Looking at "Information to Those Who Would Remove to America," what is Benjamin Franklin's vision of the United States?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Benjamin Franklin's "Information to Those Who Would Remove to America" was written to correct the misconceptions of Europeans who viewed the nascent United States in a certain light and to encourage a certain class of immigrant to come to the new country.

It is useful to understand the context of...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Benjamin Franklin's "Information to Those Who Would Remove to America" was written to correct the misconceptions of Europeans who viewed the nascent United States in a certain light and to encourage a certain class of immigrant to come to the new country.

It is useful to understand the context of when this was written. The Continental Army had recently won a decisive victory over British forces, and it was clear to most Europeans that a new nation was being established. Franklin was sent to France to take part in peace negotiations with Great Britain. A number of wealthy and aristocratic Europeans expressed interest in moving to America where they hoped their wealth and station would afford them with power and a leisurely lifestyle. Franklin penned this response in an effort to dissuade them.

In this piece, Franklin writes that:

The Truth is, that tho' there are in that Country few People so miserable as the Poor of Europe, there are also very few that in Europe would be called rich: it is rather a general happy Mediocrity that prevails. There are few great Proprietors of the Soil, and few Tenants; most People cultivate their own Lands, or follow some Handicraft or Merchandise; very few rich enough to live idly upon their Rents or Incomes; or to pay the high Prices given in Europe, for Paintings, Statues, Architecture and the other Works of Art that are more curious than useful.

In other words, Franklin is making it clear to the aristocracy of Europe that their station would be rendered meaningless in America where the middle-class functions as the backbone of society and the economy. As such, if a person does not have the entrepreneurial spirit to contribute directly to the economy, then they would find no useful or welcome place in the new country. To put it more bluntly, America did not want an upper-class that relied on the labor of peasants to allow them to live a privileged life, as was the case in much of Europe.

In light of this, Franklin asserted that America was establishing a separate course in which someone's social class based on birth did not matter:

Much less is it adviseable for a Person to go thither who has no other Quality to recommend him but his Birth. In Europe it has indeed its Value, but it is a Commodity that cannot be carried to a worse Market than to that of America where People do not enquire concerning a Stranger, What is he? but What can he do?

Franklin makes the point that the young United States does not concern itself with pedigree but rather with what useful service or skill a person has to offer. To this end, Franklin encourages European craftsmen, artisans, and farmers to make the voyage to America where, he says, they would be welcomed for the contributions that they could provide. He tells them that there is land and opportunity available to them in ways that a crowded European continent lacks.

Franklin even contends that the work ethic of the United States will promote good morals in immigrants which will be passed down to their children:

Industry and constant Employment are great Preservatives of the Morals and Virtue of a Nation. Hence bad Examples to Youth are more rare in America, which must be a comfortable Consideration to Parents.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As opposed to Europe, where there exists both very poor and very rich people, America, as Franklin writes, contains a "happy mediocrity." He writes that America is not a place for those who want to live idly on the rents they collect or for people who appoint themselves as geniuses. Instead, it is a place where those who work the soil or have a trade will be rewarded. It is also a place in which public offices are not very numerous or remunerative. People who prosper in America do so by their own industry and by providing services that are useful, instead of by relying on the patronage of great men.

Those willing to work the land can establish themselves in America and benefit from the availability of cheap land. As people in America tend to have large families, there are also positions for carpenters and builders. Franklin writes that the sins of idleness are prevented in America, where everyone must have a trade or business of some sort to survive. His vision of America is of a land in which people are industrious, healthy, and ambitious.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The major point that Franklin is trying to make in this piece is that the United States is a country in which people are all fairly equal.  It is an egalitarian country both in attitudes and in economics.  His vision of the United States, then, is that it is a country where everyone is equal to one another.

Franklin starts out by talking about economics.  He says that people from Europe think that they could just come over to American and become rich.  But Franklin says that is not likely to happen.  He says that there are few poor people but also that there are few very rich people.  In his words, while it is true that there are, in the United States

 few People so miserable as the Poor of Europe, there are also very few that in Europe would be called rich; it is rather a general happy Mediocrity that prevails.

Franklin goes on to say that there is no point in leaving Europe if you think that your birth matters.  He says that the US is not a place for aristocracy.  As he says, it is a very bad idea for a person to come to the US

who has no other Quality to recommend him but his Birth. In Europe it has indeed its Value; but it is a Commodity that cannot be carried to a worse Market than that of America…

Franklin sees the United States, then, as a land of opportunity where anyone can become something if they are willing to work hard.  He sees it as a land where no one is better than anyone else, but anyone can get ahead.  As he says, the kind of people who should come to America are

Persons of moderate Fortunes and Capitals, who, having a Number of Children to provide for, are desirous of bringing them up to Industry, and to secure Estates for their Posterity…

If these people come to America, they will find opportunities that are not available to them in Europe. 

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team