D. W. Ellwood
The First World War cost Europe the leadership of the world. But the United States of Woodrow Wilson was not ready to take its place. The 1920s brought Europe to a crossroads where mass democracy, mass production, and mass communications—the latter two dominated by American innovations— transformed ideas of sovereignty, modernity, and identity everywhere. The financial crash of 1929 destroyed illusions about the United States as the land of the future, and helped legitimize the totalitarians. European democrats looked to the 1930s New Deal as their last best hope. During the Second World War Roosevelt rebuilt the global order, with the United Nations and other new institutions. But the United States was now looking to ‘retire’ Europe from the world scene, and build a new universe based on America’s experience of the link between mass prosperity and democratic stability.
The distinction between American state-building and the construction of American nationalism is more complex than it first appears. This paper explores the changing nature of national sentiment that initially cohered around the Constitution and then, undermined by the sectional challenge from the Southern states, began to coalesce around the concept of an activist central state defined by a northern variant of American nationalism. This found political expression in the emergence of the Republican Party in the 1850s and emotional resonance in a revivification of the Declaration of Independence as a powerful nationalist symbol for a nation of immigrants. The passage of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution following the victory of Union forces in the Civil War (1861–1865), defined American citizenship for the first time, but the ethnic reality behind the nation’s civic ideal constrained the extent to which American nationalism in the later nineteenth-century moved beyond its antebellum parameters.