Early American Behavior

Simon Snyder.

Americans in the late 1700s were “known for pushing and shoving each other in public and for their dread of ceremony.” Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 329. Further, violence, rioting, and demonstrations in America had become commonplace, more than in England. See id. at 335-36. Some blamed this uniquely American behavior as being caused by an excessively alcohol-centered culture. By way of example, Gordon Wood explains in Empire of Liberty that during a trial in court, “a bottle of liquor might be passed among the attorneys, spectators, clients, and the judge and jury.” Id. at 340.

These early American behaviors changed the nature of politics. Republicans began to realize that the dream of a Republic full of virtuous, compassionate individuals who would sacrifice their wellbeing for those of their compatriots was not coming true. Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 329.

Common Americans began to want unpretentious men for politicians, which some took as troubling. When some attempted to mock those politicians who were unpretentious and unrefined, the majority of individuals would crowd out the naysayers. For example, Simon Snyder was elected governor of Pennsylvania in 1808, and insisted in not having an honor guard at his inauguration because he did not want the “pomp and parade,” which he felt was un-democratic. See Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 331. Opponents mocked him, calling his followers clodhoppers as an insult, however, him and his supporters took that term and reversed it, treating it as a badge of honor.

To illustrate the new American mentality even further, while in the 1700s men had worn colorful, varied clothing, in the 1800s men came to dress alike with “black coats and pantaloons,” so as to be equal with all other men. Id. at 332.

Since those early days of “wild American behavior,” much has changed. The days of passing around liquor bottles in court are certainly gone. But the sense of having a truly democratic society, as Simon Snyder preferred, has not changed. When an inauguration occurs, whether at the state level or the federal level, there are traditions that have developed over the past two centuries. However, these traditions fall short of anything close to the monarchical traditions of Europe at the time of Simon Snyder.

Setting aside the fact that Americans have apparently had a reputation for violence from the beginning, it is interesting to note that Americans have tightly held to the belief that a modest Republic is possible to maintain and is preferable to other types of government. While America is no longer quite so modest as in its early days, it stands alone as one of the most powerful countries in the world, both economically and militarily, while also keeping an identifiable modesty in the conduct of the government.

Some may take issue with such a conclusion, that America is a noble republic that does not display “pomp and parade.” But then again, looking to other powers in the world currently and looking to the great powers of years past, when has a country with so much power carried a quiet confidence that its power was here to stay? It surely takes a significant amount of scouring the history books to answer that question.

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