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.
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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, […]