What is Michel Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur's attitude toward Europeans and Americans in Letters from an American Farmer?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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While Michel Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur does not think America is perfect, in his 1792 Letters from an American Farmer he finds many more praiseworthy things about America than about his native Europe. 

In the third letter, entitled "What is an American?" he imagines what it would be like for an Englishman to come to America for the first time. 

The first comparison he makes is who is allowed to own land. America is comprised of 

fair cities, substantial villages, extensive fields, an immense country filled with decent houses, good roads, orchards, meadows, and bridges, where an hundred years ago all was wild, woody and uncultivated.... It is not composed, as in Europe, of great lords who possess every thing and of a herd of people who have nothing.

This is a not-so-veiled condemnation of England which deprives common people of the right to own land.

The next point of comparison Crèvecoeur makes between America and Europe is between the rich (powerful) and the poor (powerless). In America there

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 America, he says, everyone is a "farmer" (a "tiller of the earth"), who cultivates whatever he has, without government restrictions or fearing any oppressive power.  At church, everyone is equal, respectable and humble. "There is not among them an esquire, saving the unlettered magistrate." The preacher is the same kind of man as his parishioners; here there are no princes or lords for whom everyone else must serve and work for, doing nothing to benefit themselves. This is a direct condemnation of both the Church of England as well as the class structure in England. "Here man is free; as he ought to be." 

Europe, he says, is full of displaced poor people without jobs or even a country which they can call their own because no one acts on their behalf.

Can a wretch who wanders about, who works and starves, whose life is a continual scene of sore affliction or pinching penury; can that man call England or any other kingdom his country? A country that had no bread for him, whose fields procured him no harvest, who met with nothing but the frowns of the rich, the severity of the laws, with jails and punishments; who owned not a single foot of the extensive surface of this planet?

In Europe, these people were outcasts, left to whither and die from "want, hunger, and war." When these people came to America, however, they were regenerated by 

new laws, a new mode of living, a new social system; here they are become men.... Formerly they were not numbered in any civil lists of their country, except in those of the poor; here they rank as citizens.

Crèvecoeur coins the term "melting pot" to refer to America because a man's former heritage, position, or manners do not matter here. He is a "new man."

Perhaps most importantly, an American is rewarded for his diligence and hard work because he works for his own interest. The fruits of his labor are his own, "without any part being claimed, either by a despotic prince, a rich abbot, or a mighty lord."

Clearly Crèvecoeur believes that America is superior to England because Americans are free in so many ways that Englishmen are not, despite living in a free land. 

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