As we ask anew in these troubled times what it means to be an American, You, the People provides perspective by casting its eye over the answers given by past U.S. presidents in their addresses to the public. Who is an American, and who is not?
And yet, as Vanessa Beasley demonstrates in this eloquent exploration of a century of presidential speeches, the questions are not new. Since the Founders first identified the nation as “we, the people,” the faces and accents of U.S. citizens have changed dramatically due to immigration and other constitutive changes.
U.S. presidents have often spoken as if there were one monolithic American people. Here Beasley traces rhetorical constructions of American national identity in presidents’ inaugural addresses and state of the union messages from 1885 through 2000. She argues convincingly that while the demographics of the voting citizenry changed rapidly during this period, presidential definitions of American national identity did not. Chief executives have consistently employed a rhetoric of American nationalism that is simultaneously inclusive and exclusive; Beasley examines both the genius and the limitations of this language.
About the Author
Published by Texas A&M University Press