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Characteristics that Shaped an American Identity

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Americans of today’s society view their home country as a melting pot of culture, customs, and creeds. America has grown to be the most culturally diverse nation in the world but this feat did not happen rapidly. The most culturally diverse country in the world consisted, in its most ancient of forms, of untamed and pristine land as well as a race of people who lived to worship the land that they thrived on. Only after their land was explored and colonialized by the civilizations to the extreme west did America start to see this cultural transformation we know of today. Near the end of the 1400s, America started to undergo its extreme change into the United States. The changes of the American identity are manifested by characteristics such as immense freedom, ethnocentrism, and deception.

Around the end of the 1400s, there was a lag of progression in the world’s civilizations. England and the rest of Europe are bustling, but most Europeans grow weary of the monarchial government. John Winthrop, the eventual governor the Massachusetts Bay colony described England at the time as, “this sinfull land…this Land grows weary of her Inhabitants.”(378) This uneasiness with the government is the fuel some English denizens need to pursue the immense freedom in the New World. The extreme west powers (Persia, India, Japan, China) are thriving at the time Christopher Columbus gets blessings from Queen Isabella to embark on a journey for the New World. The region is wealthy from prolonged and masterful use of the silk trade. Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus hears of vast gold reserves in the area and makes it his mission to strike the gold. Columbus sets sail in The Mayflower headed for India’s gold but unknowingly he is on the verge of making the biggest discovery in European explorer history.

One of the first characteristics of the American identity is immense freedom. At this time during the fifteenth century, there are a few religions in England, all of which are struggling to practice freely under the English monarch (Catholic). Two examples of English citizens who wanted to seek religious freedom in the New World are John Winthrop and William Bradford. Winthrop was a Puritan who stated he wanted to “build a city upon the hill” in the New World, a city “Company of Christ bound together by Love”. This was a big step coming from the religious monarch of Great Britain. Winthrop was able to establish the Massachusetts Bay Colony under the grounds that each colonist, “bear one another’s burdens.” This helpful spirit helped shape the America of today. William Bradford wanted to establish a church, in the new world, “of ancient purity free from European entanglement. “ The Plymouth colony’s free upbringing by William Bradford, like Winthrop, set the tone for America’s religiously free mainframe.

Although the America we live in today is a glorious mix of cultures and races, there is a deep Ethnocentric background. Ethnocentrism is defined as “judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one’s own culture,” or racism in modern terms.

Cabeza de Vaca recounted in “Relation de Vaca,” how the Native Americans appeared to the Spanish explorer as savages. De Vaca’s characterization of the Native Americans as “savages” is similar to other explorers’. This characterization most likely is derived from the explorer’s own thirst and greed for the land the Native Americans occupy. Puritans thought the Old Testament of the bible condoned owning slaves, and since one of the first colonial establishments was Puritan founded, (Massachusetts Bay Colony) slavery was a big part of the colonial economy. This in turn gave way to the modern American economy, the free enterprise system.

Ethnocentrism is definitely still evident in the America today, but so are the forces against it. Modern America features countless anti-racism leaders, but there are also anti-ethnocentric forces in colonial society. Two colonists who demonstrate a force of upheaval in the qualms of ethnocentrism are Mary Rowlandson and John Woolman. It was noted in Mary Rowlandson’s “Captivity and Restoration of Mrs Mary Rowlandson” Rowlandson and her family were kidnapped and forced in captivity where most of them died. Eventually Rowlandson underwent a spiritual growth and started to see the other side of the Native Americans, in that they were only instinctually protecting the land they have always protected.

John Woolman was the prime example of a colonial abolitionist. He wrote in “Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes,” how he refused to construct wills that would pass the ownership of a slave through a generation. Woolman also explained that he looked down upon the use of precious raw metals as a slave was thought to have dug for them. When meeting with other Puritan slave-owners John Woolman tried to convince them, over an extended period of time, to free them of using slave labor.

Deception is another characteristic of an American identity. The entire country was founded under the colonist’s deception with the Native Americans. The Natives thought the colonists were there to visit them and learn of their customs when in actuality they were looking to overtake them and start new lives on their land. Native Americans helped every explorer and colonist at some point in their journey even though each explorer or colonists were actually there for selfish pursuits.

You can see an example of this deception with Michael Wigglesworth’s Diary entry from July 4-5, 1653. Wigglesworth is a minister in his community but struggles with the sin of masturbation. He, like other religious leaders at the time [Thomas Jefferson], found themselves in “deep lust”(Wigglesworth 460), yet still he carries out the glorious duties of community responsibility. Another example of deception in literature comes from Thomas Jefferson, “all men are created equal.” Deceitfully, Thomas Jefferson did not mean this statement literally. What he meant was all white men are created equally, not all men. Deception can be seen in today’s society by events such as The Watergate Scandal, Area 51, or any government cover-up within the last century. This deception currently practiced stems from a predated deception seen in the colonists and their literature.

In conclusion, the three characteristics that shaped an American identity are immense freedom, Ethnocentrism, and Deception. History sometimes overlooks some of these characteristics due to their negative nature. It is important to take notice when studying the history of our nation the negative as well as positive.

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Characteristics that Shaped an American Identity. (2018, December 05). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 25, 2021, from
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