American Exceptionalism

As alluded to above, the third casualty in this loss of faith has been the belief in an American exceptionalism. Therefore, the belief in an American exceptionalism must be the next principle restored. So, let’s look at more truth that will never make its way into the public-schools or the news or, by any other means, into America’s general consciousness.

 The belief in an American exceptionalism has been the animating force behind America’s purpose since the beginning. In fact, it pre-dates the idea of America itself. The brave adventurers who sailed in hundreds of tiny, flimsy, wooden ships to a New World surely must have thought themselves as exceptional, and not in an egotistical way. They had exceptional dreams and an exceptional faith that they could be successful in a new, hostile and uncharted world. Throughout our history, immigrants coming to our shores certainly shared the same faith and optimism.

 Massachusetts Bay Colony’s Governor John Winthrop said in his famous “City on a Hill” sermon in 1630:

 “… the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, as his owne people and will commaund a blessing upon us in all our wayes, soe that wee shall see much more of his wisdome power goodnes and truthe then formerly wee have beene acquainted with, wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us, when tenn of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when hee shall make us a prayse and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantacions: the lord make it like that of New England: for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us;”

 But before we can appreciate how far we have come in our first 250 years, we need to understand the context of the world we have been sharing with other great nations during the same period. So, what have the other great powers been doing during the past 250 years since our birth in 1776?

 England has been shrinking from an empire – upon which the sun never set – to the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland (oh, wait, Scotland’s virtually gone). This was because the cost of keeping an empire was too much, even for the doughty British. England governed one of the Middle Eastern mandates after the First World War.

 France had a bloody Reign of Terror in the 1790s, the Emperor Napoleon who set Europe ablaze; was captured; exiled to the island of Elba; escaped to raise an army and fight again; was defeated at Waterloo; exiled to the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic where he died (probably poisoned), then a series of failed republican governments and one last monarchy under Napoleon III until the Franco-Prussian War in 1870; and the first of many more republics was installed. France governed one of the Middle Eastern mandates after World War I and spent most of World War II under German occupation.

 Germany didn’t exist until 1871. It then began to compete for influence and empire with relatives in England, Russia and France under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, leading to World War I. A bitter peace imposed by the Allied Nations at Versailles in 1919 led to an economic collapse and the rise of Adolf Hitler and subsequently to World War II. Following the destruction of the third Reich in 1945, Germany was split into East (under a breathtakingly inept Russian domination) and West Germany, which was rebuilt under the Marshall Plan and, now unified, is now the leading economy in modern Europe.

 Spain was a leading imperial power when America declared independence. In the years since, it competed with England for empire, finally losing the last of its possessions – almost by accident – to the United States during the Spanish-American War in 1898-99. Spain endured a bloody civil war in the 1930s, was a sideshow in World War II and has struggled with Basque separatists over the last few decades.

 Italy didn’t exist until the 1860s when the various cities and states were unified under a legend in his own mind – Victor Emmanuel. A minor imperial power, it sided with the Allied Powers in World War I, brought the Fascist Benito Mussolini to power in the 1920s, invaded Ethiopia in the 1930s, sided with the Nazis and Adolf Hitler in World War II was destroyed and rebuilt under the Marshall Plan and has endured many, many democratic governments since.

 China was under the thumb of the British Empire for most of this period. Although fighting alongside the allies in World War II, it soon fell to the Communists of Mao Tse Tung in 1948 when American congressional liberals caused American support to dwindle. It backed the Communist governments of Kim Il-Sung in North Korea in the 1940s, precipitating the Korean War and Ho Chi Min in North Vietnam in the 1950s, precipitating the Vietnam War. It has recently been flexing its own imperialist wings in Southeast Asia and in support of an unstable, nuclear capable North Korea.

 Japan was a mysterious and closed society until Commodore Matthew Perry opened trade negotiations in the 1850s. Under an Emperor, it challenged Imperial Russia for Far East power in the early years of the 20th Century, winning the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 and joined the Allied Powers in World War I. Chafing under demands for naval reductions, Japan left the world disarmament negotiations and invaded Manchuria in 1931 to begin fulfilling imperialist ambitions. Attacking America at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japan entered into war against the United States and its allies. The Empire was completely devastated during the war, finally surrendering after losing entire cities to American atomic bombs in August 1945. It was rebuilt by America after the war and is now a prosperous and valued ally.

 Russia was an imperialist monarchy when America declared independence. The Tsars brutalized the population until workers inspired by communist leader Vladimir Lenin rose up to challenge imperial power in the early 20th Century. Despite concessions resulting in a form of parliamentary government (the Duma), the communists caused a revolutionary uprising in 1917 which overthrew the Tsar, resulting in his execution and that of the Royal Family in Yekaterinburg in July 1919. Lenin ruled for several years, died suddenly and was replaced by Joseph Stalin. Stalin allied with Nazi Germany early in World War II but Hitler turned on Russia, who then allied itself with America and her allies.

 After victory in Europe, the Soviets occupied Eastern Europe and allied with Communist China after 1948 to challenge the Free World for world domination – a struggle known as the Cold War. Finally, their economy collapsed under competition with the United States under President Ronald Reagan and the empire known as the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. It now operates under a corrupt oligarchy (the government is owned by wealthy and corrupt officials) and has begun to reassemble the old Imperial Russia.

 India was part of the British Empire until 1947.

 The Ottoman Empire’s history is not as commonly known. It was founded by Turks under Osman Bey in 1299 and consisted of many of the lands of the Caliphate established by the followers of Mohammed in the century following the invention of Islam. With the conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed II  in 1453, the Ottoman state was transformed into an empire. With Constantinople as its capital and control of lands around the Mediterranean basin and the Persian Gulf the Ottoman Empire was at the center of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries, primarily along the Silk Road, upon which Venetian merchant Marco Polo was a prominent traveler in the late 13th Century.

 This was not, as stated above, the first attempt by Muslims to build a world empire or, what they refer to as “The Caliphate’. In the century following Mohammed’s founding of Islam and his instruction to convert the world or, failing that, kill all “infidels”, they conquered vast areas of the Middle East as far as the Indus River, the Persian Gulf, North Africa as far south as the Horn of Africa, as far west as the Atlantic Ocean and across the Straits of Gibraltar into Spain and Southern France.

 Their conquests were halted at the Battle of Tours (732AD), fought in an area between the cities of Poitiers and tours in north-central France. The battle pitted  Frankish and Burgundian forces under Charles Martel, against an army of the Umayyad Caliphate led by Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, Governor-General of al-Andalus, the Andalusian region of Spain. The Franks were victorious. Al Ghafiqi was killed, and Martel subsequently extended his authority in the south.

 During the 16th and 17th Centuries, in particular at the height of its power under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire was a powerful multinational, multilingual empire controlling much of Southeast Europe (reaching as far as the gates of Vienna in 1453), Western Asia and Caucasus, North Africa and the Horn of Africa.

The Empire declined after this due to “degenerate Sultans, incompetent Grand Visiers, debilitated and ill-equipped armies, corrupt officials, avaricious speculators, grasping enemies, and treacherous friends.” By the mid-19th Century, the Ottoman Empire was called the “sick man” by Europeans. The last quarter of the 19th  and the early part of the 20th Century saw some 7–9 million Turkish-Muslim refugees from the lost territories of the Caucasus, Crimea, Balkans and  the Mediterranean islands migrate to Anatolia and Eastern Thrace.

 In November 1914, the Empire entered World War Ion the side of the Central Powers (Germany, Prussia and Austria), in which it took part in the Middle Eastern theater. There were several important Ottoman victories in the early years of the war, such as the Battle of Gallipoli and the Seige of Kut [a town 100 miles south of Baghdad], but there were setbacks as well, such as the disastrous Caucasus Campaign against the Russians.

 In 1915, as the Russian Caucasus Army continued to advance into ancient Armenia, aided by some Ottoman Armenians, the Ottoman government started the deportation and massacre of its ethnic Armenian population, resulting in what became known as the Armenian Genocide[denied to this day by the Turks]. Massacres were also committed against the Greek and Assyrian minorities. 

 The “Arab Revolt which began in 1916 turned the tide against the Ottomans at the Middle Eastern front. The empire was dissolved in the aftermath of World War I, leading to the emergence of the new state of Turkey in the Ottoman Anatolian heartland, as well as the creation [with the help of T.E. Lawrence – “Lawrence of Arabia” – and the remarkable and influential adventurer and archeologist, Gertrude Bell] of the modern Balkan and Middle Eastern states of Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and the Persian Gulf states under European “mandates” and were governed by European powers until after World War II.

 The occupation of Constantinople and Izmir  led to the establishment of a Turkish national movement which won the Turkish War of Independence (1919–22) under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The sultinate was abolished November 1, 1922. Turkey, a secular, Turkman (non-Arab) state, is now in the process of applying for membership in the European Union.

 Things look a little different from this side of the oceans that separate us from the rest of the world much more than just geographically. What have our ancestors been doing in America since our beginnings?

 The first settlers had a simple purpose – survival. Imagine having no idea where you were going; no idea where you were when you got there; no idea if the aboriginals were friendly; no idea where your next meal would come from; no idea how cold it would get or how you would shelter; no idea what was poisonous or what animals were dangerous; no idea if you would even live to see tomorrow. Just imagine.

 But live they did, and prospered. They filled the entire East Coast of the continent with settlers. They were governed by appointed English governors who set up local governments after the fashion they had known in England using the (unwritten) English Constitution and laws as a model. They set about being good Englishmen.

 Then England virtually abandoned them to their own devices for more than half a century after England’s “Glorious Revolution of 1688” and the subsequent civil wars in England over the fall of the Stuart Dynasty. During this time, left pretty much to their own devices, they became a unique people. They became Virginians, New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians, Rhode Islanders, Carolinians and the rest. The residents of these “states” (more like ‘states-of-mind’) became “citizens”, cooperated with each other to become “united colonies”.

The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, recalls the overthrow of King James II of England, Scotland and Ireland by a union of English Parlimentarians with the Dutch “stadholder” William III of Orange-Nassau  (William of Orange). William’s successful invasion of England with a Dutch fleet and army led to his ascending of the English throne as William III of England jointly with his wife Mary II of England (daughter of James II), in conjunction with the written documentation of a Bill of Rights, in 1689.

King James’ policies of religious tolerance after 1685 met with increasing opposition by members of leading political circles, who were troubled by the king’s Catholicism and his close ties with Catholic France. The crisis facing the king came to a head in 1688, with the birth of the King’s son, James Francis Edward Stuart (James II). This changed the existing line of succession by displacing the heir-presumptive, his daughter Mary, a Protestant and the wife of William of Orange, with young James now as heir-apparent .

The establishment of a Roman Catholic dynasty in the kingdoms now seemed likely. Some of the most influential leaders of the British Parliament’s Tories united with members of the opposition Whigs (known as the Immortal Seven – who consisted of one bishop and six nobles) and set out to resolve the crisis by inviting William of Orange to England, which the “stadtholder”, who feared an Anglo-French alliance, had indicated as a condition for a military intervention.

After consolidating political and financial support, William crossed the North Sea and English Channel with a large invasion fleet in November 1688 (numbering about 15,000 men), landing at Torbay (the first successful invasion of England since one by Isabel of France in 1326 to depose her erratic husband, Edward II, in favor of her son, the great Edward III). After only two minor clashes between the two opposing armies in England, and anti-Catholic riots in several towns, James’s regime collapsed, largely because of a lack of resolve shown by the king.

However, this was followed by the protracted Williamite War in Ireland and Dundee’s Rising in Scotland. In England’s distant American colonies, the revolution led to the collapse of the Dominion of New England and the overthrow of the Province of Maryland‘s government.

The “risings” were a series of uprisings, rebellions, and wars in Great Britain, Scotland and Ireland occurring between 1688 and 1746. The uprisings had the aim of returning James II of England, and later his descendants of the House of Stuart, to the throne of Great Britain after they had been deposed by Parliament during the Glorious Revolution. The major risings were known respectively as “the Fifteen” and “the Forty-five”, after the years in which they occurred (1715 and 1745).

After the House of Hanover succeeded to the British throne upon the death of the childless Queen Anne, daughter of James II, in 1714 as King George I (whose mother was the granddaughter of James I), the risings continued, and intensified. They continued until the last rising (“the Forty-five”), led by Charles Edward Stuart  (the Young Pretender), who was soundly defeated at the last battle ever fought on British soil – the bloody Battle of Culloden in 1746. This ended any realistic hope of a Stuart restoration.

Following a defeat of his forces at the Battle of Reading on December 9, 1688, James and his wife fled England; James, however, returned to London for a two-week period that culminated in his final departure for France on December 23.

By threatening to withdraw his troops, William, in February 1689, convinced a newly chosen Convention Parliament to make him and his wife joint monarchs – the reign of William and Mary.

The Revolution permanently ended any chance of Catholicism being re-established in England. For British Catholics its effects were disastrous both socially and politically: Catholics were denied the right to vote and sit in the Westminster Parliament for over a century; they were also denied commissions in the army, and the monarch was  forbidden to be Catholic or to marry a Catholic, this latter prohibition remaining in force until the UK’s Succession to the Crown Act of 2013 removed it in 2015.

The Revolution led to limited toleration for Nonconformist Protestants, although it would be some time before they had full political rights. It has been argued, mainly by Whig historians, that James’ overthrow began modern English parliamentary democracy: the Bill of Rights of 1689 has become one of the most important documents in the political history of Britain and never since has the monarch held absolute power.

Internationally, the Revolution was related to the War of the Grand Alliance on mainland Europe. It has been seen as the last successful invasion of England. It ended all attempts by England in the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 17th century to subdue the Dutch Republic by military force.

However, the resulting economic integration and military co-operation between the English and Dutch navies shifted the dominance in world trade from the Dutch Republic to England and later to Great Britain. In turn, this would embolden the British into aggressive trade relations with her North American colonies with the arrival of a new monarch – George III.

Eventually, in 1763, with the ascension of George III to the English throne, the colonial’s world changed. Coming together as a People for the first time, they protested as Englishmen the imposition of the Stamp Act of 1765, which was the first internal tax levied directly on American colonists by the British government. The act came at a time when the British Empire was deep in debt from the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) in both Europe and North America and looking to its North American colonies as a revenue source – even though the colonists had fought alongside British regulars against the French and their tribal allies on the North American continent, helping the Mother Country win that war.

 (Thanks for your sacrifice now, here is what you owe us for the opportunity! I don’t think the colonists agreed.)

 Arguing that only their own representative assemblies could tax them, since they had no representatives in Parliament, the purpose of the colonists was to insist that the act was unconstitutional. Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1766, but issued a Declaratory Act at the same time to reaffirm its authority to pass any colonial legislation it saw fit. The issues of taxation and representation raised by the Stamp Act strained relations with the colonies to the point that, 10 years later, the colonists rose in armed rebellion against the British.

 The war for independence lasted from 1776-1781. By 1787, the ineffective government created by the Articles of Confederation was failing and American leaders called for a Constitutional Convention of the States to create a new form of government. Their work was ratified by citizens in each state by mid-1788 and the United States of America was off and running.

 And run they did. Over the next century, Americans built a nation of laws, not men. As they conquered the western frontier and tamed a continent, they brought their Constitution with them. In that context, they were the last of the conquerors in North America, ending that chapter of documented human history known as the “Epoch of Conquest”, which accompanied the rise of civilization throughout the world and which saw in North America, thousands of years of aboriginal inhabitants’ tribal conflict and countless bloody and brutal tribal conquests from Atlantic to Pacific.

 As soon as the Constitution was ratified, Americans began a campaign to abolish slavery, a movement known as Abolition. Their forerunners, anti-slavery delegates to the Constitutional Convention, had managed to include a provision ending the importation and internal sale of slaves within twenty years (by 1808) in Article I, Section 9. Although not entirely successful in the divisive national debates surrounding the Missouri Compromise in 1820 and the Compromises of 1850 and 1854 addressing the entry of new States into the Union as free or slave states, they kept their campaign alive in America’s consciousness.

 Unfortunately, their efforts were not enough to prevent civil war but were important in Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 as a candidate the slave states feared would ultimately try to end slavery in America. Even before he was inaugurated in March 1861, southern States were seceding from the Union. With that fact as prologue, Lincoln set about to save the Union.

 By war’s end in 1865, more than 300,000 Americans, fighting for the Union, had died. Lincoln had freed the southern slaves to encourage them to escape their masters and join the Union war effort. He had also played a critical, crucial and essential role in the monumental Congressional victory of the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which forever ended slavery in America, a scourge that has been around since the before the dawn of recorded history and which still exists today, especially in areas of the world under Islamic control.

 After the Civil War, essentially our second revolution, America embarked on an Industrial Revolution and entered the modern world, became socially responsible and a world power after the Spanish-American War – fought, in part, to end the reconcentrado, or concentration camp system, a new form of slavery imposed by Spain on its colony in Cuba, only 90 miles from the American coast, in 1896. Cuba’s rural population was forcibly confined to centrally located garrison towns, where thousands died from disease, starvation, and exposure.

 During this same period, Americans closed the frontier by establishing States, counties and municipalities that were finally contiguous from sea to sea and connected to each other by road and rail.

 Working from east to west and from west to east, the Central Pacific Railroad had completed the first rail route through the Sierra Nevada Mountains by 1868. More than 4,000 workers, of whom two thirds were Chinese immigrants, had laid more than 100 miles of track at altitudes above 7,000 ft. to meet the line of the Union Pacific Railroad – built primarily by Irish immigrants – and the railheads finally met at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory where the First Transcontinental Railroad in the United States was officially completed on May 10, 1869. A specially-chosen Chinese and Irish crew had taken only 12 hours to lay the final 10 miles of track in time for the ceremony. No Chinese workers were allowed to participate in the historic commemorative photograph. Next time: The Frontier Thesis.


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