I read an old translated letter in a book recently. Its from Baron Franciso Louis Hector deCarondelet, the Governor-General of Louisiana and West Florida in 1794 when it was under Spanish control. He warns the Spanish government that these recently independent Americans are a threat to Spanish lands and power because of their hardy, capable, and ambitious nature:
This vast and relentless population, progressively driving the Indian tribes before them and upon us, seek to possess themselves all of the vast regions which the Indians occupy between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Appalachian mountains, thus becoming neighbors at the same time that they demand with menaces the free navigation of the Mississippi
Their roving spirit and the readiness with which these people procure sustenance and shelter, facilitates rapid settlement. A rifle and a little cornmeal in a bag is sufficient for an American wandering alone in the woods for a month; with the rifle he kills wild cattle and deer for food and also defends himself against the savage; the cornmeal soaked serves as bread; with tree trunks place transversely he forms a house, and even an impregnable fort against the Indians; the cold does not terrify him and when the family grows weary of one locality, it moves to another and settles there with the same ease
Who shall warrant that our few inhabitants will not unite with joy and eagerness with men who, offering them their hep and protection for the securing of independence, self-government and self-taxation, will flatter them with the spirit and liberty and the hope of free, extensive, and lucrative commerce?
Back then, to be an American meant to be self-reliant, ambitious, hungry for freedom and making one's own way, and rejecting some central control. Americans for over a hundred years after this period were known for being "can do" people; that is, while other peoples when faced with a problem felt despair and hoped for assistance from those in power, Americans saw an opportunity and a chance to excel, relying on themselves and neighbors.
Much of that is gone, but I was considering recent history and I think its still there, in some small part.
Consider the internet for a while. Over the last ten years, what innovation, new idea, new website, new trend, or new use of the net has not been American in origin?
From Youtube to Google to Lolcats, the Internet has been a hive of uninhibited expansion and development of new ideas, with Americans leading the way. Few of the major uses of the internet have come from outside of the USA, for even concepts like the cell phone really only took off when the American idea of the "app" made them more than just a tool.
Think about the websites and locations you go every day to on the internet. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, whatever. All of those are American in origin. Youtube, American. Netflix, American. Google, Blogger, Yahoo, AOL, all American.
The thing that Americans are most hindered by, other than a culture shifting to dependence and a left-leaning mindset, is the lack of a frontier. There's nowhere to expand to, no animals to hunt and trees to fell to build a home, no land to settle, no frontier. Except online, where there are almost no limits. There's some horrible stuff out there, to be sure, but they exist on the awful fringes. The bulk of the internet is built up by people looking for a place to expand, a chance to make their name, a way to express themselves and be free.
And really, for now, that's all that's left to that rugged American spirit. Its still out there; its just stuck online.