The Founders and Nationalism

The Founders and Nationalism
W.L. Ormsby/Library of Congress via AP

Because of the remarkable fact of America’s well-documented and historically proximate Founding, national identity and any nationalism take on a peculiar character here. A self-conscious and distinct American people felt its identity grow in revolution and war. And its appeal to legitimacy in that revolution was based on a set of principles asserted as true simply or by nature (and with divine sanction, it was asserted), rather than as a peculiar cultural inheritance.

In practice, for many years after the Declaration of Independence, America retained the spirit of a confederacy rather than a nation. The national political infrastructure, the Articles of Confederation, didn’t offer much to admire by way of effective national administration or competence. The Constitution was of course the most sophisticated and lasting step towards a remedy. It was a considerable consolidation and centralization of power necessary both to protect rights more effectively and to put in place the conditions for a more unified, competent, and less embarrassing national presence on the international stage.

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