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What Does It Mean To Be An American?

1666 words - 7 pages

Over the course of the first century and a quarter of the history of the United States of America, what it means to be an American has been defined by a number of different documents. The authors of those documents have come from varied backgrounds all searching to find their place in the growth and development of this country. At the beginning of the nation, those authors came from the English tradition of what government should look like and what those who were looking to change that government should do. When the country experienced some early growing pains, many of those same people came together again to try and develop a new system of laws for the country. As the nation grew up, it also grew apart and faced arguably the most difficult thing for any nation, civil war. By the end of the 19th Century, the United States of America was well on its way to becoming the nation that we know it as today, and immigrants from all over the world began to pour in learn for themselves what it meant to be an American.
On July 4, 1776, the newly created United States of America introduced itself to the world with a declaration of independence from England. Authored principally by Thomas Jefferson, but with the assistance of others, the founders of the nation attempted to explain to the world just what King George III and Parliament had done to them that was so terrible they had to break away and form their own nation. The document was drawn following the deepest of English tradition, and was announced after the declarations of many individual of the individual colonies. The delegates to the 2nd Continental Congress that approved this document wanted to make sure that they had the will of the people behind them. Many of them were afraid that without the support of the people, the Revolution would fall flat on its face.
In explaining why the colonies were making the unique and radical decision to break away from England, Jefferson and others described in many ways what being an American is all about. That the ideas of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are our birthrights as Americans and that regardless of what the government does, they must adhere and live up to protecting those freedoms for us. If the government fails to that, then, in the document’s own words, we have “the right to alter or abolish and institute new government.” The delegates to the 2nd Continental Congress believed that because King George III and Parliament had not guaranteed those essential human rights to the colonists, they had the right to break away and start again. The document lists 27 grievances, many of which related directly to the events of the 1760s and early 1770s, including forcing the colonists to house troops (the Quartering Act, one of the Intolerable Acts) and by imposing taxes without their consent. This, then gave the delegates in Congress the ability to dissolve all political connections with England and make the colonies “free and...

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