“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and stumbled upon a continent that eventually would lead to the colonization of the rest of the New World, including the land that we now call home: The United States of America.
The truly extraordinary thing about America, is the fact that people of all races, colors and creeds emigrated here by their own will, and were able to coexist with relative tranquility. Although there may have been a few exceptions to the peaceful coexistence, *cough* Native Americans *cough*, the overall union of the diverse people was unprecedented.
Crèvecoeur, a French colonist wrote, “What then is the American, this new man?”, referencing the very same diversity that could be found in the British colonies. Men were no longer of solely one country, as they began to intermarry and create a whole new nationality, American. This very idea of people coming from countries all over Europe to live in this New World and let their home cultures meld and mix with unfamiliar ones is incredible. They came together and formed a whole new culture and way of life, and weren’t afraid of proposing radical ideas, because that’s what being in American was all about, new ideas.
Not only did America create a diverse population and a new nationality in itself, it was also the fair ground for a national religious movement known as the Great Awakening. While drastically changing the way sermons were preached, it also influenced the colonists to look into their minds for radical ideas of their own. The revivalism changed the way some people saw God, it changed the way religion was seen within the colonies and it also changed the social consciousness within them. The Great Awakening changed so much for the colonies, because it opened the door to accepting these fairly new, fairly American ideas.
After the Revolutionary war, and after most of the kinks in this new American government were straightened out, another movement occurred, this one less grand, but influential nonetheless. Transcendentalism began as a protest the current societal and cultural states, as well as promote the idea of inherent goodness in people and nature. This movement bore some of the most culturally iconic Americans of that time, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Amos Bronson Alcott. These men have created the very genre we know today as American Literature. Literature is important to a nations culture, because it helps the future generations understand the emotions and events and culture of years in the past, as well as make the citizens feel more connected to their forefathers through something other than roots.
So, we return to Crèvecoeur’s question, what is this new man?
The United States of America is founded on the radical ideas of culture and politics that ultimately shaped the average citizen today. Even with undeniable British roots, the blood of an American is that of a myriad of European descendants, and the mind that of their own. To be an American is to be comfortable with another’s culture, and maybe even combining them. To be an American is to be brave, when it comes to redefining what it means to be religious, despite the centuries old traditions. To be an American is to be free of oppression, and to think on your own and say what you feel. To be an American is to be individualistic, but still think in terms of the whole.