“my god! how little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy.” Thomas Jefferson in a letter to James Monroe, June 17, 1785
When I do house tours at Monticello, I sometimes use this quotation in the entrance hall. Jefferson displayed North American animal racks, maps of Virginia and the United States, and Native American objects. I use this quote when talking about some of those items, as I presume that Jefferson might have had those objects in the entrance hall so his visitors could become more well acquainted with a few of our uniquely American blessings.
For a while, when America was a brand new nation, it seems like some Europeans tried to argue that everything from our animals to our indigenous people paled in comparison to their European counterparts. For example, French naturalist George Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (I love that this last part sounds a bit like buffoon), believed American animals to be puny compared to European animals. Puny isn’t a direct quote, of course. Jefferson then set out to prove such assertions incorrect, relying on the heft of our American Moose to bring the point home on that particular point about wildlife size.
Jefferson and our other founding fathers were fashioning a national identity for us. I think it is easy for me to take for granted today what it means to be American. Like members of any culture, we have our strengths and weaknesses. But we can take for granted certain aspects of our national identity because people like Jefferson were determined to help the young nation define itself—through our ideas and passions, in our architecture, and through our unique natural treasures.
Here’s a list, in no particular order, of American blessings for which I’m grateful:
Clean, running hot water – Okay, I know that they have this in other places, but there are also many places where folks don’t have it.
Consistent access to ice for drinks – I didn’t realize this was an American thing until I traveled in Europe.
Businesses open 24-hours – Often this is excessive, but when you need an item in the middle of the night (whether it be a burger or pain reliever) and a place that sells it is open. Well, that is purely magical.
Yummy diversity – Just from our country we can get all sorts of fruits and vegetables because our climates vary so.
Access to two oceans – Access to one ocean is pretty awesome. Two? Divine.
A seemingly limitless number of graphic T-shirts – Okay, I know that fancy people in other countries bemoan the bad American T-Shirt, but sometimes the shirts are just funny. Or they give you a quick indication of a person’s personality by showing something she or he might be into.
American Football – No offense to fans of soccer, but all that flopping on the ground while moaning and clutching that happens when one player sneezes near another—come on. Give me 7-foot-tall guys in helmets and shoulder pads attempting to tackle each other to death any day.
What are some “precious blessings” in America you enjoy?