287 For Sale: America! Get It Now!
Underneath all the seeming glorification of America in Letters from an American Farmer, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur’s work actually commodifies the new country as something to be sold, and already has rules to follow.The first instance of this is the fact that Crèvecœur works under the pseudonym ‘Farmer James’. The forward says that this “lends an air of fiction” so without even starting to write yet, Crèvecœur is already creating a version of America that is slightly fictionalized for the European reader, to make it more appealing.
Crèvecœur sees America as something created for men to take over, farm, and be exploited. On page 18, in the first letter, he writes: “He is arrived on a new continent; a modern society offers itself to his contemplation, different from what he had hitherto seen.” This new continent, and society, offers itself over to the new man who has landed there, giving him a chance to consider how to use this new situation to his advantage This promotes the land to those outside of it to come and claim a spot. The land is offering itself up.
Crèvecœur also uses ideas of social class to promote to the poor of Europe that America is a place where they can thrive. Since “[w]e have no princes, for whom we toil, starve, and bleed; we are the most perfect society now existing in the world.” However, Crèvecœur says also that the lawyers and merchants hold the “fairest titles” and that “the three principal classes of inhabitants are, lawyers, planters, and merchants…” (18, 28) which shows that in order to achieve one of those high titles, you must be somewhat educated, have a means of buying and selling, or be wealthy enough to own a plantation. Crèvecœur is selling this idea of America being a meeting place for the poor of Europe to come together to thrive, and encouraging only those who would come to obey the government and leadership already set up there. He says this on page 20, saying “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.”
I think the real clincher here is the last paragraph of the third letter, on page 27. Crèvecœur writes “After a foreigner from any part of Europe is arrived, and become a citizen, let him devoutly listen to the voice of our great parent.” He then goes on to list the things the land will provide in exchange for the obedience of the “distressed European.”
Although Crèvecœur describes some less promising aspects of America, such as slavery, or the groups of hunters who live in the woods (who he seems to hate with a burning passion), it always comes back to the idea that America is the best place for Europeans to escpae to. Here, they can create a new life, where they can live with “more ease, decency and peace than you imagine.” (35). If Letters from an American Farmer is the first piece of formative American Literature, it works in a way to sell America to others, starting our advertisement phase very early. It shows that Americans, even if they claimed not to, have a class system which values education and wealth, and promotes the obedience of government and laws of the land. I guess the only remaining question is are you sold?