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European and Near-Eastern people have crossed the Atlantic and taken the serious risks of attempting to secure a foothold in fresh and free America, because they hoped to escape from economic pressure and chronic poverty. They have exiled themselves from home and friends in search of some better opportunity for a successful and happy life than the native land offered. The migrations of the Irish and the Scotch Highlanders have been strong cases of escape from harassing economic and social conditions. The early comers took the risks of the wilderness, the Indians, the untried climate, and the unknown diseases. The late comers have dared the perils of congested cities, of novel industries, and of insecure employment. Hence, by heredity, the white Americans of to-day-of whatever race or stock-have a fair chance to be by nature independent, bold, and enterprising.
In the second place the environment of the immigrants into North America during the past three centuries has exerted a common influence on them all, which has tended to produce in the successive generations certain advantageous qualities. All the American generations thus far may fairly be said to have done pioneering work, and all the earlier generations lived a life of conflict with the hostilities of adverse Nature and with hostile human beings, both savage and civilized. Such pioneering and such conflict all across a continent supply men and women alike with a strenuous training.
The American colonies were engaged most of the time in some kind of warfare. From the beginning the American settlers carried arms, and were often called upon to defend their homes and their communities. The Massachusetts Puritan farmer carried his flintlock with him to the meeting house, and the frontier settler has always had firearms in his cabin and has taught his boys how to use them. In the nineteenth century the United States was involved four times in costly war. No American generation has escaped the discipline of war. Among the most recent immigrants from southern Europe and the Near East there have been many thousands of young men who, before they had really established themselves in the New World, returned home to bear their part in the present agonies of the Old. An American, therefore, is likely to be a man of individualistic quality, who nevertheless possesses a strong community sense and is ready to fight in defense of his family and his community. His environment has trained him to energetic industry, sharp conflict with natural obstacles, and the use of protective force. Nevertheless his inheritance and his environment alike predispose him to condemn military establishments, a military class, and militarism in general. He is and means to be a freeman.
A genuine American regards his Government as his servant and not as his master, and will have no chief executive in city, State, or nation except an elected executive. He recognizes that men are not equal as regards native capacity or acquired power, but desires that all men shall be equal before the law and that every individual human being-child or adult-shall have his just opportunity to do his best for the common good. He believes in universal education and is always desiring the improvement of the free schools. In respect to this desire for education, however, many of the most recent Americans outdo some of the earlier ones particularly in the zeal and assiduity of their children in school.
As a result of his own experience in public affairs and of his ancestors' experience, a true American always acquiesces in the decision of a majority of the legitimate participants in an election or other public contest. This is an American trait of high political value. It makes American political and social progress, as a rule, a peaceful evolution. People who have long been helpless under political or ecclesiastical oppression, and have had no practice in self-government, have difficulty in acquiring this trait.
The characteristic American believes, first, in justice as the foundation of civilized government and society, and next in freedom for the individual, so far as that freedom is possible without interference with the equal rights of others. He conceives that both justice and freedom are to be secured through popular respect for the laws enacted by the elected representatives of the people and through the faithful observance of those laws, and because of his confidence in law as the enactment of justice and the security for freedom he utterly condemns all lawless practices by public servants, private citizens, or groups of citizens. For him lawless violence is the worst offense · which can be committed by either the governors or the governed. Hence he distrusts legislation which is not faithfully executed, and believes that unsuccessful legislation should not lapse, but be repealed or replaced. It should be observed, however, that American justice in general keeps in view the present common good of the vast majority, and the restoration rather than the punishment of the exceptional, malignant or defective individual. Indeed, the American conception of justice is very different from that of traditional Christian theology, or of feudal institutions, or of any of the despotic governments. It is essentially democratic, and especially it finds sufferings inflicted on the innocent unintelligible and abhorrent.
The American believes that if men are left free in the planning and conduct of their lives they will win more success in the professions, the trades, and the industries than they would if their lives are regulated for them by some superior power, even if that power be more intelligent and better informed than they. Blind obedience and implicit submission to the will of another do not commend themselves to characteristic Americans. The discipline in which they believe is the voluntary cooperation of several or many persons in the orderly and effective pursuit of common ends. Yet Americans are capable of intense collective action when they see that such action is necessary to efficiency. Thus, they submit willingly to any restrictions on individual liberty which can be shown to be necessary to the preservation of the public health, and they are capable of the most effective cooperation at need in business, sports, and war.
Such are the common ideals, hopes, and aims of the heterogeneous people assembled on the territory of the United States. Whoever accepts them and governs his life by them is an American, whatever his origin, race, or station. No other assimilation of different national stocks is needed-or is even desirable-than this acceptance of the common American ideals; but with this acceptance should go, and ordinarily does go, an ardent love of the new country and its liberal institutions, a love not inconsistent with an affectionate regard for the old country from which the original immigrant into America took his resolute departure.