Many political speeches, such as the 2011 State of the Union Address given by President Barack Obama, have claimed that the United States is “the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea.” Obama defined this as “the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny.”
The origin of the phrase is unknown. The Civic Reader for New Americans (1908) had this: “We said the United States was founded on an idea. What is that idea? It is the idea of freedom.” Alistair Cooke in 1941 defined the idea as “republican democracy.” Margaret Thatcher is often credited for coining the phrase in 1991, when she said, “No other nation has been built upon an idea—the idea of liberty.” Several months later in 1991, President George H. W. Bush said, “America is the first nation in history founded on an idea, on that unshakeable certainty all men are created equal.”
Civic Reader for New Americans
New York, NY: American Book Company
We said the United States was founded on an idea. What is that idea? It is the idea of freedom.
16 February 1918, The Independent, pg. 258, col. 1:
The American boasts like a man that his nation is founded on an idea.
May 1941, The Survey (Survey Associates, Charity Organization Society of the City of New York), pg. 139:
You cannot say too often that the United States is a nation founded on an idea, and that’s what makes it unique; not on blood ties or old customs, but on an idea. The preservation of that idea, republican democracy, is the only form of unity America has known. — Alistair Cooke in The Listener (London).
By John Gunther
London: Hamish Hamilton
The United States became great largely because it was founded on an idea — a complex and enveloping idea including equality of opportunity for all, government only by consent of the governed, and the Bill of Rights; the spirit and texture of American society are based on individualism, civil liberties, and the democratic process.
The Idea of an American Novel
Edited by Louis Decimus Rubin and John Rees Moore
New York, NY: Crowell
America differs from other countries in having been founded on an idea. As some historian has said, it had no pre-history, no dim and mythy past.
The Glorious Quest;
Reflections on American political philosophy
By James R. Evans
Chicago, IL: C. Hallberg
America remains founded on an idea — an idea promulgating a singular relationship between man and government.
Margaret Thatcher Foundation
1991 Mar 8 Fr
Speech at Hoover Institution Lunch
Document type: public statement
Document kind: Speech
Venue: Four Seasons Hotel, Washington DC
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments: 1335-1422. Checked against delivery. The lunch was co-sponsored by the Hoover Institution (Stanford University), the National Review, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Manhattan Institute.
Americans and Europeans alike sometimes forget how unique is the United States of America. No other nation has been created so swiftly and successfully. No other nation has been built upon an idea—the idea of liberty. No other nation has so successfully combined people of different races and nations within a single culture. Both the founding fathers of the United States and successive waves of immigrants to your country were determined to create a new identity. Whether in flight from persecution or from poverty, the huddled masses have, with few exceptions, welcomed American values, the American way of life and American opportunities. And America herself has bound them to her with powerful bonds of patriotism and pride.
Google News Archive
19 October 1991, Bryan (OH) Times, pg. 2, cols. 1-2:
Thomas takes first oath
By HELEN THOMAS
UPI White House Reporter
WASHINGTON (UPI)—Clarence Thomas, whose controversial nomination rocked the country, has moved one step closer to a seat on the SUpreme Court by taking the constitutional oath at one of the most elaborate ceremonies ever staged at the White House for such an occasion.
“America is the first nation in history founded on an idea, on that unshakeable certainty all men are created equal,” Bush said.
(President George H. W. Bush—ed.)
Google News Archive
19 September 1994, Nashua (NH) Telegraph, “What has U.S. become—a timid giant?” by Mark Patinkin, pg. 14, col. 4:
There aren’t many nations founded on an idea. America is one. The idea is freedom. And the mission of such a country is to sometimes show the killers of freedom that they can’t do that, not while we’re here; we won’t let them.
America at the Crossroads:
Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy
By Francis Fukuyama
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
Tocqueville argued that the American regime was founded on an idea of equality that defined its political institutions but also permeated the behavior and beliefs of its citizens.
New York (NY) Times
Books of The Times
The Silence of the Rational Center
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
Published: February 20, 2007
In the useful if messy new book, “The Silence of the Rational Center,” the international affairs scholars Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke argue that the Iraq war represents the third time in post-World War II American history that “Big Ideas have seized the political discourse and driven policy experts to the sidelines,” foreshortening debate, oversimplifying complex issues and replacing reasoned analysis with crude emotional appeals.
As the authors point out, America has always been drawn to the Big Idea, in part because the nation was not established, like many European countries, around a shared culture or history, but was founded on an idea: the idea of exceptionalism, which held that “Americans were a chosen people delivered from corruption and evil to a New World” and destined to serve as “an example to the world.”
Twin Cities (MN) Daily Planet
Renewing America’s Promise
By Phyllis Stenerson, Progressive Values e-newsletter
July 03, 2007
America is the first nation founded on an idea, built on a foundation of belief.
Liberty, freedom, independence, democracy. These words are used somewhat interchangeably to describe the precious foundation of our country that connects us in a common bond of shared humanity.
Conservative Heritage Times
Peg Luksik Needs to Reconsider Her Rhetoric
August 8th, 2009
Below I mentioned Peg Luksik, who is challenging Pat Toomey for the Republican nomination for Senator of Pennsylvania.
She opens, “America was founded on an idea.” NO IT WAS NOT! This is an incredibly pernicious idea and what these misguided conservatives don’t seem to understand, it is an entirely liberal (in the first sense) idea. America was not founded “on” an idea. It was founded BY a particular people in a particular time and place. This “idea nation” universalism is fundamentally hostile to the Christian particularism that candidates like Luksik in many ways support.
Congressman John Boehner (8th District of Ohio)
Washington—House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH)
Remarks to the 92nd American Legion National Convention – As Prepared For Delivery
August 31, 2010
Never forget that America remains the only nation on the face of the Earth founded on an idea, not an identity – an idea that free people can govern themselves, and that government’s powers are endowed only through the consent of the governed.
An idea that the rights of all will be respected and protected, and that no one’s opportunity to pursue happiness will be limited.
If America will not stand with freedom-loving peoples and those who seek to be free from evil – whether in the guise of petty tyranny, radical Islam, or any Marxist regime – then who on this Earth will?
Ideas matter. Our government must reawaken itself to the task of providing a more robust defense of freedom and liberty.
The White House (President Barack Obama)
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
January 25, 2011
Remarks by the President in State of Union Address
United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.
What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea -– the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That’s why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here. It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice. And tonight, more than two centuries later, it’s because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong.
Thank you. God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
U.S. News & World Report
Obama’s State of the Union Was Tantamount to Plagiarism
By Alvin Felzenberg
Posted: January 26, 2011
In an address to the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990 (sic), Margaret Thatcher delivered what might go down as the most memorable line in Obama’s second State of the Union address. The British Prime Minister told her American audience that the United States was the “first nation to have been founded on an idea.” It took the president a few additional words to get this idea across.
New York City • Government/Law/Military/Religion /Health • Thursday, January 27, 2011 • Permalink