What Is Nationalism in American History?

Nationalism is a term that has been used throughout American history to describe the patriotic sentiment felt by Americans towards their country. Rooted in the belief that America is a unique and exceptional nation, nationalism has played a significant role in shaping American identity and politics. In this article, we will explore the meaning of nationalism in American history and its impact on American society.

What is Nationalism?

Nationalism can be defined as the belief in the superiority of one’s nation over others. It is a sentiment that is often expressed through symbols such as flags, anthems, and other patriotic symbols. Nationalism places great emphasis on the unity and strength of the nation as a whole.

The Roots of American Nationalism

American nationalism has its roots in the struggle for independence from British colonial rule. The early Americans saw themselves as a new nation, one that was founded on principles of liberty and democracy. This sense of being a new and unique nation led to a strong sense of national pride.

During the 19th century, American nationalism became closely tied to Manifest Destiny – the belief that it was America’s destiny to expand westward across the continent. This idea was fueled by nationalist rhetoric which portrayed America as exceptional and destined for greatness.

Nationalism in American Politics

Nationalism has played an important role in shaping American politics throughout its history. In times of crisis or war, nationalist sentiment often increases as citizens rally around their country and leaders.

In recent years, nationalism has become increasingly politicized with some politicians using it to appeal to voters who feel left behind by globalization. This type of nationalism can be exclusionary, promoting an “us vs them” mentality that can lead to division within society.

The Pros and Cons of Nationalism

There are both pros and cons to nationalism in American society. On one hand, it can promote a strong sense of unity and patriotism, which can be beneficial in times of crisis or war. Nationalism can also serve as a unifying force in a diverse society.

On the other hand, nationalism can lead to division within society, particularly when it is used to exclude certain groups. It can also lead to an overemphasis on national identity at the expense of individual rights and freedoms.


In conclusion, nationalism has played a significant role in shaping American identity and politics throughout its history. While it can promote a sense of unity and patriotism, it is important to be aware of its potential downsides. As Americans, we should strive to create a society that is inclusive and celebrates diversity while still promoting a strong sense of national pride.