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Letters from an American Youngster

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What does it truly mean to declare I am an American? Is it just another way to say I am an inhabitant of America? If an early American immigrant had declared I am an American what would the phrase have meant? Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, an influential writer and farmer from the late 1700s to early 1800s, wrote Letters from an American Farmer, in which he answered the grand question, What is an American? Of the many elements and attributes of early American life as discussed by Crevecoeur, freedom, capitalism, and equality are three that truly defined what it meant to be an early American.

Early Americans were not just Europeans who lived in America. They were people who were free from Europe. Previously, European immigrants had to pay dues to their lords and church. Many had to pay heavy taxes to their governments. In America, the opposite was true. Crevecoeur explains this here:It [America] is not composed, as in Europe, of great lords who possess everything, and of a herd of people who have nothing. Here are no aristocratic families, no courts, no kings, no bishops, no ecclesiastical dominion, no invisible power giving to a few a very visible one; no great manufacturers employing thousands, no great refinements of luxury. (23)Not only were early Americans free from Europe, but they were also free to explore the vast American expanse and homestead wherever they pleased. Crevecoeur clearly shows this here:Here man is free as he ought to be; nor is this pleasing equality so transitory as many others are.

Many ages will not see the shores of our great lakes replenished with inland nations, nor the unknown bounds of North America entirely peopled. Who can tell how far it extends? Who can tell the millions of men whom it will feed and contain? For no European foot has as yet travelled half the extent of this mighty continent! (24)Early Americans had countless other new freedoms. They were free to marry whomever they wanted, they were free to learn, and they were free to be creative. Freedom by definition is the condition of being free of restraints. But freedom is much more than being free of restraints. Freedom defined what it meant to be an early American; without freedom, immigrants would just be Europeans living in America.

With freedom from the repression of Europe and these newfound American freedoms, early Americans were able to profit greatly from capitalism. Many immigrants came to America with nothing but the shirt on their backs, but because of capitalism they were able to prosper. Individuals came to America to farm their own land and run their own enterprises. Crevecoeur felt that because the early Americans worked for themselves, not a lord, king, or government, they were very motivated. Crevecoeur explains this here:Here the rewards of his industry follow with equal steps the progress of his labor; his labor is founded on the basis of nature, self-interest: can it want a stronger allurement?

Wives and children, who before in vain demanded of him a morsel of bread, now, fat and frolicsome, gladly help their father to clear those fields whence exuberant crops are to arise to feed and to clothe them all; without any part being claimed, either by a despotic prince, a rich abbot, or a mighty lord. (25-26)Crevecoeur felt that in early America men could be truly equal. Crevecoeur said, Formerly they were not numbered in any civil lists of their country, except in those of the poor; here they rank as citizens (24). There was little difference between the richest and poorest in Crevecoeurs eyes. The rich and the poor are not so far removed from each other as they are in Europe (23). In early America, a rich lawyer would have the same modest luxuries as a poor farmer. Crevecoeur also felt that ethnic background was not an issue in early America. A Dutch blacksmith and an Irish potato farmer were both American equals in his eyes. Crevecoeur talks about this here:I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations.

He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. (25)Freedom, capitalism, and equality are three elements of American life that separately do not make an American, but together they are truly the makings of an American. Its interesting to think that even though more than 200 years have passed since Crevecoeur wrote Letters from an American Farmer, much of his idea of what I am an American means still applies to this day. Americans still enjoy many of the same freedoms, are certainly still capitalistic, and they strive to have equality towards all.

Work Cited

Crevecoeur, Hector. Letters from an American Farmer. Ideas Across

Ed. Igor Webb. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008. 22-27.

Warning: I have not been graded on this essay yet. Also this is the first essay in my English comp 1 class, so it’s probably going to have some errors.

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