Person of the Year

In 1782 an expatriate French aristocrat named J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur who lived in New York’s Hudson Valley published a book in London called Letters from an American Farmer. The third letter was titled “What Is an American?” That question reverberated in the late 18th century as the Old World tried to make sense of the New. It’s still relevant 230 years later, in part because Americans are changing even as America itself remains much the same.

Crèvecoeur wondered, “What then is the American, this new man?” He was a citizen by choice, not birth — he had decided to come here. Such a thing had never existed before. In many ways, Barack Obama is the 21st century version of this new American. But he’s more than just a political figure; he’s a cultural one. He is the first President to embrace gay marriage and to offer work permits…

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