Posted: March 24th, 2023

What is American Exceptionalism?


The terminology “American exceptionalism” initially emerged in 1920 (Rosenberg 23). Its founders autonomously nurtured this name into being a national belief in all Americans due to the country’s superpower capabilities and prosperity. Its uniqueness regarding historical origins, political, economic, religious evolution, geographical advantages, and a significant national credo contribute to this country’s exceptionalism. Therefore, America practically acted as an empire, especially in the 19th century, where it extensively engaged in war with other countries as it was deemed the best arbitrator in global security issues. However, the exceptionalism belief has consistently been criticized for the atrocities it exposes to both its citizens and other countries. Therefore, in this study, exceptionalism will be discussed in detail while providing concrete examples of how America has exercised its empire abilities throughout the 19th century

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Exceptionalism and its Evolution

Many significant ideologies articulate the gradual development of exceptional America. First, the US is considered as significantly bestowed with a large providence from God. According to Americans, God divinely chose their land from as early as colonial times (Walt 1). Thus, it is for the citizens to serve and show the rest of the world how to live an exemplary and utopian lifestyle that other nations can copy. John Winthrop’s preaching is attributed to propagating this ideology as he prophesied that America would be a society where pure Christians would exhibit to others societies on how to live orderly and godly lives. The second ideology substantiating America’s exceptionalism is that it is a nation rich in genetic diversity (Walt 1). Notably, the unique characteristics of its inhabitants from their diverse races, ethnic backgrounds, and physical appearances render this nation as exceptional. The environmental advantage is another ideology that translates the unique state of America. In essence, this country has excellent geographical and climatic resources that extensively contribute to America’s uniqueness. Some scholars agree that the American environment is a unique source of wealth for its inhabitants,, thus the need to conserve it to achieve the best outcomes (Pinchot 1). The availability of vast natural resources shows the uniqueness of this country in present times and in the past, which is a vital evidence of exceptionality in the US.


The exceptionalism ideology is a new terminology within America,, where almost all running candidates are using it to show the uniqueness of this country. However, this thinking elicits different feelings from people who recognize this belief as false as it bars people from critically recognizing the underlying atrocities within the American states. On the other hand, the younger generation has been cautioned from communicating through emotional responses that nurture bad habits and national beliefs that, in reality, are false and misleading (New York Times 1). From the Web Dubois’ book Souls of Black Folks, America is blatantly exhibited as a country where the only recognizable uniqueness is racial discrimination amongst the dark-skinned people. In essence, from DuBois’ novel, the only exceptional thing in the U.S. is the skin color of its individuals in the black community, being most recognized and degraded for many generations (Dubois143).

Moreover, the strained relationship between whites and blacks shows that America’s genetic diversity is not as accommodating as exceptionalism shows. In this country, the most influential groups come from the whites, who are both economically and democratically stable. The black people in America are regarded as incompetent on the political platform, a process that defines the regions democratic exceptionalism since they are inactive in the ballot box due to lack of knowledge. Moreover, as expected that Christianity should assert the need for equality, Du Bois substantiates that religious exceptionalism does actively provide the need for equal opportunities for all people as the world thinks (Dubois 140). Therefore, according to Du Bois, America can only be recognized as exceptional if the black masses are provided with leadership roles and social classes as those of the white.

Another active critic of American exceptionalism is Fredrick Turner, who insists that this ideology does not exist as their actions coincide with those of their European colonizers (Turner 1). According to the author, America exhibits frontier components that are translated through their thoughts, mode of dressing, the industrial revolution, transportation methods, and ruling abilities.

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According to Lippmann, the concept of America as an exceptional country hails from a stereotypical ideology inculcated in its entire people through complex learning systems (Lippmann 47). Moreover, this philosophy has been provisioned as real such that young generations no longer argue on their accord, and instead they present their feelings to avoid a long process of explaining the existing facts (New York Times 1). Americans are taught to perceive the best of their land before they can have experiences in it. Therefore, unless the education system thoroughly discusses the falsified content in this belief, they will continue building active stereotypes that can be imagined and instilled into people misinformed ideologies.

Despite the infringement on democratic, religious, and environmental atrocities, Jacob Riis provides that the social decay exists in a country considered exceptional, even in well-known streets like Mulberry. In the American streets, ardent prostitution and poor sanitation are prevalent. Children are also exposed to extremely poor conditions like in other countries where poverty exists (Riis 1). Therefore, the national belief of an exceptional America, in reality, is just a mindset that requires scraping away as Americans lead standard defective lives like those of other countries. 

Exceptionalism and its Influence in the 19th century

The past century has seen America exercise its exceptional powers as an empire on various occasions until the 2011 attack that ended this falsified belief (Walt1). For instance, due to America’s empire affiliation, this state has undertaken numerous wars to prove its superpower abilities. Some instances when the US exceptionalism was seen are when this country actively fought the Indochina war, where it released 6 million bombs to accentuate its strength and capability. In this war, more than one million inhabitants died from the release of the Agent Orange gas.

Recently, America indulged in the Nicaragua war, killing more than 30,000 people. Due to the need to show its power as a unique empire, America has contributed to the death of at least quarter of a million Muslims within the last few decades (Walt1). In addition, in the 1960s, America was considered the best country to overcome the Vietnam War. However, with the help of American military, many people were left dead, with the numbers ranging to millions. The 1990 Iraq sanction is also included in the America’s dire need to exhibit unique empire strategies where the war remained up to 2003, leaving at least 100,000 inhabitants of this region dead.


The above discussion has translated that the exceptionalism ideology is considered the American way of exhibiting its potential and abilities that supersede those of other nations. In fact, ideology hails from the country’s significant origins, political, economic, religious evolution, a noticeable credo, and geographical advantages. However, critics have consistently indicated that this nation is neither unique nor exceptional as the inhabitants experience defective lives just as people from other countries. For instance, authors have cited widespread discrimination, racism, religious inequality, and decayed social and environmental state. Moreover, due to the belief that America has extraordinary powers, the nation wrongly exercised its capabilities by participating in other countries affairs and sanctioning those regarded as posing global insecurity.


Works Cited

Dubois, W, E, B. The souls of black folk. New York: Simon &Scusterer, Inc. 2004. Print.

Lippmann, Walter. Public Opinion. New York: Dover Publications, 2012. Internet resource.

Pinchot, Gifford. The fight for conservation. Project Gutenburg EBook. 24 Feb, 2004, Accessed 29 Oct, 2016.

Riis, A, J. How the other half live. Studies Among the tenements of New York. Project

Gutenburg EBook. 26 Apr, 2014, Accessed 29 Oct, 2016.

Rosenberg, Emily S, and Eric Foner. Spreading the American Dream: American Economic and Cultural Expansion, 1890-1945. New York: Hill and Wang, 1981. Print.

Turner, J, F. The significance of the Frontier in American History: The Annual Report of the American Historical Association. American Historical Association. 1894, 119-227.

Walt, M S. The myth of American exceptionalism. Foreign Policy (FP). 11 Oct, 2011, Accessed 29 Oct, 2016.

Worthen, M.Stop saying, ‘I feel like.’ The New York Times. 30 Apr. 2016, Accessed 29 Oct, 2016.


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