National character was once recognized as elemental. Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War turns on the differing Athenian and Spartan characters. Now, however, national character as a topic hides somewhere between the distastefully insensitive and the arrogantly impermissible. But for early Americans in the New World, defining and describing it was imperative, and was luminously achieved in the literature of the colonial, early republic, and “American Renaissance” periods. A century later, the cultural upheavals of the late 1960s obliterated the canon of American identity to replace it with reading lists purposed for factional political advantage.
This is an attempt to recover some of the liveliest and most powerfully revealing writings from “in the time of the Americans.”