Fulfilling the ideals of American democracy required defining “the people,” and determining the meaning of citizenship. Not clearly articulated in the founding documents, these unsettled issues were left for future generations. How diverse should the citizenry be? Do we need to share a common national story? What are the rights and responsibilities of citizens?
Americans have prided themselves on being a nation of immigrants, yet there has been an ongoing tension between welcoming newcomers and being concerned that the character of the nation might be changed. From the earliest years of the Republic, laws have been passed and guidelines have been developed to instruct prospective citizens on American history, values, rights, and responsibilities.
Emancipation Proclamation Inkstand
In the summer of 1862 President Abraham Lincoln sat at a desk in the War Department telegraph office and began to draft a presidential order to free the enslaved people held in the Confederacy. While the act was limited in scope, it was revolutionary in impact. With emancipation and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment ending slavery in 1865, over four million Americans were no longer legally defined as someone’s property and, although their rights would be brutally contested, they became United States citizens.
How Diverse Should the Citizenry Be?
In a nation created by immigrants, nothing has been more debated than what should be the ideal character of its citizenry. One view is that “multiculturalism,” the preservation of diverse cultural heritage, enriches the country. Some have called for a common citizenry—a “melting pot” where immigrants are assimilated and their traditions are transformed into a homogeneous American culture. Still others challenged diversity by seeking to restrict immigration and exclude certain racial and ethnic groups. These very different positions have greatly impacted the nation’s political debates on economic, foreign, and immigration policy, and education and social welfare programs.
Statue of Liberty Hanukkah Menorah
Manfred Anson designed this Hanukkah lamp to mark the centennial of the Statue of Liberty in 1986. Anson, who escaped Nazi Germany as a teenager, later reunited with family who had immigrated to the United States. For this lamp, Anson combined a traditional Polish menorah and figurines cast from a 19th-century Statue of Liberty souvenir.
Do We Need a Shared National Identity?
Following independence, citizens of the new nation sought to forge their own identity and create a unique history. They established holidays such as the Fourth of July and later Thanksgiving Day and chronicled the story of America from the landing at Plymouth Rock through the Founding Fathers and the Revolutionary War. In part Americans did so not only for themselves, but also to instill in future generations a shared ideal of citizenship. An ongoing debate resulted: if there were to be common beliefs and a national narrative that expressed the values of the nation, what should be included?
The Great Historical Clock of America
Elaborate in design and featuring an array of mechanical devices, this spectacular 19th-century clock was made to animate American history. Bridging the distinctions of entertainment and education, the exuberant folk motifs include the arrival of Columbus, a procession of U.S. presidents from George Washington through Benjamin Harrison, and other patriotic images.