American Ideals & National Symbols

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will look at some of the core American ideals and key national symbols. We will explore how these relate to the American national identity, and we will interpret their meaning.


What comes to mind when you think about some of the core American ideals and values? If you're thinking about ideals like democracy, freedom, liberty, equality, justice, and opportunity, you're on the right track. It was these ideals that first attracted European settlers to the land that is now America, and it is these ideals that continue to be cherished to this day.

The United States is among the freest nations on earth. Its citizens enjoy tremendous liberty thanks to the way the American government was set up by its founders. See, the 'Founding Fathers' grew up under British authority and knew what it was like to live without some of the freedoms we take for granted. So after the Revolutionary War, when it came time for them to establish a government, they formed a democracy. A democracy is a government in which the people are able to choose their leaders. This is usually done through voting. In America, every four years, we vote to decide who we want to be the President of the United States. This is a cherished freedom that many other countries don't have.

The liberties Americans enjoy, such as having the freedom to choose one's religion (or no religion), the right to own firearms, the right to a fair trial, the right to freely express one's views, these are all laid out in the American Constitution. The Constitution was written by America's founders. It was adopted in 1789, and it's kind of like a rulebook for our country and its people. It tells the government what it can and can't do, and it tells citizens what their freedoms are.

The U.S. Constitution is kind of like a rulebook for the American government and its people.

Unfortunately, there was a time in our history when not everyone was treated equally. African-Americans were held as slaves until slavery became illegal in 1865, and women were not allowed to vote until 1920. However, today America is known for being a country that values equality. Regardless of one's race, sex, religion, or other unique background factors, in the Unites States every human being is equal under the law.

Americans value justice. In our legal system, everyone is 'innocent until proven guilty.' Whereas in times past, individuals could be thrown in jail or fined just because the king didn't like them, we have a legal system in which people only go to jail if they commit a serious offense. And even then, there must be substantial evidence to prove it. Justice is a foundational American ideal.

There is so much more we could discuss, but we have to keep moving for the sake of time. But one last thing we need to make sure everyone understands: it's a simple concept really. It's the idea of patriotism. Patriotism is basically taking pride in one's nation. Patriotism runs strong in the United States. The Fourth of July is a major American patriotic holiday.


There are so many American national symbols, we can't possibly hit them all, but we will highlight some of the important ones. But first, let's talk about the phrase E pluribus unum. This Latin phrase means 'Out of many, one.' The idea here is that although the American people are racially and culturally diverse, together the American people have a strong national unity. We are united by our individual uniqueness.

Now on to national symbols. The American Flag has undergone many changes throughout the years, but it has remained the premier symbol of the United States. Its 50 stars represent the 50 states, and its 13 stripes represent the 13 original British colonies.

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