Like much of American history being taught today, the exceptional nature of America has been distorted. In recent years that exceptionalism has come to mean that we, as Americans, feel “superior” to other nation and that we look down on them. The truth is that American exceptionalism has to do with the founding of the country and the unique nature of the foundational principles that created the structure of our government. It also can be traced to our strong Christian social foundation which enabled us to enjoy the blessings which God bestowed upon us (at least for the first 250 years).
When the European settlers first came to America, in the 1600’s, they had a unique opportunity to start with a “clean slate” regarding how they would conduct their social, political and governmental affairs. They took advantage of the clean slate to create a society founded on Christian democratic principles. They had come from countries that did not want them. They were mostly religious minorities who were, at best, being shut out of the established religious order, or worse, they were being persecuted for their faith. They were also able to throw off the social and governmental structures of the old countries and establish their own.
The Pilgrims came to America in 1620, having been shunned by the Church of England and even the Puritans in England. The Pilgrims came from their home-in-exile in the Netherlands and landed in Plymouth. On their perilous journey they drew up the Mayflower Compact which laid out the Christian democratic principles under which they would govern themselves. They and other settlers who came after them drew up similar documents of self-government. Even though each colony had a Royal Charter which spelled out how the colonists would conduct their affairs with respect to England, and most of the colonies had Royal Governors appointed by the King, they still had the freedom to set up their own legislature, religious practices and a society based on equality.
The early settlers benefited from the “benign neglect” of the English government (at least until the mid 1700s). By and large, England was only interested in receiving a steady supply of the rich natural and agricultural resources that the colonies were providing. The settlers also benefited from the fact that a one-way trip to America took anywhere from six to eight weeks. Additionally, the political situation in Europe and England left the King of England with more pressing issues to which he needed to attend.
America grew and prospered, while turmoil and civil unrest plagued England and Europe. This unrest was actually a benefit to America because the economic success and the freedoms that the country enjoyed became known in the countries where war and civil unrest made the lives of the ordinary people very difficult. The result was a steady stream of immigrants to America who had virtually unlimited land on which they could settle. The newly arrived settlers were greeted by a Christian society with a strong work ethic and were they were free to pursue their own dreams. They also had the opportunity to become land owners, which was a rare thing in Europe giving them a source of income and social equality they had not known.
It is this beginning in America which makes us an exceptional country. The settlers were all seeking a place where they could be free. But that freedom was wrapped in Christian principles which required a strong moral framework. The moral framework was found in the Scripture by which the settlers lived and which enabled them to receive the benefits God had for them in this land of new beginnings.
As we go forward, this series will continue to explore the roots of God in America and our freedoms. Join me, won’t you?Tags: American roots