In Congress, July 4, 1776
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” – The Declaration of Independence
It might be wordy, but it’s important. The principles laid out in this groundbreaking and life-altering document set the cornerstone deep in the earth. We were a free people. Free to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Free to worship as we please, and free to establish a government of the people, for the people. We were free to bring freedom to others and establish the path to freedom for those enslaved – in every meaning of the word.
Because of The Declaration of Independence and the documents that followed, we could easily say that the American Spirit is freedom. But that doesn’t quite satisfy; there is so much more to it. This vague, abstract idea is made more concrete with every life given to its perpetuation, but some days it’s still elusive. There are years where it seems the American Spirit escapes us altogether, and there are generations who do not seem to understand it at all.
“Raise children with the American spirit,” we say at AmericanMom. But what do we mean? If we were to ask random people on the street, even the most patriotic would have a hard time giving the American Spirit a cohesive and clear definition.
Maybe that’s because the American Spirit is an abstract and sometimes evolving idea. But even evolving ideas have solid foundations.
The Solid Foundation
There were many factors that played into the initial rebellion – the separation from everything we’d known, and the branching out into the abyss to see what sort of country could be made. Our Founding Fathers faced down tyranny, loosed themselves from its bonds, and declared that all men are created equal – because they saw that as the only path to a truly free future. They would not be beholden to a king, queen, or despot who believed themselves above the law, or worse, the law.
This snub authority, self-sufficient, self-made, David-and-Goliath attitude was the first building block of the American Spirit.
Since then, the American people – through blood, sweat, and tears – have molded this attitude into something many around the world yearn for. We’ve led the charge in entrepreneurial gusto, and a do-it-yourself know-how. We’ve embraced the take-charge approach that has seen us win multiple wars, become a bastion of liberty and self-governance, lead the world as an economic powerhouse, and accept the role of home for the tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
In short, the foundation is liberty and justice for all. And we’re willing to dump tea in the harbor for it and bleed and die and argue for it.
The Collective Spirit
Despite our fiercely individualistic ideas, from the beginning of this country, we have needed a collective spirit to survive. The Founders knew that one state, or even five states, alone was not enough. They lobbied and wrote and spoke in defense of the grand experiment, rallying the forces and support of every colony to stand against England.
During the Civil War, Lincoln famously said: “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” And though this simultaneously fueled and quelled a war, it is a principle Americans have since felt deeply.
Having been thrust into WWII by the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the American people banded together, united in the very fact of being American, to fight totalitarianism and defend what they held most dear: life, liberty, and the American way.
And when the towers fell on 9/11 we felt like a united people, as though we were one, all mourning the senseless loss of life and the attack on the American Spirit itself. The united front we showed was an example of the American Spirit. The idea that we are one, together, joined by a cause and ready to defend it.
Time and time again, Americans prove that there is strength in numbers, that when we band together to defend the helpless, downtrodden, and voiceless, we win. It is often said that our greatest strength is our diversity but, while that is certainly one of the greatest things about America, it is our defense of the one thing we have in common that usually joins, drives, inspires, and strengthens us.
The Driving Force
Americans have a very strong sense of “we won’t stand for this.” When in other countries they tend to go along to get along, Americans tend to push back. This attitude is at the core of the entrepreneurial spirit right along with creativity, innovation, and the willingness to take a risk if it means a better life – all of which can be boiled down into some semblance of the American Spirit. Each and every American has this driving force in them. Deep down, we know that mankind was made for something greater, a life more free, and the liberty of self-governance. That’s what drives us.
We are not a people to be pushed around (or, at least, that’s how we’ve been viewed in the past). Historian Paul Ambrose when talking about the bombing of Pearl Harbor said that Japanese combined fleet commander, Yamamoto Isoroku, had warned the Japanese of “the strength of the American spirit” but “Despite the warnings, the Japanese went ahead with the attack because … they underestimated American perseverance.”
When we are tested, our “we won’t stand for this” mindset starts to show and rally. Proving that people of all origins, beliefs, social and economic backgrounds, education levels, and strengths can come together as one – as Americans – to stand for a united cause: the preservation of freedom for all people.
But there’s something else.
The Responsibility of Freedom
“I am Nathan Hale and Paul Revere. I stood at Lexington and fired the shot heard around the world. I am Washington, Jefferson, and Patrick Henry. I am John Paul Jones, the Green Mountain Boys and Davy Crockett. I am Lee, Grant, Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Pershing, Eisenhower, MacArthur, Patton, and Colin Powell.” – Johnny Cash, “I Am The Nation”
Americans are so much more than what is right in front of us. We are our history. When we say we’re American we aren’t simply saying that we were born here or immigrated, we’re saying that we could not be who we are without being Americans. Some part of every American acknowledges the fact that we are tied to our nation’s history, to its every shore, mountain, plain, road, and canyon.
And, what is more, we have a deep responsibility to live as though that is true.
Whether it’s something in the air or the water, when you are here, born or newly granted citizenship, you are America. And because of where we all come from – because we stretch from New York City to Nebraska, to California and Alaska – we are 3 million square miles of renewal and enrichment that keeps us always growing and adopting ideas and cultures from around the world.
To modify the superhero code: with great freedom comes great responsibility.
Our Creator endowed us with unalienable rights, it’s up to us to be sure our government upholds and defends those rights. In 1776, the miracle of miracles happened: a country was established on the foundation that everybody matters. Everybody counts. New Yorkers deserve just as much power and speaking space as off-grid homesteaders in Colorado. We the people are not governed by the mob but by equal judgment because that’s how God treats mankind: in His eyes we are all equal.
So, as Americans, our responsibility within freedom is to be the nation. Our Republic grants us that special privilege in this world; to not just believe in certain values but to embody and live those values as though someone had died for our right to do so – because millions of people did.
Though we can’t always put our finger on it, the American Spirit is there. It is in the soil we till, the shops we frequent, the prayers we pray, the businesses we build, the battles we fight, the children we raise, the homes we establish, the dinners we cook, and the causes we support.
It’s the coming and the going.
It’s the ebb and flow of life within freedom.
Help us fill in the gaps! What is the American Spirit to you? Let us know by tagging @weareamericanmom in your Instagram Stories!