October 23, 2017
Crevecoeur’s Utopian America: How Paine Makes it Possible
Through their best-selling writings, both American farmer and diplomat John De Crevecoeur and the passionate rhetorician Thomas Paine contributed greatly to the development of a newfound American identity. The unprecedented influence of Paine’s radical masterpiece Common Sense is well known to many Americans to this day; after all, the piece is credited as being the very document that inspired the American revolution. However, Crevecoeur is less known, but this is not to say that his influence did not play a part in shaping our country’s ideals and ambitions. Crevecoeur was a true American optimist; one who recognized the ideals in which the newly formed country was aspiring towards. He painted a beautiful image of what the newborn country could strive to become and, with his descriptions, he successfully evokes a sense of excitement within the reader. However, Crevecoeur’s optimism is made possible largely in part by the influence of Paine and the words he wrote a few years before Crevecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer was published. Had Common Sense not been written, Crevecoeur’s optimistic words may have not appeared until years later, or even quite possibly never in his lifetime. Crevecoeur’s wondrous portrayal of a beautiful land of opportunity was only able to become actualized due to Paine’s passionate call for liberation from English tyranny, thus contributing to the foundation of a new American identity.
The optimism of Crevecoeur’s piece “Letters from an American Farmer” can be noticed throughout the duration of the work. He writes in detail of the benefits of industriousness, the importance of owning land, and the freedom of every man to worship (or not worship at all) how he sees fit. When describing the new American citizen, Crevecoeur writes “How does it concern the welfare of the country, or of the province at large, what this man’s religious sentiments are, or really whether he has any at all (314)?” There are several instances throughout Crevecoeur’s writing in which he praises the concept of free religion and claims that so long as a man is to be “sober, peaceable, and a good citizen,” he will prosper in this new land. The freedom to worship however one pleases was a right that was fought for by the American people just years prior to Crevecoeur’s piece and it was by no means easily attained. The advent of the American Revolution ensured the new American people with this right when they obtained liberation from British rule. If it were not for the writings of Thomas Paine this concept may have not been actualized until years later, for Paine was the man who brought about inspiration for the revolution in his profoundly influential work Common Sense.
In addition, both Paine and Crevecoeur shared a personal detestation for the English government and both agreed that America would be more prosperous when free from British rule. Their criticisms of English parliament and the tyranny that has often come with it are present throughout their work. For example, Paine writes “This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe. Hither have they fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother but from the cruelty of the monster;… (327).” Paine showcases that America was never meant to be under British rule; arguing that England should have limited its influence on their mother country alone. Also, a few years later when post-revolution America was beginning to build its foundation, Crevecoeur writes about religious freedom; listing the new country’s many advantages over that of England. For example, Crevecoeur writes “If they [American citizens] are peaceable subjects, and are industrious, what is it to their neighbor how and in what manner they think fit to address their prayers to the Supreme Being (314)?” This claim is used by Crevecoeur to showcase the new priorities of the brave new world; a country in which the individual effort of each man reigns triumphant over his personal religious convictions.
In addition, Crevecoeur wrote in detail on the value of industriousness as the primary means to individual liberty; a concept that has been an essential towards American identity since the start of the new country. For example, when telling of the superiority of America over the European countries he writes “Here the rewards of his [citizen] industry follows with equal steps the progress of his labor; his labor is founded on the basis of nature, self-interest; can it want stronger allurement (312)?” Crevecoeur compares the limiting economic circumstances of Europe to that of the new America, showcasing to his reader the magnificence possibilities of the country. Referring back to Paine, if it were not for his call for British liberation, the idea of industry as a means of personal freedom may have not come to fruition so quickly. Prior to the revolution, the country was in a state of turmoil. Tensions were rising between the American people and the British government; the primary concern of the time was attaining liberation by any means necessary. The acquiring of basic human rights was the focus and Paine’s call to action was of the utmost importance. Human rights granted by nature, the rights endowed by our Creator were to be fought for first, it is not until those rights are granted that the American citizen is given the opportunity to further prosper. Crevecoeur’s portrait of America is not at all possible without the ideology of Paine being actualized.
Additionally, in his work Common Sense, Paine writes a great deal about the dangers of America’s reconciliation with Britain. For example, Paine states “…the injuries and disadvantages which we sustain by that connection, are without number; and out duty to mankind at large, as well as to ourselves, instruct us to renounce this alliance… (328).” Paine speculated that if America was to remain under British rule then undoubtedly the country would be involved in wars and quarrels that—had they not been under the rule of Britain—they would not have been a part of. Surprisingly, before the advent of Common Sense not many citizens were opposed to the idea of reconciliation. In fact, first president of the United States himself George Washington stated in the spring of 1776 “every exertion of my worthy colleagues and myself will be equally extended to the re-establishment of peace and harmony between the Mother Country and these Colonies (Young, Rowland pg. 90).” This statement only serves to showcases the dramatic influence Paine had on his readers; perhaps Paine put into words what many citizens had been thinking, but were too afraid to voice. Also, this serves to showcase how the freedom of speech—a core belief present in our American identity—carries the potential to bring about radical positive change.
Touching back on the influence of Crevecoeur, there is yet another characteristic in which he provides towards building a new American identity; this is: industry as a means of controlling the nature found in an environment. Examples of this would include the removal of trees from a forest to make room for a farm, or perhaps the draining of a swamp to cultivate the land and making it ideal for landscaping. In later chapters of Crevecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer there is significant emphasis placed on the labor required to overcome the obstacles of the land. Crevecoeur describes the island of Nantucket as “the spot where so many difficulties have been overcome, where extraordinary exertions have produced extraordinary effects, and where every natural obstacle has been removed by vigorous industry (Carew-Miller, Anna p.242).” In her essay, scholar Anna Carew-Miller claims that Crevecoeur was a man who derived great pleasure from the intense labor required to “scratch a garden out of the sandy island soil (Carew-Miller, p. 245).” It is of no surprise then, that Crevecoeur wrote in detail, and very admirably of the lifestyle of a farmer and the strenuous labor required to thrive in the profession. The necessity of hard labor to achieve an individual’s intended goal is a concept that has been put into practice since the start of the new country and remains present to this day.
It is true that Thomas Paine and John De Crevecoeur contributed to the formation of an American identity in much different ways. However, the influences of these two men link up quite nicely. Paine’s radical call from British tyranny was essential for Crevecoeur’s American utopia to be actualized. Also, it is interesting to note that Paine—a man not well liked by his peers due to his indiscreet and hot-tempered nature—was the man to write a brilliant pamphlet so filled with skilled rhetoric and persuasion that he eventually became considered the man responsible for bringing about the American Revolution. This feat proves to showcase that an individual, even though not well liked, has the capability in this country to make a drastic social change. In that sense, Thomas Paine has done more than succeeded in defining what it is to be an American.
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Paine, Thomas. Common Sense. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Nina Baym,
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Young, Rowland L. “A Powerful Change in the Minds of Men.” American Bar Association
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