Well, I heard it again. Someone on the radio pontificating that we are "a nation of laws" !
I guess that may be the direction they're hoping we'll take, but I don't think it's true now, and I don't know that it ever was. Seems like our sympathy has always been with the outlaw. Screw the crooning dufus in the white hat. Screw the guy behind the tin badge. And if you're not driving at least 5 or 10 miles over the limit, screw you. Who do you know that's completely honest with the tax man? Seems like every really good piece of American writing I can bring to mind has a hero who's doing something vaguely illegal.
I guess a declaration of independence will do that to a people. Kinda goes to their heads. So you get guys like Thoreau who inspire guys like Gandhi who inspire guys like King. Seems like the only hero we could stomach out of English tradition was Robin Hood, tights 'n' all. Sheriff of Nottingham, Sheriff of Dodge, they're all the same. They're all after Robin and Tuck and Huck and Jim to stop 'em before they become Henry and Mohandas and Martin. Then they might have a nation of justice rather than a nation of laws, and that might be scary for the badged and the badgers. (ain't it odd that the non-violent heroes of real life don't seem to live very long?)
Most of us, even the fairly well educated, and especially our lawmakers, have a pretty shaky knowledge of our constitution, but you can walk into any corner bar in the blue-collared U.S. of A. and get a pretty good description of what's in the Bill of Rights, the laws which tell what we CAN do, instead of what we can't. So, I think it may be accurate to call us a nation of rights - try taking one away and see - but a nation of laws? Not yet.