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Nationalismin the US

Nationalismis a feeling of national conscious and exalting one nation aboveothers, and placing primary emphasis on promoting the cultures andinterests of that nation1.Nationalism can have positive or negative effects positivenationalism involves strategies that are aimed to bring a nationtogether for a common goal such as overthrowing colonial regimes orending the reign of dictatorial regimes and spurring scientific andtechnological advancements to improve the welfare of the nation2.An example of positive nationalism was shown in the 1950s whenAfrican nationalists championed fights against colonial rules leadingto the independence of their states3. Conversely, negative nationalism leads to the rise of extremists’nationalistic movements such as Zionism and Nazism leading to theextermination of people that do not belong to a particular nation orculture that is believed to be superior. Negative extremism can alsocause negative forms of competition that leads to wars betweennations as it was the case during the First World War. GermanyNationalism polarized the world into two opposing forces, therebytriggering the world war.Nationalism requires that people feel theneed to belong and identify with a group of people that are governedby specific cultures and norms. Nationalism can be used as a powerfultool for attaining national goals but can also be a tool formanipulation by the leaders4.As one of the first nation-state that is primarily founded on civicideals rather than homogeneous heritage, the US presents an idealcase study for nationalism, right from nation building, changingsymbolic ethnic boundaries of the various nations within the US tothe various wars that the US has waged against enemies.

TheUS is a multi-ethnic culture comprising of the whites, the natives,black Americans, Latin Americans among others that form differentnations thereby different manifestation of nationalism. Throughoutthe US history, the leaders have repeatedly employed nationalistdiscourse to galvanize the citizens in times of military struggle,economic crises, national mourning or in mundane occasions such asthe electoral process. Thus, nationalism and national identity is aproduct of ongoing compromise and contestation of both positive andnegative forms of nationalism attributed to the differentethnocultural interests of the US ethnicities5.Even before the American Revolutionary War (1775-83), that recognizedthe US colony as a Nation, several nationalists were engaged in thefight for the recognition and treatment of Americans (colonists) asequal to the Britons. The attempts to oppress Americans such asusing the Stamp Act 1765, the Townshend tariff 1767 and Tea Act 1773without representation were met with furious resentments bynationalists leading to numerous protests in the 1770s, which metwith increased force leading to massacres such as the Boston Massacreof 1770. The increased violence and military stance used by the crowntropes to impose colonial rule led to increased resentments from thecolonists, eventually leading to the revolutionary war, as colonistssought freedom from crown rule6.

Therenowned nationalists of the pre-revolutionary war period are GeorgeWashington of Virginia, Samuel Adam of Massachusetts, John Jay of NewYork and Patrick Henry of Virginia. The group attended the firstContinentals Congress (a congress comprising members from all Britishcolonies) to voice the demands that were against the crown rule. TheCongress led to the denunciation of taxation without representationand more importantly issued a declaration of rights due to everycitizen. These included the right to life, liberty, assembly, theright to own property and right to fair trial by jury that wasadopted in later in 17767. The nationalists continued their quest for freedom, leading toincreased tension between the residents of the Great Britain NorthAmerican colonies and the colonial government that represented the British crown, thereby planting the seeds of the Revolutionary War8.

Therevolutionary war arose from the increased tension and aggressionbrought by American nationalists (colonists) as they sought freedomfrom the British crown. The war was sparked off by the skirmishesbetween the British troops and the colonial militiamen in Lexingtonand Concord on the April of 1775 that protracted to full-scale war bythe following summer. The colonial military men massive support froma majority of the colonists and even enlisted the support of theirslaves to fight the more equipped British troupes. The colonistssuffered heavy casualties at the hands of British regiments, but thespirit of nationalism compelled them to keep fighting. As the disputeescalated, colonists started viewing British Rule as oppressive andhostile leading to the creation of the Continental Congress(1774-1789), the US Declaration of Independence adopted in 1776 andthe ratification of the United States Constitution in 17889.It was the spirit of nationalism that kept colonists in the fight forindependence despite the significant superiority of the Britishtropes10.

TheCivil War

Whilethe revolutionary war created the US as a sovereign state, it was thecivil war (1861-1865) that determined the kind of nation the US wouldbe. Nationalism guided the war, a war that was to determine whetherthe US would be a dissolvable confederation of sovereign states orindivisible states with a federal government11.Additionally, the war was to decide whether the nation would beguided by basic human rights or by dictatorship, or whether thecountry would continue infringing the rights of some individuals inthe form of slavery. Slavery was an accepted norm during before theRevolutionary War hence a majority of the African Americans wereenslaved by whites who were supposedly racially superior to theblacks12.The African Americans were tortured by their masters throughwhipping, lynching and even hanged at the whims of their masters. They worked under deplorable conditions and with no pay and deniedcitizenry rights such as the right of voting, expressing politicalviews or even voting in the south. Conversely, the North hadabolished slavery right after the revolutionary war, and AfricanAmericans were accorded similar rights as the whites. The spirit ofnationalism compelled the freed African Americans in the north andthe white nationalists that were opposed to slavery to establish theUnderground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was an escape networkcomprising of secret routes, safe houses and personal assistanceorganized to assist the slaves to flee from the south that wasnotorious with slavery. The system consisted of churches, nationalistclergies as well as individuals like William Still and HarrietTubman. Without the assistance and presence of Northern nationaliststhat were opposed to slavery, there would be no chance for Southernslaves to flee to the North13.

In1860, Abraham Lincoln, a true American Nationalist was elected thePresident of the US. As a nationalist, he respected the AmericanDeclaration of Independence that had been established earlier, hencestrongly opposed slavery. Lincoln proclaimed the EmancipationProclamation, thereby making it illegal for any individual in the USto own slaves. This unyielding opposition to slavery compelled theSouthern States to secede from the North and establish theConfederate States of America since their agricultural economylargely depended on slaves. It was the withdrawal of the Southernstates from the United States to form the Confederate States thattriggered the civil war in 1861. Abraham Lincoln and othernationalist confronted led more than a million soldiers to confrontthe Confederates army on numerous battle fronts, winning andsuffering defeats with equal measures. The violence and the increaseddefeat of the federal army did not kill the spirit of nationalism,the continued fighting until the Confederates army surrendered in thespring of 1865. The Confederates president, Jefferson Davis, wascaptured, and on the tenth of May 1865 the resistance collapsedending the war. According to Fleche, nationalism during the cold warperiod was a question of what constituted a &quottrue America&quot,with each group seeking to advance its nationalist stance14. Both the Northerners and Southerners were pushed by the spirit ofnationalism to engage in the war. Basing arguments on theproclamation of independence, it can be argued that the northernerswere pushed by positive nationalism since they were fighting for theabolition of slavery and maintenance of America as one nation.Conversely, the Southerners were pushed by positive nationalismcontinuation of slavery and secession15.

Theend of the war marked in 1865 the period of reconstructing the US asone single nation that is built on the recognition of basic humanrights the ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendmentssettled various questions regarding national identity and therecognition as US citizen. These amendments accorded all individualsborn in the territory of the US the status of a citizen irrespectiveof race, religion or social status. Slavery was effectivelyabolished, and a national identity of the American people created.Unlike during the pre-civil war period where individuals consideredthemselves loyal to a specific state, the post –civil war periodwitnessed increased nationalism, as individuals considered themselvesas Americans, a feeling that continued throughout the reconstructionperiod16.

BlackNationalism versus White Nationalism

Afterthe civil war, the uneven period of Reconstruction started. However,there were no definite policies that were enacted relating to theprotection of the African Americans, partially because theNortherners were as racist as the Southerners.The period witnessedthe rise of a negative form of nationalism known as White nationalismleading to white supremacists or separatists ideologies. The AfricanAmericans were segregated and were not accepted in the social order.The Confederates formed governments that were recognized by thepresidency but enacted discriminatory laws that oppressed the blacks,often referred to as the Black Codes or the Jim. These laws wereformed out of the discriminatory perception that blacks were inferiorto the whites17.As such blacks were denied their basic citizenry rights such as theright to vote, bear witness against whites or even own property. Theywere subjected to oppressive labor laws and sometimes denied thefreedoms of movement.

Schoolsand other social services were offered along racial lines with theAfrican Americans at a disadvantage18. These discriminatory laws led to the establishment of whitesupremacy groups, among the most notorious being the Ku Klux Klan,the Knights of the Black Camellia and white brotherhood.Thesewhite nationalist groups subjugated the blacks through heinous actssuch as whipping, hanging and lynching them to inculcate fear and thefeeling of inferiority. However, positive nationalism prompted theradicals (Republicans) to use their voting power to orchestrate theenactment of laws and policies that gave the blacks full citizenryrights.These nationalists led to the establishment of the FreedmenBureau, which provided rations of food to poor blacks and togetherwith churches and white philanthropic organizations, establishedblack schools, colleges, universities and schools. By 1875, more thansix hundred black youths were leaping from the positive nationalismby attending schools to learn reading and writing, a fete that wasillegal in most of the States just some years back. However, thenegative white Nationalism triumphed, and blacks continued to sufferthe blunt19.

Theincreased suffering of the blacks led to the rise of BlackNationalism, a positive form of nationalism that sought to empowerAfrican Americans in all Aspects of life politically economicallyand socially. The Black Nationalist movements can be traced toMarcus Garvey, who in 1920 established the Universal NegroImprovement Association that sought to empower the blackseconomically and create a sense of community and group feeling topromote communal assistance of the blacks by fellow blacks20. The black political and social movements gained prominence in the1960s and early 1970s, with nationalists calling for maintenance andpromotion their separate identity rather than accepting to beassimilated by the whites. With slogans such as ‘black isbeautiful’ and ‘black power’, nationalists sought to inculcatea sense of pride among blacks. Among the notable black nationalistsinclude Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, PaulCuffe and Martin Delaney21.These emphasized on racial solidarity, economic self-sufficiency, andblack self-help. The controversial Black Nationalists such as MalcolmX called for the use of violence against the whites in retaliationfor white’s violence, arguing that only violence would lead to theattainment of racial freedom since the political process had failed. It is the unyielding spirit of African Nationalists that led to theenactment of laws and policies that illegalized all forms of racialdiscriminations in the US, which is one of the pillars of the US as anation22.

Nationalismand Warfare

Theconcept of nationalism has been used to explain the various wars suchas Revolutionary War Civil War the world war, the Vietnamese warsamong others that have faced the US. Just like these wars, the USstate institutions and media have frequently employed the concept ofnationalism to unify the population across various political crisesin the contemporary us such as in the fight against terrorism. Afterthe 9/11 terrorist attack, the then US president used the spirit ofnationalism to rush the USA Patriotic Act through the Congress,allowing the US to pursue and detain individuals thought to beterrorists. Nationalism was as its highest heights evidenced by theincreased purchase and ubiquitous display of the American flag onalmost all buildings, trucks offices, and offices23.

Nationalismled to a feeling of vengeance with increased calls for revengeagainst the responsible group, the Al Qaeda. The wave of vengeanceprompted government bodies to agree on pursuing the terrorists totheir hiding places, hence the start of the US military expedition inAfghanistan. From the perspective of Bush Administration, an act ofwar had been committed against the US hence the US was bound torespond. The Bush Doctrine and National Security Strategy wereestablished, supposedly to disrupt and destroy terroristorganizations by defending the US citizens at home and abroad. Thedoctrine insisted that the US would act alone or in a partnershipwith allies to destroy the threat of terrorism before it reaches theUS, US citizens or any of her allies. The doctrine expanded the USSovereignty and military power beyond the US national borders withAfghanistan and Iraq being the first on the list. Thus, the US sentits military to Afghanistan to destroy the Al Qaeda and later to Iraqunder the guise of spreading democracy and freedom which are thetenets of democracy. In both cases, the administration exploited thespirit of nationalism to provide the domestic energy required to backthe military expeditions despite some underlying protests24.The doctrine, which is seen as a representation of US nationalism hasbeen used to wage wars against dictators outside the US borders,among them Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, as well as against terroristgroups such as ISILs in Syria.

Fromthe aforementioned, Nationalism is a feeling of nationalconsciousness and exaltation of one’s nation above the others. Thisis while placing optimal importance in promoting the interests andculture of the nation. Nationalism can manifest itself eithernegatively or positively depending on the unifying factor wherenegative nationalism is prompted by negative factors and the viceversa. The US, being a multi-ethnic state is the best case toevidence the different forms of Nationalism.Nationalism has beenused to shape all events of the US, since the time of the US as aBritish colony to impendence, through the reconstruction time tomodern times. Before independence, nationalists opposed oppressiveacts from Britain culminating in the Revolutionary War that led tothe recognition of the US as a sovereign state. After therevolutionary war, the country was locked in a Civil War between theNorth and the South the North driven by positive nationalism and theSouth by negative nationalism. The North triumphed leading to theunification of the North and South as one Nation, the USA, and theabolition of slavery. During the reconstruction period, negativenationalism led to the emergence of white separatist groups tosubjugate the whites. White nationalism was countered by BlackNationalism that gained prominence in the 1960s, leading to enactmentof anti-discrimination acts. Today, nationalism has been exhibited incrises situations such as after the 9/11 attack, in the fight againstterrorism as well as the US war to spread democracy and freedom.


Baum,Chris. Nationalismin the United States Foreign Policy in 9/11 Era.2015. Retrieved from

Fleche,Andre M. TheRevolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of NationalistConflict.Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

Gellner,Ernest, and John Breuilly. Nationsand Nationalism.Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 2008.

Grant,Susan-Mary. NorthOver South: Northern Nationalism and American Identity in theAntebellum Era.Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000.

May,Stephen.Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Minority Rights.Cambridge [u.a.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.

Organizationof American Historians. Interchange: Nationalism and Internationalismin the Era of the Civil War. Journalof American History.2011Vol.98(2)pp 455-489.

The National Interest. TheCase for American Nationalism.2015. Retrieved from

Vorenberg,Michael. Review Essay: In Praise of Civil War Nationalism. Journal ofthe Abraham Lincoln Association. 2013, Vol. 34(1), pp 54-61

1 Gellner, Ernest, and John Breuilly. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 2008. P.4

2 Grant, Susan-Mary. North Over South: Northern Nationalism and American Identity in the Antebellum Era. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000. P.5

3 Ibid

4 Gellner &amp John, p.17

5 Baum, Chris. Nationalism in the United States Foreign Policy in 9/11 Era. 2015. P.1

6 Fleche, Andre M. The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012. P.24

7 Organization of American Historians. Interchange: Nationalism and Internationalism in the Era of the Civil War. Journal of American History. 2011 Vol.98 (2) p. 455

8 Fleche, p.56

9 The National Interest. The Case for American Nationalism. 2015, p.1

10 Organization of American Historians, p.456

11 Ibid

12 Vorenberg, Michael. Review Essay: In Praise of Civil War Nationalism. Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. 2013, Vol. 34(1), p.56

13 Vorenberg, p.59

14 Fleche, p. 137

15 Fleche, p.13

16 May, Stephen. Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Minority Rights. Cambridge [u.a.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004, p.54.

17 Organization of American Historians, p.460

18 Fleche , p.172

19 Fleche, p.189

20 May, p.97

21 May, p.100

22 Fleche, p. 198

23 Baum, p.1

24 Baum, p.1