Characteristics That Shaped An American Identity

Americans of today consider their country a melting pot. America is now the most multicultural nation in the world, but it took time for this to happen. In its earliest forms, America was a nation with untamed, unspoiled land and a people who worshipped the land. It was the most culturally diverse country on the planet. America saw the cultural transformation that we see today only after their land had been colonized and explored. America began to change towards the end of 1400. These changes in American identity manifest themselves as a great freedom, ethnocentrism, deception, and immense freedom.

The 1400s saw a slowdown of progress in the development of civilizations throughout the world. England and Europe bustle, but most Europeans are tired of the monarchial governments. John Winthrop who became the Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, described England at the time, “this sinfull Land…this Land gets weary from her Inhabitants.” (378) This frustration with the government is what many English citizens need in order to pursue the New World’s immense freedom. The West’s extreme powers, such as China, India, Japan and Japan, are prospering when Christopher Columbus receives Queen Isabella’s blessings to begin his voyage to the New World. The silk trade is a long-standing and highly successful business that has made the region wealthy. Christopher Columbus, a Spanish explorer, discovers that there are vast gold reserves in the region and sets out to find them. Columbus set sail on The Mayflower bound for India’s Gold, unaware that he was about to make the greatest discovery in European explorer History.

The American identity was founded on freedom. In England, only a few religions are allowed to practice under the English monarchy (Catholic) at the moment. This was in the fifteenth Century. William Bradford (and John Winthrop) are two examples. Winthrop, a Puritan, stated that he wanted to build a New World city on the hill. He also desired a “Company Of Christ bound together in Love”. This was a significant step for the Great Britain’s religious monarch. Winthrop established the Massachusetts Bay Colony on the basis that all colonists should “bear each other’s burdens.” This spirit of cooperation helped to shape America today. William Bradford envisioned a church that would be “of old purity and without European entanglement” when he established the new world. Like Winthrop’s Plymouth colony, William Bradford’s free education set the tone for America’s religiously-free mainframe.

While America is a great mix of races and cultures, it has an Ethnocentric past. Ethnocentrism means “judging another country solely by one’s values and standards,” which is commonly known as racism.

Cabeza de Vaca retold, in “Relation de Vaca,” the Spanish explorer’s perception of the Native Americans as savages. De Vaca describes the Native Americans in the same way as other explorers. This is likely due to the explorer’s greed and thirst for the Native Americans. Puritans believed that slave ownership was allowed in the Old Testament. This was evident since Puritan (Massachusetts Bay Colony), was one of the first colonial institutions. Slavery was also a large part of colonial society. This led to the modern American economic system, the free market.

Ethnocentrism remains a strong feature of America today. But so is the opposition. Modern America is home to many anti-racism leaders. However, colonial society also has anti-ethnocentric elements. Mary Rowlandson (colonialist) and John Woolman (colonialist) demonstrate an upheaval within the qualms ethnocentrism. Mary Rowlandson wrote that Rowlandson, her family and friends were kidnapped by the British government and taken to captivity. This is where most of their deaths occurred. Rowlandson began to experience spiritual growth. She saw the other side, realizing that Native Americans were not instinctually protecting land they had protected all their lives.

John Woolman is the best example of a colonial anti-slavery activist. In “Some Thoughts on the Keeping of Negroes,” Woolman wrote about how he refused the construction of wills to pass ownership of slaves through the generations. Woolman also stated that he did not approve of the use or precious metals being used by slaves. John Woolman, a Puritan slave owner, tried to convince other Puritan slave owners to give up their slave labor.

American identity also includes deceit. The colonists’ deceit with Native Americans was the basis of the country’s foundation. Native Americans believed the colonists came to learn about their culture and customs. In reality, they wanted to take over their land and make new lives for themselves. Native Americans assisted each colonist and explorer in some way during their journey.

Michael Wigglesworth has a Diary entry dated July 4-5, 1653 that shows this type of deception. Wigglesworth is a minister to his church but has a problem with masturbation. Wigglesworth460 states that Wigglesworth found himself in “deep Lust” like many religious leaders (Thomas Jefferson) and yet he fulfills his glorious community responsibility duties. Thomas Jefferson said, “All men are made equal.” However, this was a lie. It was not that all whitemen are equal. The Watergate Scandal or Area 51 are just a few examples of deceit in our society today. This current deception is a result of a pre-existing deception, which was seen in colonist literature.

The three traits that made America unique are Ethnocentrism (immense freedom), and Deception. Sometimes, history overlooks certain of these characteristics because they are negative. It is important that you consider both the positive and negative aspects of the nation’s history when looking at it.


  • zakhart

    Zak Hart is an educational blogger and professor who has been writing about education for over 10 years. He has written for various publications, including The Huffington Post and Edutopia, and has been a guest lecturer at various universities. Zak is the founder and director of the Edutopia Academy, an online education program that provides teachers with resources and lessons to help them improve their teaching skills.

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