Question 1: The Ideal American

In his letter “What is An American,” J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur categorizes the different types of Americans depending on the environment in which they live, as well as their proximity to a type of undisturbed nature.  Each area of the 13 provinces is host to a varied environment, which in turn creates a different type of people. However, according to Crèvecoeur the ideal American is to some extent the hardworking farmer –  they are decent, not only in morals, but  in competency.

According to Crèvecoeur there are three distinct areas which Americans inhabit – the coast, the middle settlements, and the areas on the periphery of the woods/wilderness. Each of these natural environments affects the people differently. Those on the coast “neglect the confined occupations of the land” (45). They need to be in motion and interacting with all sorts of different people, like fish. Those in the middle “are the most numerous,” and are “purified” by the “simple cultivation of the earth” (45).  These people are stable and their communities are a huge part of who they are. The final group, those that live not only on the periphery of wilderness, but society itself, are in constant competition with their environment (46). For them life is a constant fight for survival, and they are highly influenced by the wilderness and wild animals that they are in constant competition with.

For Crèvecoeur an ideal American is not the hunter, that lives on the periphery, or the merchant that lives on the coast. The latter does not have an attachment to the land necessary to be ideal, and the former is “no better than [the] carnivorous animals” (46). His ideal, those of the middle settlement, are ideal because of their attachment to the earth – “cultivators” (40). Working the land makes them industrious and hardworking, and in turn also leaves little time to do anything else – as in evil. They are a people who have turned “ungrateful soil,”  into the lovely America which they inhabit (41).

While the coast is not ideal because the lives of its people is too fast paced unbridled nature for Crèvecoeur influences the bringing up of useless people. However,  nature that has been tamed, controlled, and used for the well-being of humans, to describe the environment from which the countrymen he admires are developed. For him nature is a foundation for the characters of the American people.



St. John de Crèvecoeur, J. Hector. “What is an American?” Letters from an American Farmer. New York: Dutton, 1877. 39-68. Print.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by christys21 on September 7, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    While your analysis of what Crevecoeur considers “what is an american” was intriguing, I thought you missed what came across as a prominent point in his essay.
    Crevecoeur continually focused on the ownership of land as defining a “true american.” In Europe it would have been an impossible dream to own even an inch of anything related to land. He talks of men who came with nothing and evidently earned land and goods they would not have attained in their mother land .

    While he does touch on individuals such as these as bieng a hard workers who earned their welath, he always goes back to the ultimate reward-land.
    Simply said, the ultimate divider between being an American and not, is the ownership of land.

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