Date of Award

Spring 1987

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


From 1763 to 1828 Americans rebelled against England's imperial policies, fought that nation for seven years, gained independence, and established a nation. During that time, the influences of democracy, nationalism, and enlightenment profoundly affected the values, attitudes, morality, and self-image of Americans. Democratic ideals and nationalism played important roles in bringing about the American Revolution. After 1763 Great Britain's imperial policies toward the thirteen colonies were perceived as tyrannical by Americans. Believing that their liberties were being jeopardized, the colonists resisted laws imposed upon them by Parliament. The emergence of a national consciousness and nationalism arose in America during this crisis. Throughout the Revolution the colonists believed that the struggle symoblized democracy and freedom against tyranny and oppression. Fortified by a strong nationalism (which grew during the Revolution) Americans created a democratic and constitutional Republic in 1789.

Along with democracy and nationalism, the Founding Fathers believed that enlightenment values should mold the identity and character of the new nation. This view emphasized a civic humanism, or classical republicanism, based on reason, virtue, duty, and social responsibility. Individual self-interest would be subordinated to the well-being of the whole society. America could attain the enlightenment ideal of social harmony and benevolence.

By the time of Andrew Jackson's presidency in 1829, the enlightenment ideal of classical republicanism fostered by the Founding Fathers began to decline and was superseded by romantic democracy, which stressed individualism and self-interest rather than the collective good. Although the enlightenment ideals of civic humanism have influenced American society since the 1830's they have never attained the prominence they held before that time in shaping American character and identity. An analysis of the literature from the early 1760's to the Jacksonian era reveals the manner in which the ideas of democracy, nationalism, and the enlightenment influenced and shaped an American identity during that period.