American exceptionalism is an intuition about the United States, a country that occupies a special place among the nations of the world primarily because of its unique origins. The concept of “American exceptionalism” may be defined as the notion that the United States, by virtue of its origins and ideals, its struggles and accomplishments, stands apart from — and, in some eyes, above — other nations.
Dinesh D’Souza wrote:
- The notion that in many respects America is unique in the world in called American “exceptionalism.”
Alexis de Tocqueville is commonly cited as the originator of the phrase, and once said that the United States held a special place among nations because it was a country of immigrants and the first modern democracy. He specifically cited the American Founding as the basis of this exceptionalism. Tocqueville wrote:
The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional, and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one. Their strictly Puritanical origin, their exclusively commercial habits, even the country they inhabit, which seems to divert their minds from the pursuit of science, literature, and the arts, the proximity of Europe, which allows them to neglect these pursuits without relapsing into barbarism, a thousand special causes, of which I have only been able to point out the most important, have singularly concurred to fix the mind of the American upon purely practical objects. His passions, his wants, his education, and everything about him seem to unite in drawing the native of the United States earthward; his religion alone bids him turn, from time to time, a transient and distracted glance to heaven. Let us cease, then, to view all democratic nations under the example of the American people.
Many important observations suggest themselves upon the social condition of the Anglo-Americans, but there is one which takes precedence of all the rest. The social condition of the Americans is eminently democratic; this was its character at the foundation of the Colonies, and is still more strongly marked at the present day.
Edmund Burke, who is sometimes referred to as the Father of Conservatism, wrote about what made Americans truely exceptional. He said: “They augur misgovernment at a distance; and snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.” What he means is that early Americans did not wait for government to hurt them, they kept an eye out in advance. Patrick Henry told Americans to “Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel”, and Burke confirms that they did exactly that.
In this character of the Americans, a love of freedom is the predominating feature which marks and distinguishes the whole: and as an ardent is always a jealous affection, your colonies become suspicious, restive, and untractable, whenever they see the least attempt to wrest from them by force, or shuffle from them by chicane, what they think the only advantage worth living for. This fierce spirit of liberty is stronger in the English colonies probably than in any other people of the earth.