The Declaration of Independence, with its assertion that all men had the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, had sown the winds in which ways its 56 signers had perhaps not quite intended. In the early years of the young republic, America's leaders faced the challenge of meeting the expectations of what their rhetoric had once promised on the one hand, and on the other of ensuring that these expectations did not pose a serious challenge to their own hegemony. At the same time their writings and the ensuing literatures of the Early Republic had to prove their distance from Europe, while affirming the superiority of America and all things American.

This course focuses on the controversies and definitions of a national identity in early American literatures to make graspable the struggle for an American identity that has been with us ever since the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).