Essay on The Definition of an American

Essay on The Definition of an American

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Throughout the course of history the definition of the term “American” has changed repeatedly. The changes in the definition of the term between 1865 and 2011 coincide with political, social and economic trends during any specific time during this period. Originally the term “American” was not an inclusive term and even though the Constitution states that all men are created equal, many “Americans” did not practice what they preached. However, it is a common phrase today that America is a “melting pot” where peoples from many different countries and cultures come to live a better life. Although certain groups in the United States still struggle with being ostracized by some citizens, they are still “Americans” as the term is now inclusive.
The subtle shift in the view of the term “American” from a non-inclusive term to an inclusive term can be tracked through the mindset of citizens of the United States through many periods leading up to the present. For example, African Americans gained their freedom at the end of the Civil War but they were not really considered Americans until years later during the Civil Rights movement and immigrants were not often included in the term “American” as they were not the “ideal” candidates to represent America; ie, they were often not white, middle class, and/or Protestant. Over time, however, these stigmas were dropped and now many Americans are proud to be part of a nation that is so diverse. To properly analyze this shift, we have to examine the time periods surrounding the subtle changes and in order to do that we must first start with the period after the Civil War.
When the Civil War ended, African Americans were freed from slavery with the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment. Of the ro...


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Progressives also continue to exclude immigrants after the war and into the 1920s by putting severe restrictions on the immigration process as they did not want anyone coming to the United States that did not fit into their ideal mold of who an American should be. They start implementing these restrictions after multiple publicized issues with immigrants turning into criminals, etc. as in the case of the Italian immigrants Sacco and Vanzetti. The Progressives use the American populace’s fear of these people to further their own agendas and create the National Origins Act of 1924 which basically eradicates immigration from Asia, Africa and other undesirable places but allows immigration from desirable countries such as England and Germany.
World War II sparks a fresh shift for the term “American” due to ethnocentric views of other countries and their inhabitants.

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