Article in Politics / Economic & Social Development / Economic Development
The notion of an exceptional mission for the American people has for generations before our own been taken for granted. Now it has become entangled in national politics and rejected by a significant minority of our citizens, This article kicks off what I hope will become a serious debate.

American Exceptionalism

Robert E. Freer. Jr

“The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional, and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one.” Alex de Tocqueville

There are but a few days to go before we know the outcome of this 114th time we have gone to the polls to elect our nation’s legislative leaders along with many governors. Many of the issues in the news today raise the question of whether we are mature enough to manage ourselves in a way that will attend to our critical financial and social issues now dividing us almost into warring tribes, These issues including sustainable financial practices and adherence to Constitutional practices are important enough for many to conclude that this is the most important election we have experienced in 100 years. Gridlock has left the public so frustrated, that maybe, just maybe, we will get some clarity from this national election missing from our recent trips to the polls

Our society is being torn apart by those who no longer accept the notions on which this nation was founded. As a nation, there is a compelling need to look inside ourselves and decide are we still “AMERICANS” as that breed has been defined over more than two centuries, or are we some lesser breed not up to the courage and maturity required to carry the responsibilities handed down to us by our ancestors.

Some years ago for a different publication, I cited Dennis Praeger who defines our cultural divide as being over abiding national beliefs in "In God we trust," "Liberty" and "E Pluribus Unum." It is these three mottos that he cites as constituting the bedrock of American Exceptionalism.Dennis states, “The left has successfully made war on all three -- substituting secularism for God and religion in as much of American life as possible; substituting equality (of result) for liberty; and multiculturalism is the opposite of "E Pluribus Unum."

There is reason to believe that we are, indeed, at war over these defining core beliefs. There is no way to compromise them, no comfortable ground in the middle. We either are or are not exceptional in our motivating spirit. We are either a free people embracing the challenges of the future or enslaved to mediocrity. I have nothing that I can give those who believe to the contrary. These beliefs are way too precious to yield an inch.

Where does this come from? I’ll tell you where it comes from. It comes from the following words of the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…..” You know how it continues. We are also given the right to institute and change government that becomes burdensome to those liberties and Creator given rights.

Our Revolution was the first in centuries that deserved that name. We did something unprecedented. We overturned the established order. We insisted we were not subjects granted a few rights by a sovereign but citizens separately endowed by our Creator with full rights which we might agree to loan back to government in limited amounts on good behavior.

It is not possible to overstate the importance of that action. It made all of us at our birth exceptional and placed on our shoulders the responsibility of the care of the republic which evolved from that action. Starting with the election of Woodrow Wilson, the independent spirit that conquered the frontier has been asked to accommodate more and more in the way of services from the State and in exchange accept increasing restrictions on the exercise of our rights.

Following the second Great War in 20 years, “Country Club” Republicans defined a road of fiscal prudence and social liberalism as the loyal opposition to Democratic rule that was neither prudent nor any opposition whatsoever to the burgeoning federal bureaucracy sucking the vitality out of states’ rights and substituting a vassal like response to all-encompassing federal mandates.

All roads increasing led to Washington. As Jefferson foretold, “A government big enough to give you everything you need, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have...." As Billions in national indebtedness became Trillions, and then doubled upon itself exceeding what our land produces in a year, it has become clear that we must reverse course to unleash the productive energy of our people while restraining the rapacious grasp of government consuming the very lifeblood of our people.

We must do this now. Time is short. The Sun perched on the back of George Washington’s chair from Independence Hall in Philadelphia is poised to rise or sink forever below the horizon. We determine our collective future one citizen at a time pursuing life liberty and happiness based on our actions. The damage done by those who would radically change our traditions and even now oozing through our national arteries is serious, but it is not too late. As Ronald Reagan, told us “We are Americans” and our power to turn our dreams into reality is unlimited. Ask not for whom the Liberty Bell tolls, it tolls for you, and it depends on you to answer its call.


Robert E. Freer, Jr., after an extensive career in government, law and business, spent ten years at The Citadel ending as the First BB&T Visiting Professor in Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership. Prof. Freer may be reached at The opinions he expresses are solely his own.

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About the Author 

Prof. Robert E Freer, Jr.
Founder & Chairman Emeritus Free Enterprise Foundation/ Former BBT Chair Ethics & Free Enterprise Leadership, The Citadel, Charleston SC.

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