“There ought to be no New England men, no New Yorker, but all of us Americans…”
“There ought to be no New England men, no New Yorker, &c., [sic] known on the Continent, but all of us Americans…” — Christopher Gadsen 1765
What does it mean to be American? Or maybe, what did it mean?
We have a pretty good idea what that meant at our founding as our incredibly literate founders read and wrote extensively to each other and to the people, detailing and working out how to create a new type of nation.
“The name of AMERICAN, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.” George Washington, Farewell Address 1796
What I see that stands out here for Washington is the distinction between “local discriminations” and a national identity. There is value in both, but they should be placed in a hierarchy of differentiated value.
At the heart of that concept is an idea about identity relegated to the individual while also identifying with a collective identity, paradoxically putting something about the individual first. It seems like something almost impossible to do — to have a hierarchy of identity that encourages the position of the collective mission while still valuing the individual above all else. But if you get to the specifics of that concept, it makes sense.
The collective identity is a choice. It is a manner of thinking and seeing the world through a certain lens. That lens seeks to strip away the old prejudices towards bloodlines and social status, and focus on the usefulness of a person to his fellow man.
“We are laboring hard to establish in this country principles more and more national and free from all foreign ingredients, so that we may be neither ‘Greeks nor Trojans,’ but truly Americans.” (Emphasis per the original.) Alexander Hamilton 1796
What can you do that will serve others? And in serving others, towards what end are we all aiming?