American Exceptionalism is grounded in the Founders, and the founding document they authored, which gives testimony to the religious, and uniquely Judeo-Christian, character of the United States of America. Today, numerous religious symbols on edifices in and around the nation’s capital add their voices to that testimony.
Images and representations of the Bible, the crucifix, Moses, and the Ten Commandments exist in engravings and sculptures at the Washington Monument, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the Capitol building, the Library of Congress, the White House, the World War II Memorial, and the Arlington National Cemetery. At the Supreme Court, the Ten Commandments are displayed in no less than three places: over the East portico, on the Court doors, and over the Chief Justice’s chair. But there is one witness to America’s religious heritage that many people carry in their purses and wallets: the one-dollar bill.
Centered on the back of the dollar bill are not the words, “In man we trust,” “In science we trust,” or “In the state we trust”; but “IN GOD WE TRUST.”
Five decades after America gained independence, French political analyst Alexis de Tocqueville remarked on the exceptional character of the United States and gave us a great snapshot of what makes America different. It was Alexis de Tocqueville that first wrote in 1831 that America was “exceptional”. This was in response to his experiencing the unique blend of government and religion. In his work, “Democracy in America” he makes this observation regarding that blend:
“Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions…I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion – for who can search the human heart? – but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or to a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society.” (Ibed., p.316)
Unlike other nations that were defined by ethnicity, geography, common heritage, social class, or hierarchal structures, America was a nation of immigrants bond together by a shared commitment to the democratic principles of liberty, equality, individualism and laissez faire economics.