What Is Crevecoeur’s Definition of an American?
J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur defined the American as an immigrant who has become the exact opposite of his own European past. The changes that came when the immigrant came across the sea eliminated all of the prejudices and the habit of kowtowing that he had learned in Europe.
Crevecoeur terms America “this great…asylum” and celebrates the liberating effect that the country had on people who had been living under autocratic and oligarchic governments. The huge scale of North America, in Crevecoeur’s view, provided so much room that people could spread out and own their own land rather than working for someone else. The idea of owning property instead of renting created an entirely new way of living, which Crevecoeur describes this way: “Here they are become men: in Europe they were as so many useless plants.”
Crevecoeur saw America as a place where people who had been poor, useless and out of work could make their own wealth, utility and source of work. While the “mild government” in the new America took little in the way of taxes, the driving force was individual autonomy. This definition of the American is the closest that a European observer ever came to recognizing what Americans have wanted to be true about their nation and their society.