who came from Wessex in southern England, and settled onrnlarge plantations in the tidewater South; and, in the 18th century,rnlarge numbers of Scotch-Irish, who came from the fiercernand warring border country in northern England, southernrnScotland, and northern Ireland, who settled as individualisticrnfarmers in the back country of Southern and Middle AtlanticrnAmerica.rnEach of these groups had very different values, mores, institutions,rnand temperaments, and they often clashed whenrnbrought together. They were all British and almost all Protestants,rnalthough even their Protestantism varied markedly, butrnthey were still all British, and all were Christians. Hence, despiterntheir numerous differences, they were able to forge a newrnnation in opposition to the British attempt to rcimpose an empirernupon the colonies, which had been allowed, for various reasons,rnto acquire de facto independence. The Americans couldrnform a new nation because the conditions for a single nationrnexisted: a common language, a common ethnicity, a commonrnBritish heritage, and even a common religion. The inheritedrnBritish principles were essentially libertarian, stressing limitedrngovernment, parliamentary institutions, local liberties, freedomrnof speech and assembly, free markets, and the rights of privaternproperty.rnIn creating the new nation, the Founding Fathers did a trulyrnremarkable job, performed an extraordinarily difficult task phenomenallyrnwell. If you want to get depressed, consider the menrnwho forged first the new state governments with their writtenrnconstitutions binding down government, then the Articles ofrnConfederation, and finally the Constitution. Even focusing onrnthose men whom I like the least, such as Alexander Flamilton,rnsimply compare them to their counterparts today, the Bushes,rnRostenkowskis, and Clintons! Surely there is no need to belaborrnthe horrific contrast.rnWhat the Founding Fathers did, then, in casting off thernchains binding us to the British Empire, was to use their deeprnand broad insights into the history of nations, build on suchrnBritish examples as Magna Carta and the Declaration ofrnRights, and create a uniquely decentralized polity of separaternand sovereign states each delegating strictly limited powers to arnfederal government. Each of the state governments, as well asrnthe federal government, had its power chained down by constitutionsrnand bills of rights, insuring that power remained in thernhands of the people themselves. Any government power was tornbe kept on the local level, as close to the people as possible, andrnthe only function of government was to secure the propertyrnrights of the governed. Not the least, of course, the rights of thernpeople against the government itself.rnWhat about the famed “separation of church and state,” arnphrase which never appears in the founding documents? Thernpoint of this idea was not the absurd and fanatically secularistrnnotion of insuring at all costs that there be no prayer in the publicrnschools; indeed, only the New England Puritans and Unitariansrnwere interested in having any public schools at all. Whatrnthe Founding Fathers realized is that any overarching big governmentrnis apt to impose a state church and thereby transcendrnthe vital religious cheeks and limits on state power—as thernByzantine Empire and later Czarist Russia were able to do withrnthe Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe. And even thoughrnthere was no longer a single Christian church as there had beenrnin pre-Reformation Europe, there were many Protestant sectsrnin America, and the Founding Fathers were anxious to ensurernthat the federal government never established one of them tornbe the official State Church of America. Hence, the FirstrnAmendment, which of course was supposed to apply only tornthe federal government, and which wedded religious libertv tornthe absence of such an established Church. It is instructive tornnote, by the way, that a few of the states continued to have anrnestablished Church after the adoption of the Constitution,rnsuch as the Congregational Church in Connecticut, withoutrnbeing denounced by the libertarians of that day and withoutrnAmerica falling apart.rnUntil the end of the 18th century, immigration into Americarnwas homogeneous, so that free institutions of therncountry, as well as its stated libertarian principles, were solidlyrngrounded in a shared British tradition of language, customs,rnvalues, ideals, and religion. Then, as David Hackett Fischerrnpoints out, when non-British immigrants began to pour in duringrnthe 19th century, largely from Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia,rnthese nationalities could and did adapt themselves tornthose British customs and institutions: not just to the Englishrnlanguage, which was critical, but also to the values, principles,rnand institutions as stated in the founding American documentsrnas well as to the unstated but equally important traditions inheritedrnfrom Britain. This assimilation process worked astoundinglvrnwell. Even when non-British groups poured in fromrnother parts of Europe in large numbers, and even when therernwas friction and resistance, especially in the shock to Protestantsrnof Catholic immigration, the adaptation process worked withrnremarkable speed and thoroughness. Even when larger numbersrnarrived in what was termed the “new immigration” fromrnEastern and Southern Europe at the close of the 19th century,rnthe process continued to work well.rn1 remember our family physician telling me about his firstrntrip to London, about how much it meant to him to see thernHouses of Parliament, what he referred to as “our heritage.”rnEven though his personal ancestry was far from Britain and hisrnparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe, he said this inrnabsolute sincerity and without a trace of irony. As for my ownrnimmigrant father and myself, he and we had become “Americans”rnin our heart and soul, and of course Britain and its traditionsrnand institutions were the foundation of America’s andrntherefore of “our” heritage.rnWc used to talk about what it meant to be “an American.”rnWe used to say these words proudly, and they had a deep meaning.rnBut the very concept of being “an American” has beenrnlost. What does “American” mean nowadays, except to bernborn on American territory, to be entitled to welfare benefits,rnor to be subject to American taxes? Think, for example, of thernresponse should some foolhardy congressman now propose thernreestablishment of a House Committee on Un-American Activities.rnHysteria would pour in on him from all the pundits andrnmedia elites, and he would be instantly denounced as racist,rnsexist, xenophobic, homophobic, fascist, and any other smearrnepithet that might be ready at hand. But the problem liesrndeeper: Who would even know what he was talking about?rnHow could wc possibly know what the word “un-American”rnmeant if we have even lost the knowledge of what an “American”rnis supposed to be?rnWhen my father came to this country in 1910, he knew notrna word of English and had no money. All he had was the burningrndetermination to “become an American.” What thatrnmeant for him was not unusual at the time, although he perhapsrnpursued the goal with more consistency than many of hisrn16/CHRONICLESrnrnrn