland Gap, they were lived day by day on the frontier. Over the course of a century, the American idea of freedom and the experience of life on the frontier worked together to create and define the uniquely American spirit—a spirit defined by honesty, adventure, energy, daring, industry, hope, idealism, enterprise, and benevolence. American-style frontier republicanism was unlike anything ever seen anywhere in the world.

In Tocqueville’s America, “hardy adventurers”—avatars of Crèvecoeur’s new man—left the shelter of their “fathers’ roofs” and plunged “into the solitudes of America,” where they sought a “new native country.” They marched westward toward the“boundaries of society and wilderness.” Late 18th- and 19th-century American pilgrims chased a frontier that followed the direction of the setting sun. Living alone and far from the comforts of civilization, the “pioneer hastily fells some trees and raises a cabin under the leaves.” While all “is primitive and savage around him,” he brings with him the ideas that freed him to leave in the first place: he “plunges into the wilderness of the New World with his Bible, a hatchet, and newspapers.” 

Through this process, according to Tocqueville, the Americans are habituated “little by little to govern themselves.” Frontier life was partly defined by the absence of government (including legislatures, courts, police, and armies), all of which eventually followed. Until the end of the 19th century, a decent, law-abiding frontier American could pass through life and hardly see or feel a trace of government beyond the post office and the marshal. For the most part, the state left men and women alone. Despite the poverty and barbarism of his condition, America’s new man knows “what his rights are and what means he will use to exercise them.”

America once was and one hopes still can be a nation for the ambitious, hard-working, creative, productive, adventurous, and entrepreneurial. That is the meaning of Americanism and the spirit of American liberty.

In the half-century following the Revolution, these pioneering adventurers—many of whom, at least in the first wave, were veterans of the War of Independence—created a society the likes of which had never been seen before. The Americans destroyed the remnants of the ancien régime, with its artificial hierarchies and unchosen duties, regulations, and social stasis; in its place they created a dynamic society defined by equal rights, freedom, the pursuit of happiness, competition, and social mobility. They built both that society and its governments on the premise that individuals are self-owning, self-making, and self-governing.

Once men came to believe that they owned and controlled their own lives, free from the burden of overbearing government power, they began to pursue their own self-interested values and to explore new ways of conducting their lives. Freedom became the rallying cry for those seeking to challenge all forms of authority and to tear down traditional social, political, and economic barriers. In this new world, society preceded government, and the individual preceded society.

The new man who developed along with this new kind of political society was one of entrepreneurial energy and creativity. Nothing contributed more to this explosion of social vitality than the twin principles of freedom and rights. These conjoined ideas represented the most radical and most potent philosophical force let loose by the Revolution.

Within a couple of decades following the Declaration of Independence, the United States became—at least in the northern states—the freest nation in world history (at the same time, paradoxically, that the existence of slavery made it one of the least free). The Revolution brought new producers and consumers into the emerging market economy. It aroused and liberated previously dormant acquisitive impulses, and it freed the “natural aristocracy” promoted by Thomas Jefferson to build a new kind of hustling and bustling society.

It was a society of individuals constantly on the move. The people of the early republic were restless, rootless, and sometimes homeless. It was not uncommon for individuals and families to move—almost always westward—every few years. Nor was it uncommon for them to change jobs and professions. When Tocqueville toured the country, he encountered Americans “who [had] been successively attorneys, farmers, traders, evangelical ministers, doctors.” In Tocqueville’s America,

a man carefully builds a dwelling in which to pass his declining years, and he sells it while the roof is being laid; he plants a garden and he rents it out just as he was going to taste its fruits; he clears a field and he leaves to others the care of harvesting its crops. He embraces a profession and quits it. He settles in a place from which he departs soon after so as to take his changing desires elsewhere.

Should his private affairs give him some respite, he immediately plunges into the whirlwind of politics. And when toward the end of a year filled with work some leisure still remains to him, he carries his restive curiosity here and there within the vast limits of the United States. He will thus go five hundred leagues in a few days in order to better distract himself from his happiness.

In 1817, George Flower, an Englishman recently arrived on the Illinois prairie, was not convinced that the American people always lived up to the moral principles of the Declaration, but he was certain that the open space of the frontier environment aided in spreading freedom: “The practical liberty of America is found in its great space and small population. Good land, dog-cheap everywhere, and for nothing, if you will go for it, gives as much elbow-room to every man as he chooses to take,” Flower wrote. He continued: “Poor laborers, from every country in Europe, hear of this cheap land, are attracted to it, perhaps without any political opinions. They come, they toil, they prosper. This is the real liberty of America.” The distinctively American ethos associated with frontier life held that individuals are morally sovereign and that they therefore must be self-starting, self-governing, and self-reliant in order to succeed in life. They just needed, as Flower noted, a little elbow room.

Life on the frontier unleashed in America’s new man a primordial energy that would conquer a broad and wild continent and build a new kind of meritocratic society, defined by the natural aristocracy of ability, inventiveness, daring, and hard work. The new frontier ethos broke down Old World social barriers and hierarchies, replacing them with a social order that judged men not by their circumstances at birth but by what they made of their lives. The American frontier was the refuge where ambitious men and women could escape their past and the burden of living for others—the guilt, the pressure, and sometimes the compulsion to live one’s life for family, tribe, church, king, or state. It was the place where men and sometimes even women could reinvent themselves. Only in America could a man who came from nothing prove his ability and worth and become a man of accomplishment and wealth. Only in America could there be such a creature as the “self-made man.”

The ideal of the self-made man was a reality for many 19th-century Americans. Ironically, the best exposition of the self-made man as ideal and fact is found in the speech of a runaway slave, Frederick Douglass. In an 1859 lecture titled “Self-Made Men,” the former slave defined in unmistakable terms the story and the qualities of the quintessential American:

Self-made men . . . are the men who owe little or nothing to birth, relationship, friendly surroundings; to wealth inherited or to early approved means of education; who are what they are, without the aid of any favoring conditions by which other men usually rise in the world and achieve great results. In fact they are the men who are not brought up but who are obliged to come up, not only without the voluntary assistance or friendly co-operation of society, but often in open and derisive defiance of all the efforts of society and the tendency of circumstances to repress, retard and keep them down. They are the men who, in a world of schools, academies, colleges and other institutions of learning, are often compelled by unfriendly circumstances to acquire their education elsewhere and, amidst unfavorable conditions, to hew out for themselves a way to success, and thus to become the architects of their own good fortunes. They are in a peculiar sense, indebted to themselves for themselves.

Douglass observed America’s self-made men all around him, and of course, he was the living embodiment of the ideal. Notably, he did not think that the success of the self-made man was due to accident or good luck. Instead, success in life could be explained, he insisted, “by one word and that word work! work!! work!!! Work!!!!”

A few Europeans who came to America were nonplussed by what they saw. In 1787, Charles Nisbet, a Scottish academic recently arrived in Pennsylvania, described the American Revolution as having “commenced on just and solid grounds.” It was “carried on,” he continued, “by honest, enlightened, noble-minded patriots” who were “prompted by a sincere love of rational liberty.” Still, this Old World professor did not quite fully understand or appreciate the new world created by the Revolution, which was made up of “discordant atoms, jumbled together by chance, and tossed by inconstancy in an immense vacuum.” Less than impressed, Nisbet complained that America lacked “a principle of attraction and cohesion.” He was mistaken.

This new American creed of “rational liberty” did not mean that its practitioners lived alienated and crabbed lives in atomistic isolation from one another. It did not mean that Americans were indifferent or unneighborly to each other, that they did not help each other during times of crisis or distress. Quite the opposite. These rugged American individualists joined together in bonds of civic friendship as they experienced and lived through seemingly never-ending disasters like floods, fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, native attacks, and diseases such as smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, yellow fever, and influenza. The moral and political philosophy by which they lived their lives was no antisocial creed that confined men to their own spiritual cages. Together, as friends and neighbors, the westward-moving Americans built—literally—cabins, houses, barns, roads, canals, libraries, schools, colleges, villages, towns, and cities. Freedom produced unparalleled social cooperation.

From the Revolution to the Civil War, American society developed its own principles of attraction and cohesion that naturally melded its individual atoms into a common culture. The country was unified through a commercial system of natural liberty and a harmony of economic interests. Instead of anarchy, the natural system of liberty encouraged and generated new associations and bonds of civil cooperation.

Tocqueville observed that “Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite.” Ordinary Americans voluntarily united with each other to form all kinds of benevolent associations in order to improve their material and spiritual lives. According to Tocqueville, the Americans not only have “commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but they also have a thousand other kinds: religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small; American use associations to give fêtes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they create hospitals, prisons, schools.”

This, then, was the great paradox of American society: it united radical individualism with tight bonds of civil association. The former was responsible for the latter. It was e pluribus unum.

What made this revolutionary society unique was that the force and authority of government and the ties of land and blood were not what held it together, as was true of most countries of the Old World. The American people were united instead by self-interest, rights, freedom, money, benevolence, voluntary associations, and—most importantly—by a common moral ideal that was expressed so eloquently in the ringing phrase: “We hold these truths to be self-evident . . . ”

The American experiment in self-government truly was a novus ordo seclorum.

Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

An Afterthought

Tragically, though, the revolutionary society founded in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence and refounded in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation is now fraying. Americans are divided like never before. 

America is more fractured today than at any time since the Civil War. The American people are so polarized in 2019 that we might now speak of the “Disunited States of America” or the “United States of Hate”! 

Americans are irredeemably divided over Donald Trump, impeachment, capitalism, socialism, democracy, pronouns, abortion, marriage, immigration, climate change, reparations, Brett Kavanaugh, the Covington kids, free speech, drag queen reading hour, political correctness, and many other topics.

All of our cultural institutions—the schools, Boy Scouts, the NFL, the Oscars, soap operas, late-night television, Broadway, stand-up comedy—have become politicized and weaponized. We can’t even come together over the flag and national anthem.

From Charlottesville to Berkeley, street riots in the last two years have turned into violent pitched battles between armed gangs of masked street thugs representing the so-called alt-Left and the alt-Right. Ideologically motivated mass shootings are taking place in our schools, synagogues, churches, malls, and nightclubs. Some of our democratically elected politicians are calling for violence and some are the targets of harassment and violence. We are on the verge of lawlessness.

To make matters worse, few Americans believe that our political institutions are working. Just about half the nation thinks that the election of Donald Trump was illegitimate and the other half thinks the Democratic Party is engaged in a silent coup to overturn a democratic election of 2016.

It is not an exaggeration to suggest that liberal and conservative Americans hate each other. There are now two Americas and the division is not between “haves” and “have nots” or between whites and blacks. The coastal, blue state, Ivy-educated ruling class has contempt for flyover, red state, trailer park deplorables and vice versa.

And where is all this leading us? This much is certain: to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, a nation that hates itself cannot stand.

The time has come for Americans to rediscover the philosophy of Americanism, a philosophy which says that, despite our differences of race, ethnicity, class, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or place of origin, all men and women are equally free, morally sovereign, and self-governing. This is the philosophy that inspired hundreds of millions of people from around the world to immigrate to America.

America once was and one hopes still can be a nation for the ambitious, hard-working, creative, productive, adventurous, and entrepreneurial. That is the meaning of Americanism and the spirit of American liberty.

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About C. Bradley Thompson

C. Bradley Thompson is a professor of political science at Clemson University and the executive director of the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism. He received his Ph.D. at Brown University, and he has also been a visiting scholar at Princeton and Harvard universities and at the University of London.

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