History Of American Exceptionalism

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American Exceptionalism

What is American Exceptionalism? This was a phrase I was not familiar with until I listened to

the podcast, “City Upon a Hill: A History of America Exceptionalism” by Back Story with American

History Guys. American Exceptionalism is the belief that America is special because of our history in

our democracy, individuality, and geography. Also stated in Back Story, American Exceptionalism

argues that we are unique for we are a god-given place in the world. The term was used optimistically

by Americans. Even political leaders and candidates used the term to spread hope to the fellow

Americans. A historian on the podcast dubbed American Exceptionalism as “Americans having an

obsession with being special”.
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Winthrop’s hatred of democracy does not follow the

American Exceptionalism ideology.

Another contrast found in chapter two in America: A Narrative History is that John Winthrop

persecuted dissenters, which would be against American Exceptionalism. Winthrop believed that,

“enforcing religious orthodoxy (the “true religion”) and ensuring civil order justified the persecution of

dissenters and heretics” ( Shi and Tindall). The people he classified as “dissenters” were the Catholics,

Anglicans, Quakers, and Baptists. He would punish, imprison, banish, or execute these people.

Puritans, which was Winthrop’s religion, sought to be a perfect society. They did not accept people

from different beliefs. From the podcast, Back Story, American Exceptionalism allowed people to

thrive freely, no matter the religion. It was the “last best hope on earth” as one historian said. (Ayers,

Onuf, and Balogh). Winthrop’s persecution obviously showed he did not possess the same worldview

of American Exceptionalism as Americans do.

Lastly, when John Winthrop used the phrase, “city upon a hill”, he was not talking about

American Exceptionalism according to the definition. This phrase, “city upon a hill” was in a
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As Back Story discussed, Winthrop

explained to the Puritans that the world was watching them as they began the settlement in the New

World. The colony they would start, he also added, would be exposed like a “city upon a hill”. He was,

in reality, warning the Puritans to behave themselves and be perfect. Winthrop was not actually

referring to the land. A core element to American Exceptionalism is American’s “spirit of discovery”

and its obsession with expanding west. The abundant and beautiful land inspired musicians to write

songs such as “America the Beautiful”. Winthrop’s “city upon a hill” phrase is in stark contrast to the

definition of American Exceptionalism.

In conclusion, there are three signs that prove Winthrop does not share in the American

Exceptionalism belief. John Winthrop’s hatred of democracy, persecution of dissenters, and

well-quoted phrase, “city upon a hill”, confirms the accuracy of this argument. His
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