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The morality of work is a consistent thread through the tapestry of American history that can probably be traced all the way back to the Pilgrims, also known as Separatists, for whom dawn to dusk toil was an absolute necessity to carry out their vision in North America, which they outlined in the "Mayflower Compact" before disembarking onto the shores of North America:
Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation. . .
Later, the Puritans of Massachusetts continued the tradition with strong beliefs in the value of work that were second in importance only to their religious beliefs, giving rise to the term "Puritan work ethic". A century later, as war with England brewed, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, speaking of people being "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"; through the years, the phrase "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" came to be underscored by the idea that in America one could achieve nearly anything if one was willing to work hard enough. This, then became known as "the American dream".
It is noteworthy to consider how strongly Christianity, hard work, and the idea of an attainable American dream were threaded throughout the children's books Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote based on her life in a pioneering family in the 1800's. Her parents often commented about what a great country America was, and about the potential and possibility as it expanded ever westward, Pa once remarking that, "If enough people think of a thing and work hard enough at it, I guess it's pretty nearlly bound to happen, wind and weather permitting." On a routine basis, Pa and Ma, as Laura called her parents, commented on what they believed to be "a good day's work", clearly believing that a day spent productively made for a better day, and a better life, than laziness; although they didn't necessarily use the term, they were demonstrating the "Puritan work ethic" every single day.
On a more contemporary note, many Americans work more today than ever before. While an average work week might be forty hours, it is not unusual for those "climbing the corporate ladder" to put in many more hours. Americans take relatively few vacation days compared to nations such as France and Italy, and the phrase "the rat race" was coined to describe this particular characteristic of American life. Some social scientists have traced this phenomenon back to America's beginnings, when survival meant hard work, and even hard work didn't guarantee survival.
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