According to Virginia historian Matthew Page Andrews, “As soon as the settlers were thrown upon their own resources, and each freeman had acquired the right of owning property, the colonists quickly developed what became the distinguishing characteristic of Americans — an aptitude for all kinds of craftsmanship coupled with an innate genius for experimentation and invention.”
American exceptionalism — to the extent it remains — is not the product of some sort of genetic superiority. The settlers who made something of Jamestown after Dale’s reforms were the same ones who were bowling in the streets instead of working when he arrived.
What is exceptional about America — at least, what’s been exceptional up to now — is the extent to which individuals were allowed to keep the fruits of their own labor instead of having them seized by people in power for their own purposes. The insight behind American exceptionalism is that people work harder and better for themselves, as free people, than they do as servants for some alleged communal good.
This excerpt from page 24 of Paul Johnson's A History of the American People on how to use self-interest to grow freedom.
May 12, 2013 - 9:00 am