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Why July 4 is the birthday of American exceptionalism


By Gary J. Schmitt

July 3, 2015 | 7:00pm

July 4 is celebrated as Independence Day — the day the 13 colonies formally declared their independence from Great Britain.

In truth, that decision was made on July 2, 1776, in a vote by the Continental Congress. July 4 is the day the Congress issued the Declaration of Independence — a document justifying that break with an eye toward “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”

In that respect, the Declaration was as much a foreign-policy document as a simple statement of the governing principles by which both our break from London and our future government was to be judged: A government’s failure to take account of the fact that “all men are created equal” and a failure to secure men’s individual rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” means that a people, any people, has justifiable grounds for “abolishing” its ties, its allegiance, to that government.

As was obvious to both the Founders who drafted and approved the Declaration, and the monarchies and despotisms that ruled the vast majority of the rest of mankind, the American declaration of these principles was a revolutionary moment not only for a sliver of the North American continent but, potentially, for the rest of the world.

The United States, initially weak relative to the other great powers in the world and, as such, disinclined to involve itself in the their conflicts, set itself inevitably on a course that is aptly captured in the title of Robert Kagan’s history of early American statecraft, “Dangerous Nation.”

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The Christian Heart of American Exceptionalism


The Christian Heart of American Exceptionalism

Democrats should take note: Religious belief is strong in the U.S., and it cuts across party lines.

Dec. 30, 2014 6:57 p.m. ET

In this year-end holiday season, it is timely to reflect on American exceptionalism. Although this phrase is much abused in partisan polemics, it should not be discarded. The United States does continue to differ from most other developed democratic countries. And the heart of that difference is religion. The durability of American religious belief refutes the once-canonical thesis that modernization and secularization necessarily go hand in hand.

This is all the more remarkable because our Founders drafted a deliberately secular constitution. In 20 quietly revolutionary words, Article VI declares that “[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Consistent with that prohibition, newly elected officials—from the president on down—may choose either to “swear” (that is, to take a religious oath) or simply to “affirm” their loyalty to the Constitution.

In 1789, this secular national constitution perched uneasily atop a Christian population residing in states the majority of which had established an official religion. These establishments have disappeared. But despite the enormous growth in the nation’s diversity over the past 225 years, Christian conviction remains pervasive.