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The meaning of American Identity has changed through the years. Right after the Revolution, the Naturalization Act increased the time an immigrant had to wait to become a citizen from 5 to 14 long years in an attempt to limit American citizenship to only those who were born in the country. This long wait ended soon after Jefferson became president when the Alien and Sedition Acts were largely repealed in 1802.

The Know-Nothing Party (1855) briefly elected mayors in Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco on a platform of allowing only native-born Protestants to hold office. The platform of the Know-Nothings quickly faded, and most of them joined the Republican Party and fought against slavery.

The 1950s saw an anti-Communist scare that tried to define real Americans as those who supported repression of certain political opinions. This behavior was so out of line with the beliefs on which the U.S. was founded that, after a few years without a Communist invasion, even rabid anti-Communists were ashamed of these tactics.

American identity has grown with the country and increasingly represents a bridge anyone can walk across if they believe in freedom and tolerance.


Culture is the sum total of all the stories, songs, and ways of living that are important to people in any given time and place. Americans have made culture, and it has also made them. In the colonial period, religious notions of creating the perfect home (a "city on a hill") for a particular religion inspired some settlers to come to America. Movements like the First Great Awakening showed people from different denominations and settlements that they shared a common emotional response to God. Culture brings people together by helping them get a broader picture of their place in the world.

Reaction to pressure from the French and the American Indians as well as British authorities built up the idea in American culture of the rough-and-ready frontiersman shown in The Last of the Mohicans and in the image of the Minuteman with his rifle and plow. During the Revolution, patriots made it a point of honor to sing "Yankee Doodle Dandy," a song originally intended to mock their backwoods pretensions to civilization.

American culture may not have been fancy, but it was effective. Uncle Tom's Cabin helped ignite the Civil War. Books like The Jungle, written by muckrakers trying to prevent corruption from being swept under the rug, built support for progressive reform. Women's clubs helped get the vote for females and contributed to the freedom of blacks and the spread of public education. The image of Uncle Sam updated the backwoods Yankee Doodle Dandy to a kindly uncle — dressed in the American flag — who knew the right (patriotic) thing to do.

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