Are Nation and Country Synonyms?
In my grade school long ago, each day began with the Pledge of Allegiance and a patriotic song. Recent events have me asking, to what were we pledging? The flag is a potent symbol, but of what?
Nation emphasizes people; country emphasizes place. “One nation indivisible” asserts a shared American culture, which my teachers called a melting pot. Historian Frederick Jackson Turner thought an American ethos of self-reliance and individualism arose from the interaction of people with place on the American frontier. “A thoroughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness,” we sang. “Through every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
What our public officials and military personnel swear to uphold, however, is neither people nor place, nor any individual or agency, but the United States Constitution. The patriotic songs in my grade school didn’t mention it. It lacks the clarion call of “land of the free, home of the brave” or the tenderness of “land that I love . . . my home, sweet home.” Only in high school and beyond did I realize the Constitution's primary claim on my allegiance as an American.
8/17/2020 08:32:05 am
To me, a poignant way to separate our types of allegiance is to think of what would still exist if our civil war had gone the other way. Our country would have become two. I expect our nation would have become two as well, based on the obvious conceptual differences. But the constitution would have remained the same - just its interpretation and application would have become solidified in different directions. That occurs even within our one Supreme Court today, so these different directions would likely not affect the overall reverence we would continue to have for the document itself.
8/17/2020 03:19:22 pm
Lots here to think about, Dennis. You inspired me to look at the constitution of the Confederacy, which is indeed closed based on the U.S. Constitution but with more emphasis on each state's autonomy. I wonder if the U.S. Constitution would have the critical 14th Amendment if the war had gone the other way.
Sorry, Sarah, I guess I'm focusing on the negative. Frederick Jackson Turner's beloved frontier is one of stolen land. Native peoples do not look as fondly on the European invasion. Romanticizing it tells an incomplete story. As for the Constitution, written by slave owners, I like how it now says, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." That is the country and nation I love.
8/18/2020 05:49:27 pm
The imperfect new country was created out of imperfect colonies by imperfect humans, who had the wisdom to build into their imperfect constitution the means to improve it over time by amendments like the one you quote. Yes, that's the one I love, too - and still needs improvement, and probably always will. I still believe our nation at its best is grounded in an idea - that all people are created equal and have inalienable rights. We need to keep working toward fulfilling that idea.
Leave a Reply.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.