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What did it mean to think like an American? Once the colonists had thrown off the burdens and controls of England, the possibilities for political, social and artistic creativity and experimentation seemed limitless. People felt optimistic and determined that a new order would be brought to bear, not just on government but on all institutions of social interaction. So, from the beginning of the 1800s until the first gunshot of the Civil War, the American experiment unfolded like an epic. Opportunity, heightened by political freedom and a surge of nationalism, caused most citizens to believe that the experiment might actually work. Thus, a uniquely American tradition in literature,