American Exceptionalism: Quotes About the American Dream and What Makes America Unique

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American Exceptionalism: Quotes About Our Exceptional NationWhat makes America unique? We believe it is our approach to personal freedom that's often referred to as the "American Dream" of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

As the sole global superpower – America is the first and only country in history to dominate both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – our country faces an existential crisis: How to manage the empire while still maintaining the ideals of the republic?

America was founded against British imperialism. Nowadays the scale of American power is imperial, yet history teaches that the balance between empire and republic is precarious. That's why we've also included notable quotes that warn about the fall of the republic, because we want to see American Exceptionalism flourish by learning what doomed previous empires.

Quotes About American Exceptionalism

“If anyone, then, asks me the meaning of our flag, I say to him – it means just what Concord and Lexington meant; what Bunker Hill meant; which was, in short, the rising up of a valiant young people against an old tyranny to establish the most momentous doctrine that the world had ever known – the right of men to their own selves and to their liberties.”

“I was born an American; I will live an American; I shall die an American.”

“That America is an exceptional nation is unclear only to one who has not been taught its true history. It ceases to be exceptional only when its representative leaders cease to be exceptional. America, it has been said, is a nation of laws, not of men. The more it becomes a nation of men, the less it remains America.”

“For a long time it has been accepted that Americans have excelled and exceeded because of their form of government; that the Constitution was a brilliant document that created the greatest industrial, financial, military and commercial power ever to exist. But, the Constitution did not create Americans; Americans created it. No other people could have conceived of the form of government we call our own.”

“In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person's becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American ... There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag.”

“There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.”

“Apologizing for our past sins may reveal character and for a time lessen anti-Americanism abroad, but if it is done without acknowledging that the sins of America are the sins of mankind, and that our remedies are so often exceptional, then it only earns transitory applause—and a more lasting contempt that we ourselves do not believe in the values we profess.”

“The flag of the United States has not been created by rhetorical sentences in declarations of independence and in bills of rights. It has been created by the experience of a great people, and nothing is written upon it that has not been written by their life. It is the embodiment, not of a sentiment, but of a history.”

“… this country belongs to the people and whenever they shall grow weary of their government they can exercise their constitutional right to amend it, or revolutionary right to dismember it or overthrow it …”

In June of 1804, Thomas Jefferson (then President of the United States), was visited by Alexander von Humboldt, the adventurous German-born naturalist and explorer who was fascinated by the "American Experiment" like De Tocqueville was. During the visit, von Humboldt saw a newspaper sitting on the President's desk. Reading it, he saw that it contained slanderous lies about Jefferson. Immediately, he showed it to Jefferson and said, "Why do you not have the fellow hung who dares to write these abominable lies?" Jefferson then said this to von Humboldt: "Put that paper into your pocket, my good friend, carry it with you to Europe, and when you hear any one doubt the reality of American freedom, show them that paper, and tell them where you found it.”

When explaining how American elections worked to other European aristocrats who were only familiar with monarchies and “the divine right of kings”, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1840 that instead of letting tension build up over decades and end in violent revolution, democracy created a natural release valve in the form of elections. In effect that it allowed mini-revolutions which kept the system healthy:“ substitute one system for another, as is done in America every four years, by law, is to cause a sort of revolution.”

“America is unique because it offers you an economic ladder to climb. And here's what's exciting: It's the bottom of the ladder that's crowded, not the top.”

“One of the great liberal documents of the world is the Declaration of Independence. One of the great conservative documents of the world is the Constitution of the United States. We need both documents to build a country. One to get it started - liberal. And the other to help maintain the structure over the years - conservative.”

“There are two potential violators of man’s rights: the criminals and the government. The great achievement of the United States was to draw a distinction between these two — by forbidding to the second the legalized version of the activities of the first.”

“That which I find most attractive [in America] is the sense of freedom. It appears to me as if the authorities here have more respect for the individual than at home, and I like that.”

Walter Moberg, acclaimed Swedish author, from “Vilhelm Moberg ser på USA”, Nordstjernan, May 26, 1949

Quotes About the Fall of Civilizations

“As democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people.  On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron.”

“Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms.”

“A nation is born stoic, and dies epicurean. At its cradle (to repeat a thoughtful adage) religion stands, and philosophy accompanies it to the grave. In the beginning of all cultures a strong religious faith conceals and softens the nature of things, and gives men courage to bear pain and hardship patiently; at every step the gods are with them, and will not let them perish, until they do. Even then a firm faith will explain that it was the sins of the people that turned their gods to an avenging wrath; evil does not destroy faith, but strengthens it. If victory comes, if war is forgotten in security and peace, then wealth grows; the life of the body gives way, in the dominant classes, to the life of the senses and the mind; toil and suffering are replaced by pleasure and ease; science weakens faith even while thought and comfort weaken virility and fortitude. At last men begin to doubt the gods; they mourn the tragedy of knowledge, and seek refuge in every passing delight. Achilles is at the beginning, Epicurus at the end. After David comes Job, and after Job, Ecclesiastes.”

Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization

“All presidents but Jefferson have argued that their first job was to keep us safe. All presidents but Jefferson were wrong. If you read the Constitution, you will see that the President's first job - as Jefferson understood well - is to keep us free.”

“Persuade your fellow citizens it's a good idea and pass a law. That's what democracy is all about. It's not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.”

“The Court must be living in another world. Day by day, case by case, it is busy designing a Constitution for a country I do not recognize.”

“Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.”

“[T]he power system continues only as long as individuals try to get something for nothing. The day when a majority of individuals declares or acts as if it wants nothing from the government, declares that it will look after its own welfare and interests, then on that day the power elites are doomed.”

“The tyranny of majorities may be as bad as the tyranny of kings.”

“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

Will & Ariel Durant, “Epilogue - Why Rome Fell”, The Story of Civilization, 3 Caesar and Christ

“Government should be good for the liberty of the governed, and that is when it governs to the least possible degree. It should be good for the wealth of the nation, and that is when it acts as little as possible upon the labor that produces it and when it consumes as little as possible. It should be good for the public security, and that is when it protects as much as possible, provided that the protection does not cost more than it brings in.... It is in losing their powers of action that governments improve. Each time that the governed gain space there is progress.”

“The marvel of all history is the patience with which men and women submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by their governments.”

Republican U.S. Senator from Idaho William Edgar Borah (Served from 1907 until his death in 1940)

“Do not trust governments more than governments trust their own people.”

“Great numbers of men and women were unwilling to make the effort required for the maintenance of the old order, not because they were not good enough to fulfill their civic duties, but because they were too good to be satisfied with a system from which so few derived benefit.”

“In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all – security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.”

“I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”

“They tend to speak a language common in Washington but not specifically shared by the rest of us. They talk about programs and policies, and how to implement them. Or about trade-offs and constituencies and positioning the candidate and distancing the candidate. About the story and how it will play. They speak of a candidate’s performance by which they usually mean his skill at circumventing questions. Not as citizens, but as professional insiders attended to signals pitched beyond the range of normal hearing.”

“It (preserving American ideals) requires President Eisenhower’s "alert and knowledgeable citizenry" and a long-term, open-ended commitment to check the power of government. Our democracy depends on respect for our liberties and a healthy balance between Washington’s authority and the rights of the fifty states. Government has no right to listen to your phone calls, read your e-mail, collect your bank records, or follow you through the Internet without good cause. These are violations of the constitutional right of American citizens to be "secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." Nor should your government be allowed to detain you indefinitely without trial. Yet all these values remain under threat, because various pieces of post-9/11 legislation have attempted to expand the government’s ability to do all these things.”

“The greatest threat that a superhero foreign policy poses for American democracy comes not from the enormous debt it imposes or even the heightened threat of terrorism itself, but from the potential impact of another large-scale attack on U.S. soil on the rights and privacy of American citizens. It is not China or Russia or Iran or any other emerging power or rogue state that threatens our freedom. The only government on earth that can strip Americans of their civil liberties is headquartered in Washington, D.C.”

“In short, there is no greater threat to American freedom and our civil liberties than a fear-driven response to a new terrorist attack and the misguided foreign policy response it might provoke. The attacks of September 11, 2001, created a new kind of fear for the average American, one that seemed to demand a forceful response of historic scale. The toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan wasn’t a satisfying enough answer. Our government went in search of other villains. The result: the two longest and most expensive wars in U.S. history. Beyond the costs imposed on our military is the price we have paid at home. As more revelations emerge about the thousand ways in which our government now monitors our lives, we face a disturbing truth—Americans are not even legally entitled to know how much of our privacy we have surrendered. Security cameras we once would have rejected as Orwellian are now a fact of daily American life. U.S. companies with familiar names share data about our private lives and personal choices with the government we have empowered to protect us. How much more of our freedom will we hand over to faceless bureaucrats the next time a gang of jihadis hits the jackpot? What do all those cameras and the salaries of officials charged with monitoring them cost the American taxpayer? And how much more of our privacy will we surrender in years to come? It is not power that makes America exceptional. It is freedom. Our freedom is at risk, and we must protect it.”

Ian Bremmer, Superpower: Three Choices for America's Role in the World

“The U.S. government now poses the greatest threat to our freedoms. More than terrorism, more than domestic extremism, more than gun violence and organized crime, even more than the perceived threat posed by any single politician, the U.S. government remains a greater menace to the life, liberty and property of its citizens than any of the so-called dangers from which the government claims to protect us.”

“In America we say if anyone gets hurt, we will ban it for everyone everywhere for all time.  And before we know it, everything is banned.”

Quotes About the Importance of Historical Knowledge

“It is useful to remember that history is to the nation as memory is to the individual. As a person deprived of memory becomes disorientated and lost, not knowing where they have been or where they are going , so a nation denied a conception of the past will be disabled in dealing with its present and its future.”

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

“There is no better teacher than history in determining the future. There are answers worth billions of dollars in a $30 history book.”

“In this regard I plead guilty to the classical notion—more or less continuous from Herodotus and Thucydides to the close of the nineteenth century—of the primacy of military history. In theory, of course, all events have equal historical importance—the creation of a women’s school in nineteenth-century America, the introduction of the stirrup, the domestication of the chicken, or the introduction of the necktie. And such social or cultural developments, whether they are dramatic or piecemeal, do on occasion change the lives of millions. Yet in reality, all actions are still not so equal. We perhaps need to recall the more traditional definitions of the craft of history—a formal record of past events that are notable or worthy of remembrance. Whereas I Love Lucy might have transformed the way thousands of Americans in the 1950s and 1960s saw suburban life, women’s roles, or Cubans, it still did not alter the United States in the manner of a Yorktown, Gettysburg, or Tet—in creating, preserving, or almost losing an entire society. It was an event of the past, but not necessarily either notable or worthy of remembrance or commemoration.”

“Historically, there is no West before the Greeks. Even in Greece before the 7th-century you had the Dark Ages and the Mycenaeans who are not Western in the sense as we know it. This idea of what is consensual government? What's capitalism? What's freedom? What's individualism? What's secularism? All of these ideas were not only apparent in Greece but they were discussed, and the contradictions of them.”

“Is it good to have democracy? Is it good to dumb culture down to the lowest common denominator? Is it good to have religion as a state religion or as a coercive mechanism to instill good behavior? All of these things that we wrestle with today were discussed by people who in some ways were not confused by technology, they were empirical. They just wrote down the world that they saw.”

“I thought that the message had been lost. They (the Greeks) had this, as I said, this tragic view of the world. That we all die, we all grow old. It wasn't "old age is the golden years" or it wasn't "Isn't this wonderful that if you have a divorce or you have a death in the family we can learn from this" talk.  No. It was bad and so there was an honesty in expression and appreciation about tenuous life was and how appreciative you should be to have shelter and food.”'s Resistance Library: Quotes

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