Our first observation should probably deal with regional differences in religion during the colonial period in North America. New England was the area primarily settled by Calvinists—that is, the Puritans, as those in Britain who adhered to Calvinism were known. In the Middle Colonies and the South, there was either...
Our first observation should probably deal with regional differences in religion during the colonial period in North America. New England was the area primarily settled by Calvinists—that is, the Puritans, as those in Britain who adhered to Calvinism were known. In the Middle Colonies and the South, there was either greater dominance by members of the Established Church, or greater diversity including other Protestants or other dissenters such as Quakers and Roman Catholics. Calvinism was therefore merely one religious element out of several in the European settlement of the continent.
But what characterized New Englanders in particular that can be traced to Calvinism? In the popular consciousness, we usually associate Calvinism with what came to be known as the Protestant Ethic. Hard work, success in business, and the accumulation of wealth were considered prime virtues, because Calvin's teachings had apparently indicated that success in "this life" meant that one was of the elect, and that one's fortunes here were a predictor of success in the afterlife. This kind of thinking caused the Puritans to stress not only mercantilism and competition, but the importance of knowledge and education. Even today, the Boston area is considered the educational hub of the US with its unusual number of universities, including, of course, Harvard.
Eventually, much of this competitive and success-oriented attitude trickled down through the colonies, becoming more emphatic after independence was achieved. Yet the extent to which it was due to Calvinism has perhaps been exaggerated. The English themselves already were, among the European nations, more aggressively mercantile and business-oriented, probably because of Britain's status as an island, the necessity of seafaring and trade, and the tradition of independence and (relative) democracy going back at least to the Magna Carta in the early 1200s.
It's debatable whether some special American drive to be "successful" in business and other realms is a Calvinist tendency or is due to other factors, including the random conditions of a frontier country in which the new inhabitants worked hard and achieved success simply out of necessity and not because of religion.