How Americans have changed the view of themselves
How we think of ourselves is very important in almost every aspect of our lives. It makes us confident or unsure. It gives us strength or weakness. It gives us an anchor or it causes us to drift across the span of time that encompasses our lives.
After listening to a piece about self esteem on public radio one day, which concerned how people feel about themselves and their relationships with others, I began to think about all the relationships we build with not only people, but institutions, organizations and even where we live as a citizen of this nation.
That final one, being a citizen of this nation, is an important aspect of how we feel about ourselves and our place in society. If asked the question how would you answer that inquiry? More to the point, what term would you use to describe your place in the world as it relates to geographic and national identity? Would it be, "I am an American?" Or would you say you are a "Utahn", or a westerner? Or are you a Carbonite or from Price, Helper, Wellington, East Carbon, Sunnyside, Scofield, etc.?
If you ask a hundred people, you will get many different answers, but it seems most people would say they are Americans. I found that out as I asked people around me the question. But how recent would that phenomenon be of answering in terms of national character rather than a local one?
Before the, American revolution, we were Virginians, Caroliners or New Yorkers, along with many other terms for the areas we lived in. The "colonies" as they were referred to by the British, were fairly independent from each other, even though passing between them was fairly easy even in those days.
When the war for independence came, one of the biggest problems General George Washington had was unifying his forces, which were basically loose militia and farm boys who had come to find adventure. There was no America at the time; independence had been declared, but citizens still considered themselves as colonists, hailing from everywhere from New Hampshire to Georgia. The colonies, that later became states, had their own identities, very separate, both in society and thought. So up until the civil war, most Americans, didn't actually see themselves as American, but rather as a Kentuckian or a Mainer or wherever they were from.
During the civil war, that began to change, even though a big deal was always made of where military units were from. Battle descriptions from the time talked about this states unit doing that or that states unit doing this. For instance most of us know, because it has been drummed in our heads again and again through movies, television and history courses that a unit from Maine held Little Round Top for the Union at the Battle of Gettysburg. The federal army, that had existing in varying numbers over the years, grew much bigger during that time, so the feeling of national spirit began to change. But more importantly, the troops, regardless of where they were from, were fighting to preserve the Union or the Confederacy.
With that people began to call themselves Southerners or Northerners, as much as they did by their states names. The north's true unification came about during that time, and feelings of allegiance to the Union became much stronger. In the south it was different. That union was loose from the beginning because they were fighting to keep the national government out of their lives and many Southerner's complained of the confederacy acting too much like the federal government they were trying to distance themselves from.
After reunification, Americas boundaries began to expand even faster, and soon those who reached the western inlands and the west coast realized how far they were from the old colonies, yet they were related to them in almost every way. Westerners took on a flavor of their own, but they saw themselves as Americans.
By the time the Spanish-American War crept up on the nation, most people were calling themselves Americans, and the nations world wide ambitions and commitments began to grow. Two World Wars, solidified that feeling of being from the "states" rather than a particular state even more. Now some people are beginning to call themselves citizens of the world, although others think that idea is certainly playing into the hands of world domination by one government.
I however, do see the day when being an "Earthling" may be a way we describe ourselves as our race reaches out into the universe and eventually colonizes other planets. If people in the future are born on Mars they may be related to us, but they will be Martians. Just as America started as a colony, they may be as independent of Earth one day as we are of Great Britain right now.
It's obvious to me, based on the past, that our vision of ourselves and our race will change with the coming events and the passage of time.