The Declaration of Independence and the crisis of American identity
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Georgetown University, 2008.; Includes bibliographical references. Almost without exception Americans agree that we are and ought to be united as a people under the authority of a common national identity. This identity is almost always held to be creedal in form, and the contents of this creed are almost always thought to be contained in the famous preamble to the Declaration of Independence. Though these propositions are accepted almost without exception as self-evident by Americans, there remains profound - even irreconcilable - disagreement about the origins, meaning, and implications of the creed held to define American national identity.; Our debates about the origins, meaning, and implications of our creedal form of identity obscure the prior questions of where this peculiar form of identity came from and whether it is desirable or even possible for a polity characterized by radical cultural and religious diversity, to be united under a singular national identity. This dissertation frames these fundamental questions about American identity within the context of a recent reexamination by British historians of the formation and dissolution of English national identity and the British imperial state. Drawing from this new British historiography and from a treatment of revolutionary American political discourse, this dissertation contends that the crisis of American identity is not found in the present dispute about the content of the American creed. Rather, the true crisis of American identity is whether we should be organized as a people under a singular national creed that authorizes the American state or under another form of identity, suggested by Madison (and Tocqueville), that accommodates a multiplicity and diversity of identities within the differentiated institutional framework of Madison's novel federal republic.
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