Kaufmann, EP, 'American Exceptionalism Reconsidered: Anglo-Saxon Ethnogenesis in the Universal Nation, 1776-1850,' Journal of American Studies, 33 (1999), 3, pp. 437-457

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Many scholars, convinced of American exceptionalism, have used short-term economic or psychological phenomena to explain what they regard as the 'nativist' anomalies in American history. This study takes issue with such a perspective, illustrating how the American case fits A.D. Smith's proposition that nations are built upon ethnic cores, which can stimulate ethno-nationalist responses. Accordingly, it is argued that an Anglo-Saxon, Protestant 'American' ethnie developed soon after the Revolution. Meanwhile, the famous universalists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries whom exceptionalists draw upon as proof of American cosmopolitanism are shown to be dualists, pulled just as strongly in the direction of their Anglo-Saxon national ethnicity. Finally, the origin of an American 'Golden Age' myth, which harked back to the Yeoman Republic of Jefferson as a time of purity and homogeneity, is located in the early Romantic period. In conclusion, it is asserted that without the development of an 'American' national ethnie, the American nativism of 1855-1925 may never have occurred. pdf at www.sneps.net
  American Exceptionalism Reconsidered: Anglo-Saxon Ethnogenesis in the'Universal' Nation, 1776-1850 1 ERIC KAUFMANN  European Institute, The London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK  ABSTRACT The history of nativism in the United States has received considerable scholarlyattention, yet the few systematic attempts to explain it have focused predominantly on psychological or economic causes.   This paper asserts that such explanations fail toaddress the crucial cultural dimension of the nativism issue, which must be analyzed through the prism of historical sociology.   Specifically, this paper argues that Americannativism cannot be understood without reference to an 'American' national ethnic groupwhose myth-symbol complex had developed prior to the large-scale immigration of themid-nineteenth century. Without understanding this social construction, it is difficult toexplain subsequent attempts to defend it. This paper, therefore, does not seek to retracethe history of American nativism. Instead, it focuses on the period prior to 1850, when American nativism was in its infancy. It examines the development of an Anglo- American ethnicity during 1776-1850 and attempts to delineate its structure. This'American' complex of myths and symbols, with its attendant set of lifestyle images and narratives, is shown to conform to more general models recently presented by theorists of ethnicity and nationalism. Finally, it is argued that American nativism may haveexhibited a very different pattern if an 'American' national ethnicity had not taken root. 1 This article is based upon a paper delivered at the British Association of American Studies AnnualConference held at the University of Birmingham, 4-7 April, 1997.1  The literature on American nativism has tended to ascribe American nativistagitation, which began in earnest just prior to 1850, to short-run economic or  psychological causes. 2   The srcins of this approach can be traced to the early progressive race theorists of the 1920's and 30's, with their belief that Racial hatreds, nationalhatreds, group hatreds have always rooted deeply in man's fight against man for themeans of subsistence and display…. 3 Yet, such a stance clearly fails to explain whyoutbreaks of nativism (the 1920's, for example) have tended not to correlate with poor economic times (such as the early 1930's). An approach that stresses the impact of ad hocnational moods or economic hardship on nativism likewise fails to appreciate theimportance of the cultural-historical substratum which conditions the nature of an ethnicgroup's response to other groups.Why did Anglo-Protestant Americans assume the mantle of nativism? This seemslike a straightforward question, but it is not. First of all, as some have suggested, the term nativism is a misnomer, and has been as much a didactic tool as a hermeneutic device. 4 In fact, native residence served merely as a shorthand for membership in the dominant national ethnic group . Sometimes, nativists found the native-born 'foreign' andimmigrants suitably American, remarks Dale Knobel. 5 Indeed, Anglo-ProtestantAmericans barely blinked at British (and Anglo-Canadian) Protestant immigration, yetnative-born Catholics were hardly immune from nativism. Ethno-nationalism or  dominant ethnicity is therefore a more accurate description for what passes for nativism. Furthermore, any explanation of dominant-group ethno-nationalism demands a 2 See, for example, Pozzetta 1991, Curran 1975, Solomon 1956 or Higham 1955. 3 Baker, Newton Diehl, Carlton J.H. Hayes, Roger Williams Straus (eds.), The American Way: A Study of  Human Relations Among Protestants, Catholics and Jews (Chicago & New York: Willett, Clark &Company, 1936), 94, emphasis added. 4 This opinion has been expressed by Linda Bosniak in her essay, 'Nativism' the Concept: SomeReflections, in Juan F. Perea (ed.),  Immigrants Out!: The New Nativism and the Anti-Immigrant Impulsein the United States (New York, N.Y. & London: New York University Press, 1997), 279-99. 5 Dale T. Knobel, America for Americans : The Nativist Movement in the United States (New York:Twayne, 1996), xiii.2  mapping of the dominant ethnic group which arose within the supposedly exceptional,universalist, American nation-state. Theorizing American National Ethnicity  National EthnicityEthnic groups will be defined here as communities which share a belief in commonancestry and homeland and which meet a threshold requirement of population andterritory (real or imagined) that distinguishes them from similar phenomena like tribesand clans. 6 Nations, on the other hand, will be defined as modern communities of massculture whose members share a politico-territorial identity and are bound together byshared legal obligations, an official culture and a common history. 7 The nations of the world, almost without exception, were formed from ethniccores, whose pre-modern myth-symbol complex furnished the material for theconstruction of the modern nation's boundary symbols and civil religion. This does notentail the continuation of an ethnie -nation unity. It merely specifies that the modernnation derived its name, official language, national symbolism, conception of territorial boundaries and its history from the ethnic group or groups that inhabited the land in pre-modern times. 8  In the case of the United States, the national ethnic group was Anglo-AmericanProtestant ( American ). This was the first European group to imagine the territory 9 of  6 E.K. Francis,  Interethnic Relations , (New York: Elsevier, 1976), 6. 7 A.D. Smith,  National Identity , (London: Penguin, 1991), 69. 8 Smith 1991, 39. 9 The sense of national territory embraced by the Anglo-Americans was, in the first instance, regional,and was also elastic - tending to advance with the frontier. Even so, there was a generalized appreciationof the grandeur and fertility of the American landscape, which, during the nineteenth century, was believed to be a source of national invigoration and a hedge against European decadence. See MerleEugene Curti, The Roots of American Loyalty (New York: Columbia University Press, 1946), 37-38. TheDaniel Boone/Pathfinder myth, which dated from the 1820's, though largely narrated by New Englandwriters, concerned the frontier from Tennessee to Pennsylvania, and can arguably be treated as a national3  the United States as its homeland and trace its genealogy back to New World colonistswho rebelled against their mother country. In its mind, the American nation-state, itsland, its history, its mission and its Anglo-American people were woven into one greattapestry of the imagination. This social construction considered the United States to befounded by the Americans , who thereby had title to the land and the mandate to mouldthe nation (and any immigrants who might enter it) in their own Anglo-Saxon, Protestantself-image. Colonial Antecedents Ethno-Religious HomogeneityThe srcins of Anglo-American ethnicity may be traced to the settlement patterns thatcharacterized the United States during the colonial period. David Hackett Fischer writesthat the United States began as a collection of cultural regions based around core Englishsettler groups. New England was dominated by the Puritans, the Middle Atlantic by theQuakers, the Coastal South by southern English Cavaliers and the Appalachianhinterland by Anglo-Scottish Presbyterians. 10 Most of this colonial stock had arrived in the seventeenth century from Britain.Hence it is not surprising that the American free population on the eve of revolution was image, the embodiment of an America as rooted as the soil, as primordial as the Germany that gave birth toSiegfried. See Miller, Perry,  Nature's Nation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967), 10. 10 David Hackett Fischer,  Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (New York/Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press, 1989), 787. This is, of course, a contentious thesis. Fischer's critics tend to accuse himof over-generalization: they grant that he has identified important cultural forces, but insist that thecultural regions (both British and American) which he denotes are more complex than he imagines. Localvariation within cultural regions, and non-core ethnic/regional fragments are fingered as dimensions of this complexity. Critics also claim that several groups other than the English (notably the Fenno-Scandinavians and native Indians in the backcountry and the blacks in the lowland south) have had amajor impact on American folkways. See reviews by Wilbur Zelinsky,  Annals of the Association of  American Geographers , Vol. 81, No. 3 (September 1991), 526-31; Kenneth Morgan, Social History , Vol.16, No. 3 (October 1991), 373-75; Jack Greene,  Journal of Social History , Vol.24, No. 4 (Summer 1991),909-11; Colin Brooks,  Journal of American Studies , Vol.25, No.2 (August 1991), 275-78.4
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