The biggest shift in the American metanarrative from the Romantics is a shift from a Biblical God-centered typology that repeatedly understands the settlers as a second set of "Israelites" coming to a "Promised Land" to a Romantic narrative of radical individualism implicitly or explicitly meant to differentiate the United States from Europe.
Famous examples of a God-centered religious narrative would be, first, John Winthrop's "City on a Hill" sermon in which he warns his followers that they must behave with Christian virtue because they are planting nothing less than God's kingdom on earth in the New World. He writes:
For wee must consider that wee shall be as a citty upon a hill. The eies of all people are uppon us. Soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our God in this worke wee haue undertaken, and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.
More explicitly typological, modeling the Puritan experience on the book of Exodus, is William Bradford's summation of the Pilgrim's experience coming to America in his book Of Plymouth Plantation:
May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: "Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice, and looked on their adversity, &c. Let them therefore praise the Lord, because He is good, and His mercies endure forever. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, shew how He hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the; desert wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry, and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord His loving kindness, and His wonderful works before the sons of men.
By the early nineteenth century, the emphasis had shifted from a narrative of religious utopia building to a narrative celebrating the vigor and individualism embodied in a democratic republic.
By the early nineteenth century Romantic (or transcendentalist) writers such as Washington Irving, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau were moving away from an explicitly Christian and Biblically centered narrative as a guiding force to an emphasis on the inner light of the individual. In a story like "Rip Van Winkle," an explosion of energy and individual vigor is unleashed by the establishment of a participatory democracy. Writers like Emerson advise their readers to look not to Biblical authority and any kind of European tradition for guidance, but to peer inward. Emerson, for example, in "Self Reliance" states:
Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. ... Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.
Thoreau looks to nature rather than God to find himself and looks inward to find an identity, not outward to a larger community of fellow spiritual travelers. He is not interested in church or religion as conventionally understood but in his own individualism. He writes:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Both strands of identity—the city on the hill and the individualist—continue to be important to the American psyche.