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Crevecoeur, Hector St. John de. "What is an American?".

Moving to America

- every person's country, knows no strangers

- a refuge, an asylum for the poor and the oppressed of Europe

- "Where bread is, there is one's country."

- the refugees regenerate, become men, ripe to maturity, rank as citizens

- commit very few crimes

- the useless become useful, the poor become rich: not in gold, but in cleared lands, cattle, good clothes, etc.

Conditions in America

- praises the achievements in building of cities and cultivating of fields

- the rich and the poor not so far removed from each other as in Europe

- a people of cultivators where each works for himself

- democratic government: laws ratified and confirmed by the crown to protect the citizens

- religious freedom (William Penn and the Quakers)

- whatever talents or inclinations the person has, he may satisfy them


- in all societies there are outcasts

- esp. near the frontier, beyond the reach of government, remote from the power of good example

- destructive effects of the howling wilderness

- the outcasts are worse than the Indians, degenerated into the hunting state

- mentions some nationalities more inclined to fail than the others (e.g. the quarrelsome and drinking Irishmen)

- optimistic vision for the future: prosperity will polish some, law will drive off the rest

People of America

- the most perfect society now existing

- a mixture of English, Scottish, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, and Swedes

- all of them create the race now called Americans

- introduces the notion of melting

- only eastern provinces consist of unmixed Englishmen

- also mixture of religious sects

What is an American

- new environment makes a new man

- absence of aristocracy, of lords and tenants, working for oneself => self-interest

- new man: acts upon new principles, new ideas, new opinions

- a person becomes an American by being received in this great Alma Mater

- Americans were once scattered all over Europe, now incorporated into one the finest systems of population

- requirements for an American: peaceable subject; sober, honest, and industrious


  • Author

    Crevecoeur, Hector St. John de. (1735 - 1813).
  • Full Title

    "What is an American?".
  • First Published

    In: Letters from an American Farmer and Sketches of Eighteenth-Century America. London: 1782.
  • Form


Works Cited

Crevecoeur, Hector St. John de. "What is an American?". Letters from an American Farmer. (1782). In: The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym et al. NY: Norton, 1989.


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