I agree that the first and fifth amendments are important, but I think that the Founding Fathers tried to build a nation that was just and fair, but could change and grow. I will suggest that the amendment process is most important. For instance, we have the opportunity to pass an amendment such as Prohibition and then rescind it when we disagree later. It allows us to keep the legislature and states honest.
I too will take a different approach. I will have to say the Fifth Amendment. It guarantees that the government will not be able to put a person on trial twice for the same offense, protects a person against self incrimination, and most importantly, guarantees due process of law. Everyone is guaranteed a fair trial. The U.S. government cannot just throw someone in jail without giving him a fair trial. I think that is what separates America from the rest of the world. A great example of this is the case of Clarence Earl Gideon ( though this was a state case and his right to due process of law was guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.)
I'm going to take a different approach here and go off the beaten path with the often unmentioned, unheralded 9th Amendment as the most "American" and that which gives us the most freedom. The 9th states, basically, that unless a freedom is specifically taken from the people in law or the Constitution, then it exists for each individual and can be protected.
For example, the freedom to travel is found nowhere in law, nor is its severe restriction. So we have that freedom automatically, along with hundreds of others, because of the 9th Amendment. In order to restrict those freedoms automatically given to us, our elected representatives would have to do so in the legislature. This gives us the chance to influence the process, and to remove them from office with the vote or the recall if they take away freedoms we hold dear.
I agree. The First Amendment ensures every American the opportunity to both participate in their government and to be free of oppression of every kind--or the chance to seek redress if oppression by the government does occur. That's the foundation, to me, for every other opportunity guaranteed by the Constitution. And it's that opportunity which most separates America from other countries in the world. These provisions are in the First Amendment for a reason.
For me, the most important part of being an American is being a citizen of a democracy. For that reason, I think that the First Amendment best reflects what being American is all about.
I think this because the First Amendment (specifically the parts about freedom of expression) guarantee our right to act politically. It allows us to say what we think and publish what we think. It allows us to tell the government what we think and it allows us to meet with other people to discuss what we think.
This is what being American should be about -- participating in our democracy.