Survey of American Literature
November 13, 1996
THE NEW LAND OF NEW IDEAS
The 18th century Americans turned their backs on the old ideas of the
Puritans. The Puritans believed in the population acting within the religious
ways of the times. The 18th century population turned their lifestyles to a
lifestyle of self interest. This lifestyle was dedicated to the goal of obtaining
wealth and prestige among the community. DeCrevecouer writes:
He is arrived on a new continent; a modern society offers itself to his
contemptation, different from what he had hitherto seen. It is not
composed, as in Europe, of great lords who possess every thing and of a
herd of people who have nothing. Here are no aristocratical 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. The rich and the poor are not so
far removed from each other as they are in Europe.
In the old mother land, one could work all day and still not produce very
much. However, in the new land there was more opportunity for
entrepreneurship. This led to a increase in the self-interest principle and a
decrease in the principles of religion. In Old England, it was believed that the
few that had the wealth were blessed. Even the King was viewed as the
Lord's represantive on Earth. In the new land one had to work to gain faith.
Wealth that the individual created was viewed as being faithful to the Lord.
The new America gives birth to a true entrepreneurship among the races, if
they are going to have anything at all they are going to have to work for it.
DeCrevecouer explains this:
Men are like plants; the goodness and flavour of the fruit proceeds
from the peculiar soil and exposition in which they grow. We are nothing
but what we derive from the air we breathe, the climate we inhabit, the
government we obey, the system of religion we profess, and the nature of
This was not the land where wealth would be left to you in a will, this was the
land of sweat labor. This passage indicates that a man is only as good as the
product that he produces. This means the wealth that his tract of land
created. Furthermore, it holds meaning for how is family was taking care of.
Also, the community enters the picture here. If man is not active in his
community the community is nothing. We are only as good as what we put
in. The 18th century Americans moved to these principles of increasing self-
interest and that has carried over to today.
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