What is America? Poli 110J 3.1

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Transcript What is America? Poli 110J 3.1

What is America?
Poli 110J 3.1
The Nation as Crusade
Jacksonian Democracy
• Andrew Jackson
– Hero of the Battle of New Orleans
– President 1829-1837
– Man of the [white] people
• Bowed to the crowd at inauguration
– Promoter of more direct democracy
– Removal of the Cherokee & Trail of Tears
– Favored strong states rights, Union
John L. O’Sullivan
• Defining the American community of belief
• Moral perfection and political exceptionality
of US national identity
• Expansion of US is expansion of liberty
• Liberty as a political good of the first order
• States’ rights & strong sense of national
mission and identity
John L. O’Sullivan
Democratic party activist
Editor, literary critic, gov’t envoy to Portugal
Influential in van Buren, Pierce
• Founder, editor-in-Chief of United States
Magazine & Democratic Review
United States Magazine & Democratic
• “Politico-literary” journal
• Nationalist project of culture
• Helped to launch Nathaniel Hawthorne,
Herman Melville, Walt Whitman to
• Central to “Young America”
– Nationalism, democracy, expansion
The Nation as Crusade
• The “high and holy” democratic/voluntary
principle (“Introduction”)
– “the fundamental element of [America’s] new
social and political system”
• Defining America
– “The best government is that which governs least”
– “Let man be fettered by no duty, save
His brother’s right—like his, inviolable”
The Nation as Crusade
• A community of belief
– “full and free profession of the cardinal principles
of political faith on which we take our stand”
– “true and living faith”
The Nation as Crusade
• US exceptional, world-historical importance
• “All history has to be re-written; political
science and the whole scope of all moral truth
have to be considered and illustrated in the
light of the democratic principle. All old
subjects of thought and all new questions
arising, connected more or less directly with
human existence, have to be taken up again
and re-examined in this point of view.”
The Nation as Crusade
• The advent of the United States is a
discontinuous break with history
– Transforms not only the future, but also the past
– Forces reinterpretation of all that has come before
and that will come
– Analogous to birth of Christ
The Nation as Crusade
• The American interest = the universal interest
– Voluntary principle = democracy = United States =
“the cause of all mankind”
The Nation as Crusade
• Defining the community:
• What about slavery?
– Vague commitment to eventual extinction of
– slavery was “not a political” problem, “but a moral
and economic one, the decision of which must
rest, voluntarily, with the slave states themselves.”
– Matter of intrastate commerce, not rights
(Democratic Review 14, 4/44, p. 429)
The Nation as Crusade
• Defining the community:
• What about slavery?
– Union composed of states, not individuals
– Illegitimate to compel change in status quo
– Would violate democratic principle
The Nation as Crusade
• Liberty > Equality
– To be treated as an equal, one must be capable of selfrule.
– Some can, some can’t:
– “According to their knowledge of, and respect for, the
rights of a citizen, shall their freedom from
governmental restraints be measured out to them,
and every privilege which they learn to exercise
wisely, government will be forced to relinquish, until
each man becomes a law unto himself.” (“Territorial
The Nation as Crusade
• To be considered an equal, one must first become free
– Anglo-Saxon culture (not biology) makes whites most
capable of freedom
• Until then, it is fair to regard the un-free individual as
an inferior
– Slaves are made incapable of being free because the
brutality w/which they are treated has made them brute
– Natives cannot be free because of their savagery &
– Mexicans can’t be free because they are “semi-barbarous”,
have an aristocratic Spanish culture. They may one day be
educated enough that they can be free.
The Nation as Crusade
• To forcibly annex Mexico would make a
mockery of the voluntary principle
• It would also taint the US w/people who were
not prepared to rule themselves
• Thus, Mexico should be left alone (he changed
his mind)
The Nation as Crusade
• “The Great Nation of Futurity”
– “we have, in reality, but little connection with the
past history of any [other nations], and still less
with antiquity, its glories, or its crimes. On the
contrary, our national birth was the beginning of a
new history.”
• America is new, morally pure, and unstained by sins of
the past
• A radical break from the past
The Nation as Crusade
• “America is destined for better deeds. It is our
unparalleled glory that we have no reminisces
of battle fields, but in defence of humanity, of
the oppressed of all nations, of the rights of
personal conscience, the rights of personal
– America acts with pure motives, in the interest of
all mankind by definition
The Nation as Crusade
• “We have no interest in the scenes of
antiquity, only as lessons of avoidance of
nearly all their examples. The expansive
future is our arena, and for our history. We are
entering on its untrodden space, with the
truths of God in our minds, beneficent objects
in our hearts, and with a clear conscience
unsullied by the past. “
The Nation as Crusade
• The old, the past is to be repudiated
• For Americans, the only history that matters is
future history
– It is not what we have been or what we have done
that makes us who we are, but what we will do
and who we will be
• Americans are a people who are unmarked by
60 seconds of theology
• What is sin?
– Not being a bad person
– Not doing bad things (individual sins)
• In Christian thought, the taint of original sin is a
state of moral imperfection.
– A person can be very good and still be stained by sin.
– Makes forgiveness necessary
– Separates humans from God
• For O’Sullivan, America is beyond sin
The Nation as Crusade
• “We are the nation of human progress, and
who will, what can, set limits to our onward
march? Providence is with us, and no earthly
power can. We point to the everlasting truth
on the first page of our national declaration,
and we proclaim to the millions of other
lands, that ‘the gates of hell—the powers of
aristocracy and monarchy—’ shall not prevail
against it.”
The Nation as Crusade
• America’s purpose, its telos is to spread
democracy throughout the world
– Telos: A purpose that is part of a things nature,
forming what it is
• America is providentially destined to succeed
in this mission. Failure is impossible.
• Voluntary principle = democracy = United
States = “the cause of all mankind” = The
will of God
The Nation as Crusade
• The enemies of the United States and democracy
are enemies not only of all mankind, but of God
– They are intrinsically evil, satanic
• “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it”
– Matthew 16:18
– Refers to the Christian church
– America, embodying the will of God, is the new
– By definition, the United States is a force of pure good
and its enemies agents of pure moral and religious evil
The Nation as Crusade
• Because the American interest is identical with
the universal human interest and the will of
God, everything done in the name of the
American interest is by definition good, acting
to promote freedom and democracy
• By the same token, every opponent of the
American interest is by definition an enemy of
God and all mankind
The Nation as Crusade
• “no lust for territory has stained our annals.
No nation has been despoiled by us, no
country laid desolate, no people overrun.”
– The indigenous would probably disagree.
– But, they cannot for O’Sullivan be free, and thus
are removed from consideration. Where they
were, democracy will be.
The Nation as Crusade
• New York Morning News, Dec. 27, 1845:
• “To state the truth at once in its neglected simplicity,
we are free to say that were the respective arguments
and cases of the two parties, as to all these points of
history and law, reversed—had England all ours, and
we nothing but hers—our claim to Oregon would still
be best and strongest. And that claim is by the right of
our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the
whole of the continent which Providence has given us
for the development of the great experiment of liberty
and federated self-government entrusted to us.”
The Nation as Crusade
• Manifest Destiny: manifest here means “made
apparent, revealed, obvious”. Fated by
Providence (the will of God) to spread across
• America’s moral & religious right and mission
are prior to any existing legal claim.
The Nation as Crusade
• “All this will be our future history, to establish on earth
the moral dignity and salvation of man—the
immutable truth and beneficence of God. For this
blessed mission to the nations of the world, which are
shut out from the life-giving light of truth, has America
been chosen; and her high example shall smite unto
death the tyranny of kings, hierarchs, and oligarchs,
and carry the glad tidings of peace and good will where
myriads now endure an existence scarcely more
enviable than that of beasts of the field. Who, then,
can doubt that our country is destined to be the great
nation of futurity?” (Great Nation of Futurity)
The Nation as Crusade
• The US is chosen by God for “blessed mission
to spread the life-giving light of truth
(democracy) to the world
– America does not have a mission, it IS a mission. It
must redeem the world.
• Messianic Nation: Redeeming people of other
nations, raising them to dignity of humans
from bestial condition
Coming up
• Friday: Lincoln-Douglas Debates
• Monday & Wednesday: Lincoln
• Friday: Bryan