American Identity, Expansionism and Isolationism
American Identity, Expansionism and Isolationism

American Identity, Expansionism and Isolationism

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American identity has had major impacts on the historic U.S. foreign policy traditions as well as post-cold war policy. American exceptionalism has been gradually used to explain U.S. foreign policy traditions. As Pease (99) argues, the American exceptionalism and foreign policy are both interconnected. It is believed that American exceptionalism encouraged not only the exemplarist identity but also the missionary identity, which later triggered isolationism and internationalist foreign policy tradition, what is now deemed as the identity and foreign policy division. The manner in which the American exceptionalism is used to explain the U.S. foreign policy is however not commendable in that it is often used to conceal peccadillo in the prose of the U.S. foreign policy.

The American Identity

The conduct through which the American foreign policy is accomplished is greatly influenced by the core conjecture that Americans are superior. Exceptionalism is one of the American identity beliefs that describe the United States as a unique and superior country worthy of global respect by deeming it as a socially and politically superior nation through the assumption that Americans are better when compared to all people globally. Exceptionalism at great extent influenced Americans by making them believe that they have a duty to disperse their kind of liberty and democracy globally. American nationalism and identity are based on exceptionalism which originated during the colonial era, where puritan settlers believed that North American continent was the “Promised Land” where a Canaan was to be built (Resnick 14). Regardless of the fact that th


is was John Winthrop’s belief, it still lives in many Americans’ minds. John was a puritan leader who was also Massachusetts Bay colony’s earliest governor. Through his sermon on his way to New England in 1630, John encouraged his fellow settlers to declare and believe that they were going to be a city upon a Hill, and all people would admire them (Feffer 36).

Since then, this has become an Americas self- identity. American colonists and those who came after them had a notion that they were uniquely blessed by God to start a society that would give light to the goodness of all humankind. During the American Revolution years, the new state emphasized on the belief that the United State was still the chosen nation which would set an example to a human society. Thomas Paine, during his revolutionary pamphlet Common Sense, argued that America’ uniqueness from the world demanded it independence (Ushistory.Org). He regarded America as a special land. American constitution which was built in 1778 also described the state as a society based on a republic system of government that embraced protection of all individual rights. The constitution foundation was to allow the state to become the most perfect republican society in the world. These early notions influenced the United States belief that it would provide a model of freedom, democracy and liberty from which the other nations could learn.

The exceptionalism idea portrays the United State as a different nation from other nations, with unique ideology to change the world. Despite the fact that the United States has some different and unique qualities, for instance a political culture tha

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acknowledges individual freedom, its foreign policy has been directly affected by its unchanging competitive nature of international politics. This is evidenced in how the Americans focus on “exceptional superiorities” such that they do not to see that they are equal to other people from different nations. Superiority notion is a basic idea of American exceptionalism commonly expressed through the idea of manifest destiny doctrine that emphasizes that America has a divine calling to expand and civilize the world. John Louis O’Sullivan wrote the doctrine to encourage the US conquest of Texas. O’Sullivan belief was that the United State had a right to spread and possess the entire continent which was entrusted to them by God for the purpose of development and exercise of liberty (Hughes &Richard 125). His belief was intertwined with the God- given superiority of American politics and western civilization. Justification of grand American territorial destiny was witnessed during the Indian Removal Act of 1830, where all tribes were displaced from their own lands, which were later given to the whites. Manifest destiny also encouraged Mexican-American war, which led to the vast amount of lands acquiring from the Mexico, California and Texas.

Later, American exceptionalism was coined to the vigorous support, the spread of civilization through militarism. The manifest destiny is a clear example of how assumptions of exceptionalism have affected American culture. American exceptionalism is a belief expressed by every American president and carried on by every American citizen. This contributed to important part of the cultural and coherent foundation within which foreign policy is made. The undisputed belief in American exceptionalism challenges the Americans to comprehend why other nations are less concerned about their superiority and why they are often annoyed by their hypocrisy of condemning other nation conduct. If Americans were less certain of their own exceptional qualities and less enthusiastic to broadcast them, the U.S. foreign policy would probably be successful.

There are two major effects of American exceptionalism on foreign policy including exemplary exceptionalism and missionary exceptionalism. Exemplary exceptionalism is founded on the belief that a country is separate from the rest other countries (Litke &Justin 10). As secluded new world, the U.S. is meant to set an example to the rest of the other states without directly involving itself in their issues. Missionary exceptionalism, on the other hand, argues that the U.S is supposed to champion, advocate and export its beliefs and values of liberty and democracy and capitalism to the rest of the world. This contrast has been the foundation of different American foreign policy likings. Exemplary exceptionalism has contributed to isolationism, whereas the missionary exceptionalism often contributes to internationalism and interventionism. Puritans were responsible for American isolationism as they tried to isolate United State from Europe. This created an isolationism feeling among the American settlers as they were isolated from Europe. The earlier setters considered themselves the English civilization pioneers in that they did not escape from English civilization but rather spread it. On the contrary, missionary identity was established during the coming of different settlers including Britons to United States. This led to creation of a diverse national identity. It was

after American Revolution that American nationalism was developed that America created its own myths different from the British identity. American nation was created under the foundations of enlightenment values, which caused the American nationalism to become internationalist owing to the fact that the American nationalism was civic and inclusive as opposed to exclusive. Effects of American exceptionalism over the American foreign policy are witnessed during presidential campaigns. It important to understand that all candidates are placed in between isolationism and interventionism thus no pure approach.

American Nationalism and religiosity are believed to affect the way the United States conducts itself in the world. For instance, the American religiosity has attracted attention from many foreign countries. American religious fervors affect the views of people in some Muslim societies. The United State for instance does not only have a history of separating state from church but also mixing politics with religion. Throughout the state’s history, there have been debates over civil rights for abortions and gay marriages. This has raised concern on questioning religious morals. Religion has been intertwined into politics more than ever before.


The repercussion that expansionism leads to an affirmative Americanization further displays the superiority state of mind. After the US attendance of independence from England, the new state became a country with multicultural population in which the English were the minority. The country embraced its diverse population which had no common heritage in politics, religion, and language thus focusing on national unity. Americans focused on building and developing their own land thus embracing the work ethic culture. The nation did away with European class system and encouraged equality in order to advocate for survival. Manifest Destiny led to expansion into the new world and justified westward expansion by arguing that natural abundance awaited American at the end of one of the last major western trails (Gardner, Helen, and Fred 694). Westward expansion also had a strong impact on American politics. The Monroe Doctrine encouraged the United States to extend from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific coast. This expansion led to the rise of political crises that were experienced in the expansion of slavery and dispossession of Natives. Manifest Destiny mindset has had various effects on the United State. This philosophy urged that America was destined by God to shed light to the rest of the World by making Americans believe that by influencing other foreign countries, they brought blessings to them that would not have been otherwise achieved. The manifest Destiny affects the American foreign policy in the manner in which it relates with other countries. The westward movement of American contributed to foreign invasion. These confrontations have led to genocide practices where the Mexico and natives are involved and forced the Mexicans to surrender enormous territories to the Americans. The Britain would ensure measures that would restrict the US expansionism at the Canadian borders. Manifest Destiny is viewed as growth of a new global power whose influence will be felt during the global conflagration.


Isolationism is the American attitude of escaping from forming political association with foreign powers especially those of Europe (Kazin, Edwards, and Rothman 560). Isolationism was

practiced during the two world wars where America reduced its commitments from abroad countries where the United State’s reluctance to involve itself in politics and military engagement with foreign countries was experienced. The first isolationism to be applied was pioneered by Edward Prince Bell in 1922. In his Article, “American and Peace”, Bell emphasized on the United States negative attitude towards abroad alliances. He pointed out the state was in a transition of moving from isolation into partnership. Isolationism had negative impacts on America and Europe. Europe found it hard to compete with the high taffies imposed on their products by America.


From the above analysis, it is evident that approach which the American execeptionalism is utilized in understanding the U.S. foreign policy is not creditable owing to the fact that its obscures transgression in the style of the American foreign policy. From time the ancient times, American exceptionalism has been deemed as an influential belief throughout the history of the United States and has been exercised in expressing opinions for internationalist as well as the expansion of foreign policies. This belief was devised with an idea to increase in American power and influence in international politics at later times. The exhibiting analysis of the American exceptionalism as well as the U.S. foreign policy is not in accordance with reality. Instead, by viewing itself as a chosen nation to lead the others, the United State has always tried to find a way to expand, lead and meddle. It is thus important for people to reject the traditional identity as well as its relationship to a foreign policy.

Work Cited

  • Feffer, John. Power Trip: Unilateralism and Global Strategy After September 11. New York:Seven Stories Press, 2010. Print.
  • Gardner, Helen, and Fred S. Kleiner. Gardner's Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective. , 2017. Print.
  • Hughes, Richard T. Christian America and the Kingdom of God. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009. Internet resource.
  • Kazin, Michael, Rebecca Edwards, and Adam Rothman. The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011.
  • Internet resource Litke, Justin B. Twilight of the Republic: Empire and Exceptionalism in the American Political Tradition. , 2013. Print.
  • Pease, Donald E. The New American Exceptionalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. Print.
  • Ushistory.Org". "Thomas Paine's Common Sense N.p., 2016. Web. 9 July 2016. Retrivede from:
    Resnick, Philip. The Labyrinth of North American Identities. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012. Print.