Letters from an American Farmer
The Contrasting Attitudes Toward Freedom Held by J. Hector St. John De Crèvecoeur and Phillis Wheatley
Crèvecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer and Phillis Wheatley’s poems exemplify vastly different attitudes toward freedom from contemporaries within the British colonies. Crèvecoeur defines freedom most simply as owning land, because owning land allows men to eventually achieve success through hard work, without being impeded by tyranny from a monarch, a landlord, or the church. It is harder to pinpoint Wheatley’s exact definition of freedom. In one of her poems, “to the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth,” Wheatley describes tyranny as enslaving those who live in the colonies, showing how she not only considers freedom as emancipation from slavery, but how, like Crèvecoeur, she believes freedom is compromised by tyranny. But despite being a slave in colonies riddled with tyranny, Wheatley most often and most significantly describes freedom in the context of religion, freedom from a life without God, and freedom from sin.
Crèvecoeur often implies that “America” is synonymous with “freedom.” Europe is a land of great restrictions. Everything that makes American society different from European society is everything that makes Americans free. To Crèvecoeur embodiment of freedom in America is land ownership. Land availability is the great equalizer. In letter III, Crèvecoeur wrote, “here are no aristocratical families, no courts, no kings, no bishops, …no great manufacturers employing thousands…The rich and the poor are not so far removed from each other as they are in Europe…We are all tillers of the earth…”  The scarcity of land in Europe forced most people to work for landlords. Unlike Americans, Europeans were unable to eventually earn enough money to purchase their own land, because land was so scarce and extremely expensive. These men were essentially enslaved by their landlords. Unlike Europeans, Americans were not forced to give any portion of their earnings to their landlords, to the king, or to the church, and in owning land, they were not Because of the availability of land, those who immigrated to America, no matter how poor, were employed by an equal, “instead of being employed by a haughty person,”  paid a “high wage” , and eventually became a freeholder. And as Crèvecoeur states, by owning land, “he is an American. He is naturalized.”  He is free.
Although Wheatley and Crèvecoeur’s definitions of freedom converge regarding tyranny, Wheatley’s belief in freedom from God is entirely her own. Wheatley’s belief and faith in God is what has freed her, despite her status as a slave. In her poem, “on being brought from AFRICA to AMERICA,” Wheatley states, “’twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land, taught my benighted soul to understand, that there’s a God, that there’s a savior too.”  Although being brought to America meant being enslaved, Wheatley still considered being taken from Africa as a mercy from God. Despite being enslaved, she was freed from life without a God and she was freed from sin. Wheatley discusses freedom through God in many poems written as a response to death. In her poem, “on the Death of a young Lady of Five Years of Age,” Wheatley writes, “freed from a world of sin, snares, and pain, why would you wish your daughter back again?”  In “to a GENTLEMAN and LADY on the Death of the Lady’s Brother and Sister, and a Child of the Name Avis, aged one Year,” Wheatley writes “But Madam, let your grief be laid aside… her soul enlarg’d to heav’nly pleasure springs. She feeds on truth and uncreated things. Methinks I hear her in the realms above, and leaning forward with a filial love, invite you there to share immortal bliss…”  In these poems, Wheatley describes death as a blessing granted by God. According to Wheatley, Death is not something over which to grieve. By having faith and believing in God, those who die are freed from a world of sin and temptation, and are blessed with eternal joy in heaven.
Crèvecoeur epitomizes the European immigrant, believing strongly in the American Dream: freedom and success via land ownership and hard work. Wheatley epitomizes the New England Calvinists. While these people weren’t necessarily any less materialistic, they were often more religiously zealous than yeoman farmers because of a strong Calvinist influence. This differs from the trend of religious indifference that Crèvecoeur discusses, which evolves from a priority being put on land cultivation, rather than religious worship. While these differing beliefs aren’t mutually exclusive, they demonstrate how the British colonies were home to a number of philosophic differences, stemming from the wide variety of inhabitants.
On the Rhetorical Devices of an American Farmer
J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur has been praised for defining the American way of life. In one of his works, Letters From an American Farmer, he attempts to answer the question “What is an American?” In an excerpt from that work, On the Situations, Feelings, and Pleasures of an American Farmer, he explains what it truly means to be a farmer in colonial America. Crevecoeur also contrasts the traditional American farmer’s life with the traditional European city life. Within the excerpt, Crevecoeur uses several rhetorical devices to support his idea that living a farmer’s life is much more rewarding than being a city dweller.
The main idea of the essay is that a farming life is superior to a city life, and the author tries to convince his audience of this fact by using personal experiences. He first describes the farm, house, and barn that he inherited from his father. Then, Crevecoeur explains how satisfying it is to live on land that has a sentimental family value, and to follow in his father’s footsteps. He also describes how it brings him joy to know his son will live in his footsteps, “I am now doing for [my son], I say, what my father formerly did for me” (Hector St.John de Crévecoeur, J.). By using this personal experience to prove the benefits of a rural life, Crevecoeur effectively appeals to the reader’s emotional side. His audience is more likely to agree with his points because they feel an emotional connection with his story. Another way Crevecoeur convinces his audience that a farming life is better than a city life is by contrasting the two lifestyles. He explains how he feels that he has “freedom of action, freedom of thoughts” (Hector St.John de Crévecoeur, J.) and, throughout the essay, he continually reinforces the idea that he is truly happy with his simple life in the country. Then, the author explains how troublesome it can be to live in the city because you often have to be tied down to landlords. This idea is reinforced through the rest of the essay when Crevecoeur speaks of the excessive materialism of most city dwellers. When this comparison is made, the reader can easily see how living in the country is superior to living in the city.
Metaphors are also an effective rhetorical strategy used in the essay. In one instance, the author compares soil to life, because both are incredibly vital. Crevecoeur explains how “[soil] feeds, it clothes us; from it we draw even a great exuberancy, our best meat, our richest drink.” Here, Crevecoeur is trying to explain how just like anyone is useless without life, American farmers are useless without precious soil. He is also implying that a city dweller will never know the joys pure, rich soil can provide. With the use of this metaphor, Creveoeur’s audience can paint a clear picture of how valuable soil is to famers, and how valuable a farming life can be. Crevecoeur uses another metaphor later in the essay. This one compares bees to life, because bees have similar properties and components of life. Like societies, bees are affected by “their government, their industry, their quarrels, their passions”. The bees are also used as a symbol for labor. The industrious bees of Crevecoeur’s farm mimic the industrious people who often work on farms. Again, the use of a metaphor and symbol helps the reader to paint a clear picture of Crevecoeur’s ideas. The use of rhetorical strategies is crucial to the essay because it allows the author to effectively communicate an idea to his audience. Crevecoeur skillfully uses rhetorical strategies to convince his audience that a farmer’s life is superior to a city life. A mixture of personal experiences, comparisons, and metaphors all help support the author’s idea. Besides being functional, the strategies Crevecoeur uses also add literary flair to the essay. The main thesis of Crevecoeur’s On The Situation, Feelings, and Pleasures of an American Farmer is that living a simple life is rewarding. This assertion has a great deal of validity to it. Many other people agree that living in a small, rural town can be wholesome, less stressful, and gives people a sense of community. Evidence from literature and history prove that Crevecoeur’s assertion is true. The novel, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, is one work of literature that supports Crevecoeur’s ideas. In this novel, a character moves from the countryside to the industrial city. In her new environment, she finds that city folk are cold and unfriendly, while her comrades back in the country were caring and compassionate. Here, urban and rural lives are being directly contrasted.
On the other hand, some cities can offer opportunities, promote technological advancements, and be centers for culture. One of these cities was ancient Rome. During ancient times, Rome was the home of dozens of independent thinkers. It was the “hub of commerce, trade, politics, culture and military might” (Roman Roads). The city itself provided a space for these thinkers to collaborate and inspire each other. In this case, the city would be superior to the country because it nourished creativity. Rome, however, should be considered an exception. The majority of cities do not function as well as this ancient community did. Most cities are home to poverty and filth. This poverty and filth was explained in great detail in Upton Sinclar’s novel, The Jungle. In this novel, a foreign family moves to an American city in hopes of being exposed to more opportunities. Upon moving there, the family realizes that the reality of urban life is not what they expected. They are tricked by wealthy business owners, and suffer health problems because of the bad living conditions. One family member even drowns in the filth accumulated in the streets. The novel as a whole provides evidence to prove that typically, city life would not be preferred over a rural life.
Clearly, there is evidence that gives Crevecoeur’s claims value. It is evident from works of literature that usually, a farming life is preferred over an industrial life. Because Crevecoeur’s ideas are shared by notable authors, there had to be some truth in it. Although there have been some exceptional cities throughout history, more often than not they are centers for poverty. This proves that the ideas Crececoeur brought up in his essay are true. Even professionals today agree with the points that were brought up in On the Situations, Feelings, and Pleasures of an American Farmer. Many psychologists agree that working on a farm, or even a small garden, can have a positive affect on one’s mental health. Also, historians have presented evidence that shows how corrupt the cities of Crevoecour’s time were. Most people have come to the conclusion that living in a rural town is less stressful than living in the city. Anyone who has experienced the joys of a peaceful landscape knows that cities do not compare. A psychologist, Kim Hermanson explains how beneficial this can be on her website. Here, she describes how on her Iowa farm she remembers “planting, growing, and digging [her] hands into rich soil”, and how fond those memories were (Hermanson, Kim). She also explains how, even though she moved to the city, her heart is still at her farm. Then, the author discusses how having deeply rooted memories of nature allows her to make light of difficult situations. A person who never spent time in a rural town would never know this joy. This reinforces the ideas that were brought up in the excerpt from Letters From an American Farmer. In the essay, Crevecoeur uses soil as a metaphor for life. Clearly, soil is as important as Crevecoeur claims because a psychologist so many years later believes so too.
Obviously, some of the experiences that are had on farms can not also be had in cities. Although cities do provide some unique opportunities, a life on a farm is much more rewarding. Benjamin Franklin had this view and explained it in one of his more famous quotes. In this quote he states what he thinks are the three ways to acquire wealth. The first is through war, the second is by commerce, and “The third by agriculture, the only honest way,” (qtd. in Eischen, Faith). In this statement it is clear that Franklin believes that a simple farmer’s life is ideal. Historians have also found that cities, especially those during colonial times, were incredibly corrupt. In a book that references the 1700’s the author does acknowledge that cities fostered innovation, but explains how “While many had a keen sense of business, others were often unethical… Piracy, smuggling, and privateering were all common practices” (Moss, Joyce, and George Wilson). This shows how a city life would be undesirable. A traditional farmer’s life would surely be chosen over the city life described here.
The evidence presented suggests that pursuing a life in an agriculturally centered town is in fact more rewarding than living in the city. Psychologists have explained how living in a rural place can reduce stress, and historians have found that cities throughout time have been harsh places to live. This belief was displayed in a famous essay from colonial America. Indeed, in On the Situations, Feelings, and Pleasures of an American Farmer, Crevecoeur explores the life of a simple American farmer and shares the joys he experienced while living on his own farm in his agrarian community. He also implies the idea that a traditional urban life would not be as rewarding as a rural life. This claims made in the essay should be taken seriously, because there is credible evidence that supports them.
Bibliography Eischen, Faith. “Benjamin Franklin Series: Pt. 1 The Statesman.” Independent Voter Network RSS. 23 July 2012. Web. 16 Mar. 2013.
Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn. North and South. London: Chapmin and Hall, 1855. Print.
Hector St.John De Crévecoeur, J. On the Situations, Feelings, and Pleasures of an American Farmer. Letters From an American Farmer. London: Davies & Davis, 1782. Print.
Hermanson, Kim. “Aesthetic Space.” Aesthetic Space. 27 Sept. 2010. Web. 17 Mar. 2013.
Moss, Joyce, and George Wilson. “Tom Walker” Literature and Its Times: Profiles of 300 Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events That Influenced Them. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1997. 102. Print.
“Roman Roads.” Roman Roads. 2013. Web. 17 Mar. 2013.
Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1906. Print.
America Over Europe: Persuasion, Optimism, and Nationality in Letters from an American Farmer #3
Letters from an American Farmer by French-American author J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur can be considered one of the first propaganda pieces for the service of the newly formed United States of America, the purpose of which being to attract skilled Europeans to the young country in order to help strengthen it. The letters cover a wide range, but this essay will focus on Letter III, “What Is an American?” Crèvecœur uses a fictional stand-in Englishman to represent his views that answer the question proposed in the letter’s title. This stand-in is a new American settler who sees America with a fresh lens and comparing it to his familiar English home. He remarks that there are no class distinction titles such as King or Lord in America and that most everyone he sees are modest farmers where the line between rich and poor is drastically reduced compared to Great Britain. People from across Europe come to America struggling to make ends meet in their home country and, feeling ostracized from Europe, leave for America with the hope of being regarded as a true productive citizen when they may not be able to in their hometowns, and this feeling of detachment to their home is what makes them truly American. After this, Crèvecœur defines what exactly he believes Americans are, and he says they are people who came from Europe leaving their past behind to forge their own future in a land of great opportunity. Crèvecœur’s letter is so persuasive due to his optimistic tone conveyed through his self-insert character’s perspective who opens grounds for a compare and contrast for making America look better than Europe in every way, which would motivate Europeans to make the jump over to the States, thinking they’ll be like Crèvecœur’s narrator, even if what he says may not be the whole truth.
One reason why Crèvecœur may have such an optimistic view of the United States is that of his own experiences, and by expressing these experiences through the creation of an immigrant narrator, he is employing an ethos to build credibility in making his tone feel genuine. He was born in France and came to America to settle on a French colony, even participating in the French and Indian War. However, after France’s defeat by Britain, he joined the British colonies, changing his name from Michel Guillaume Jean to John Hector St. John. He assimilated very well into the colonies, even marrying an American woman and owning his own farming land. Thus, when Crèvecœur describes the homeland of the American settler as providing “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,” it is easy to see that he has developed this view from his own personal experience. He chose to stay in the British colonies even though other Frenchmen retreated back to France, possibly because he realized their weakness, and him marrying an American woman and having children of his own is echoed in his description of America as a melting pot of different people and cultures, he’s describing his own children, the generation of Americans born in America. Had he come to France with nothing, he would be unable to own his own land, but in the Americas, even a defeated foreigner as he was is able to own his own farm.
This letter is one which is blissfully sure of regarding the validity of these statements, and Crèvecœur devises scenarios to illuminate the pathos of his tone to ensure the absolute sincerity of his words and promise of wellbeing to anyone who chooses to follow. Crèvecœur narrates that he loves watching the archetypal “poor European” when they first arrive in the country, watching him closely as he steps out of his initial confusion and builds up his self-confidence in his vision. He declares that once the European pitches his tent for the first time on his own land, he “realizes that energetic wish which has made him quit his native land” and got him started on his journey to the Americas. Crèvecœur is telling any potential European who is afraid of making the big jump to not worry as he ensures that even if you’re lost and confused when you arrive, once you begin building your own life, you will realize that you made the right choice. In this same paragraph, he creates a motto of sorts for every European-turned-American: “’This is our own grain, raised from American soil—on it we shall feed and grow fat, and convert the rest into gold and silver.’” How could any European facing hardship in their own country say no to this, as Crèvecœur is not only promising self-fulfillment but also physical riches as well as a stable and comfortable lifestyle, which to a European would be most tempting as the long histories of all those country so close together have sparked many tensions and wars, and here is a fresh new country away from all others, a sort of new Eden.
Crèvecœur, in keeping with his belief in the practical values of the United States, builds his logos backing his tone by imbuing his seemingly fantastical views and over the top tone with a realism in order to market it better to any skeptics. He closes his letter with a matter-of-fact summary of his friend’s account of property, listing the quantity of his assets as well as the qualities of dollars they are worth, leading to $240, which would have been worth thousands in his time. Furthermore, he says that this wealth and property was amassed by “his own hands and those of his son, in four years” which reinstates the values that he sees accompany the United States, those of family, legacy, and value in the fruit of one’s hard labor in the fertile (literally and metaphorically) land of America. Crèvecœur informs his European audience that in the United States there are “no princes, for whom we toil, starve, and bleed” ensuring that in America, “man is free as he ought to be.” So not only will European settlers make all of this wealth in America, it will be all theirs. The society of the United States is not one based on the blood of one’s family but of the sweat of one’s brow.
However, despite how much effort Crèvecœur puts into describing how ideally perfect the United States is, what he describes is at times far from the case. To Crèvecœur, 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” which, while very ideal and tempting, does not accurately portray the United States in this time at all, as it was still an aristocratically heavy society and would only become more and more one as time went on. In the time of his writing, the only group that could vote were White land-owning males, which in a way is an invisible power giving visible power to a selected few. The largest contradiction in his letter may be his idealization of farming and other tactile works in the United States, how he described “the meanest of our log-houses is a dry and comfortable habitation” yet when these letters were being published in 1782, the Industrial Revolution had been happening for nearly two decades, so Europeans who would get around to reading this letter and, feeling motivated by his endlessly persuasive tone, pack up and head to the United States would probably find that the industrialized impersonal work does not match Crèvecœur’s fruit-of-your-spoils attitude at all. Since this letter was a work of propaganda encouraging immigration of skilled Europeans, it’s understandable that the reality of the country is not brought up in the letter, as Crèvecœur is trying to build his tone to be optimistic and assuring in order to entice people to follow his words.
J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur molded the definition of an American in his time, which would serve as a backbone for how American identity is described even to this day. To Crèvecœur, the United States was an idealized land where anyone could make their own living, where no one’s background mattered because of the country’s focus on practicality. His work was propaganda to get other Europeans to settle in the newly formed country and because of that, it has an endlessly optimistic and passionate tone, as it is attempting to sell the reader into an ideology. This ideology is one that applies to Crèvecœur’s own life and he cements his idealistic words in a practical reality by describing small life and offering numbers to show the value that a life in the United States would give to a settler. Crèvecœur makes a deeply compelling argument for encouraging European migration to the United States as he panders to ethos by showing off a narrative voice expressing Crèvecœur’s own history as a European settler, pathos by making a deeply personal outreach to any struggling Europeans promising them endless pleasures and prosperity in the new world, and logos in demonstrating the practical numbers that could be working towards the benefit of new Americans. Even if what he says may not have been wholly true, he nevertheless makes a compelling argument for immigration to the young country due to how much he emphasizes the validity and practicality of his success story in immigration.