Modern History Sourcebook:
J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur:
What Is an American?
What attachment can a poor European emigrant have for a country where he had nothing?
The knowledge of the language, the love of a few kindred as poor as himself, were the only
cords that tied him: his country is now that which gives him land, bread, protection, and
consequences: Ubi panis ibi patria, ["where there is bread, there is my
country"] is the motto of all emigrants. What then is the American, this new man?
He is either an European, or the descendant of an European, hence that strange mixture of
blood, which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a family whose
grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and
whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations. He is an
American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new
ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new
rank he holds. He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma
Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose
labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world. Americans are the
western pilgrims, who are carrying along with them that great mass of arts, sciences,
vigour, and industry which began long since in the east; they will finish the great
circle. The Americans were once scattered all over Europe; here they are incorporated into
one of the finest systems of population which has ever appeared, and which will hereafter
become distinct by the power of the different climates they inhabit. The American ought
therefore to love this country much better than that wherein either he or his forefathers
were born. Here the rewards of his industry follow with equal steps the progress of his
labour; his labour is founded on the basis of nature, self-interest; can it want a
stronger allurement? Wives and children, who before in vain demanded of him a morsel of
bread, now, fat and frolicsome, gladly help their father to clear those fields whence
exuberant crops are to arise to feed and to clothe them all; without any part being
claimed, either by a despotic prince, a rich abbot, or a mighty lord. Here religion
demands but little of him; a small voluntary salary to the minister and gratitude to God;
can he refuse these? The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must
therefore entertain new ideas, and form new opinions. From involuntary idleness, servile
dependence, penury, and useless labour, he has passed to toils of a very different nature,
rewarded by ample subsistence.-This is an American....
Source: From M. G. J. de Crèvecouer, Letters from an American Farmer (Philadelphia:
Matthew Carey, 1793), 46-47.
This text is part of the Internet
Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and
copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.
Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright.
Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational
purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No
permission is granted for commercial use of the Sourcebook.
© Paul Halsall, July 1998