American citizens come from diverse backgrounds and embrace a variety of religious beliefs and political opinions. Although they have many differences, what Americans have in common is a shared set of ideals that defined the United States at its birth and nearly all citizens embrace. These ideals, which include liberty, equality and faith in hard work, unify Americans and make American culture distinct.
One of the most universal and important American values is the belief in liberty. The Declaration of Independence declares that liberty is an unalienable right, and the United States Constitution ensures the protection of individual liberty through the Bill of Rights, 10 constitutional amendments that preserve rights such as the freedom of speech and the ability to bear arms. Liberty played an important part of the American westward expansion. Mormons seeking freedom from religious persecution moved west to settle Utah, and thousands of colonists moved west to other states to settle new land, earn a personal fortune and gain a measure of independence from the government.
In his 1863 Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln described the United States as a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Although many Americans did not experience equality under the law until the 19th and 20th centuries, the belief that everyone is equal was the guiding principle for the fights to abolish slavery, gain universal suffrage and to guarantee civil rights for all. Reflecting Americans' continuing commitment to equality, Gallup polls show that as of 2013, over half of Americans support equality for gay marriage – a number that has steadily increased since the 1990s.
The American dream is a belief that anyone, regardless of his background, has the opportunity to succeed in America if he works hard. According to the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of Americans believe that they can become successful through hard work – a higher percentage of people than anywhere else in the world. Because Americans believe in hard work and also value individual liberty and innovation, Americans exhibit extremely high levels of entrepreneurship. In 2011, despite a serious economic recession, 29 million Americans began or ran new small businesses.
Because Americans immigrate from every country and are united by a shared set of cultural ideals rather than ethnic heritage or religion, they exhibit remarkable diversity. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, for example, more than 300 languages are spoken in the United States, including 139 actively spoken Native American languages as well as languages from Africa, Europe and Asia. Americans also have diverse religious beliefs. Although approximately 78 percent of Americans identify as Christian, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and other world faiths are observed by approximately 5 percent of American citizens, while the remaining 16 percent are religiously unaffiliated.
- Pew Research: Religion and Public Life Project - Religious Landscape Survey
- U.S. Census Bureau: Language Use in the United States: 2011
- Gallup Politics: Same-Sex Marriage Support Solidifies Above 50% in U.S.
- Pew Research: Global Attitudes Project - Pervasive Gloom About the World Economy
- Business Insider: Check Out How Much the Average American Works Each Year Compared to the French, the Germans, and the Koreans
- Babson College: Global Entrepreneurship Monitor
- Northern Arizona University: The Mormon Pioneers
- University of North Texas: United States History - America Expanding
- United States National Archives: The Declaration of Independence
- United States National Archives: The United States Constitution
- Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images