The American Idea

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

When the founders of The Atlantic circulated their prospectus in 1857, they promised subscribers that:

In politics, The Atlantic Monthly will be the organ of no party or clique, but will honestly endeavor to be the exponent of what its conductors believe to be the American idea. It will deal frankly with persons and with parties, endeavoring always to keep in view that moral element which transcends all persons and parties, and which alone makes the basis of a true and lasting prosperity.

It was not an original coinage. Other papers, from the Kansas Herald of Freedom (“the organ of no party nor clique”) to the Daily Morning News of Savannah, Georgia (“indebted to no party, clique, or influence”) also trumpeted their independence from partisan machines.

But The Atlantic promised its readers more than freedom from narrow allegiances, it promised a commitment to the belief that ideas are larger than the people who promote them or the parties that leverage them to advance their interests. Politics is more than a partisan horserace—it’s the arena in which we fight over the ideas that matter most.

Those beliefs still guide our coverage. And we’re working hard to keep up with your demand for more of it. We’re tripling the size of our team devoted to Politics & Policy, to expand the range and variety of stories we can tell.

And this afternoon, we’re giving you three new ways to find our coverage. We’ve built a new Politics & Policy portal that pulls together our coverage of the issues that animate American debates from across the site. We’re introducing 2016 Distilled, an elections dashboard that will let you take stock of the race at a single glance, and then delve more deeply to understand how it got that way. And, since we know you’re busy, we’ll be recapping the day’s Politics & Policy stories in our daily newsletter, The Edge.

You can read more about all these changes. Check the pages out for yourself. And then write to, to let us know what we can do better.