American Literature - Essay on the USA

American Literature - Essay on the USA's air of moral superiority

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The United States has been criticized in recent years for assuming an air of moral superiority and for trying to impose its opinion upon the rest of the world. Can you find the seeds of these American attitudes in the literature of the first two centuries?

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American Literature
The United States has been criticized in recent years for assuming an air of moral
superiority and for trying to impose its opinion upon the rest of the world. Can you find
the seeds of these American attitudes in the literature of the first two centuries?
America was founded as a new democracy built from scratch. This society was
supposed to avoid the vanity, violence and vices of Europe’s kingdoms. Through methodical
thinking, and using the results of several great thinkers, theologians and politics, America’s
founders were supposed to have learned from the past, from Europe’s mistakes. On top of all
this thinking and theory came a strong faith in the Christian God. This faith helped America’s
founders to explain past mistakes and how to avoid them.
Thus America thought of itself as built on a sound ground. John Winthrop wrote A
Model of Christian Charity to analyse the place of men in Nature, their relations and
differences, the management of which first lead to societies. In this text Winthrop redefined
those differences and relations as God’s will and gift; thus he could explained why and how
Americans must be a strong, faithful community based on integrity and Christianity. “Love
your neighbour as yourself” said the New Testament. “Upon this ground stands all the
precepts of the moral law” wrote Winthrop. With this thinking, laws, order and justice all
seems to come naturally.
This divine gift does not come without risks or responsibilities according to Winthrop.
“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon
us”. This opportunity also means that Americans are given the responsibility of human
Salvation. Early Americans did lots of sacrifices, often coming from Europe without any
wealth, leaving safety, fame and lands for settling in a virgin and wild country. They had to
fight Indians, live with scarce food and comfort, prove worthy and sober enough to live on
this land offered by God as a gift for benevolent men. J. Hector St John de Crévecoeur
showed in its Letters form an American Farmer how newly landed European soon became
Americans, with a lot of sacrifices and good will.
Being the first country to have enforced democracy in lieu of monarchy, America is
very early proud of its success. A lot of critics against this pride emerged very early, as a
result from the consequently allowed liberty of speech. Frederick Douglass explains in The
meaning of July Fourth for the Negro that “[Americans’] shouts of liberty and equality [are]
hollow mockery” for the American slaves. Slavery was at this time a very sensitive issue, as
racism then segregation will be until after the mid-twentieth century. Those early and endless
critics and disputes about slavery will later lead America to continue leading the fight against
inequalities and become a symbol of freedom of tolerance with famous images such as the
“American dream” or “Melting pot”.
Finally, we clearly see in the American literature of the first two centuries the seeds of
the so-called air of moral superiority Americans are criticized for. They had been since this
time proud of having analysed and understood the place of men in Nature, human natural laws
and moral from a divine point of view to ensure sound basis for a new society. This was not
only very ambitious and hazardous an idea; having managed to overcome the consequent
responsibilities and dangers, becoming a true model of democracy and liberty all over the
world and yet allowing criticism and learning from that have rooted a strong sense of moral
integrity and pride in the vision Americans have of themselves and of their country.