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MP3, What is an American? Hector St. John Crevecoeur ::


By changing his name to the Americanized James Hector St. John, French Crèvecoeur was now ready, by means of naturalistic descriptions, to argue for the new race of men. Crèvecoeur’s letter writer, a farmer named James Hector St. John, addresses a fictional English recipient in Letter III (1782). His essay, in form of letter, is very rich in metaphorical significance throughout its content. In his epistle, James, the American farmer, delineates various perspectives of being an American. According to James, most Americans were made up of a mixture of immigrants from some European ethnic groups, “a mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, and Swedes” (Crevecoeur 51) who, if they were "honest, sober and industrious" (Crevecoeur 91), would prosper in a welcoming land of opportunity, “the broad lap of our great [nourishing mother]" (Crevecoeur 55). "[‘Where there is bread, there is my country’] is the motto of all emigrants," postulated James (Crevecoeur 54).

By asserting that the uniqueness of the American rested on the only fact that they were derived from the finest of a few selected European countries, Crevecoeur’s argument is incompatible with democratic principles. Crevecoeur was a proponent of what years later became known as “the melting pot” metaphor, "[h]ere individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men" (Crevecoeur 55, emphasis mine), this is, the monolithic integration model equated with cultural assimilation and acculturation rather than the pluralist integration model, also known as multiculturalism or the multithreaded tapestry of immigrants in the United States (Crevecoeur 56). In his arguments, James, the farmer, purports that immigrants lost their cultural roots and hence became Americans (Crevecoeur 54). In this aspect, it is clear that the monolithic integration advanced by Crevecoeur in explaining the American immigration was incompatible with democracy principle; his approach on assimilation is 1) intolerant, 2) unjust and 3) discriminatory.


The monolithic integration model as advanced by Crevecoeur is oppressive and incompatible with democracy; this amalgamation model views the inhabitants of America neither as natives nor as descendants from other parts of the world. This new hybrid social and cultural forms, product of the melted Western immigrant cultures exclude non-European immigrants. The fictional narrator of the text, James, the American farmer captures that the American, “this new man […] is either a European, or the descendant of a European, hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country” (Crevecoeur 54). According to the monolithic integration model advocated by Crevecoeur, those immigrants who left their homes, should ignore any ethnic heritage; they should strive to love their new country more than their country of origin, “[t]he American ought […] to love this country much better than that wherein either he or his forefathers were born” (Crevecoeur 43, 55). Hence, according to the monolithic integration model, which "has strongly shaped perceptions of the United States" (Castillo 48), the immigrants did not have their own home culture and were to embrace the dominant cultural aspects of this new white race in America (Martin 8).

Immigrants are thus forced to share and use cultural aspects of the larger group so as to become culturally homogenous. As James, the farmer, advances, “[t]he American is a new man, who acts upon new principles. He must therefore entertain new ideas and form new opinions” (Crevecoeur 56). This argument is anti-democratic by enforcing restrictions on legal immigrants. This oppresses immigrants’ democracy and freedom of choice on what to love as well as inclination on their origins.


There is a level of false illusion on the part of James while describing the American man’s origins and outcast. This false illusion is perhaps guided by Crevecoeur denial of diversity which he blindly champions. James exemplified a typical immigrant who leaves Europe to come to America. Upon getting off the boat, the man is immediately hired and incorporated in to the American family, "[f]rom nothing to start into being; from a servant to the rank of a master; from being the slave of some despotic prince, to become a free man, invested with lands to which every municipal blessing is annexed! What a change indeed! It is in consequence of that change that he becomes an American" (Crevecoeur 83). James’s theory, which "has most directly constructed perceptions of America throughout the world" (Castillo 49), regards some immigrants as minorities and this has been misused politically and socially to deny certain groups their constitutional rights. James’ rosy integration or melting model was not common for all; there were many immigrants who were forcefully shipped to America as slaves. Theirs was not a story of being accepted in to the family, but being discriminated, mistreated, and overworked with no chance of ever owning their land in America.

According to Crevecoeur, the main proponent of the monolithic integration model, an American was any person of European descent, “[they] were once scattered all over Europe; here they are incorporated into one of the finest systems of population which has ever appeared” (Crevecoeur 55). This perspective discriminated against other cultures such as the Italians and black people. In this case, the assimilation theory is incompatible with democratic principles of equality by promoting anti-cultural sentiments towards individuals deemed to come from inferior race or ethnic groups. James’ perspective is discriminatory.


Since the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century the concept of melting pot has had negative impacts on the immigration policy. Today, the American immigration policy is as prejudiced as it was in the nineteenth century (Martin 6). Immigration in the U.S, according to Philip Martin and Elizabeth Midgley, is still done through the quota system for some racial groups while other races such as the British, French and Israelis have absolute immigration qualification (36). Many African-Americans, Indians, Latinos and some Spanish are still considered as ‘undesirables’ among the white American society, and being considered minorities, they find it hard to climb the American job ladder (Martin 12). It is undeniable that minorities are better off in the United States than they were in their countries, but it is also true that American politics legislated based on the assimilation perspective, as Crevecoeur proposed in Letter III, is unjust.

What defines Americans today would not be complete without mentioning the increasing pluralistic integration model where different cultures have adopted social cohesion while at the same time maintaining their cultures. While the melting pot theory offers an elaborate explanation of flawless assimilation, the perspective has been used as a basis of racial and ethnic segregation (Martin 11). The pluralists view American culture as an integration of individuals with each having a distinct culture. In addition, the subordinate group is not absorbed completely into the dominant culture; this promotes multilingual culture and relations. Assimilation ensures that the society get a feeling of homeland security as each group is recognized (Martin & Midgley 22). To this end, the multiculturalists believe that homogeneity is to be achieved when each cultural group is recognized and treated on equal measure. Each cultural group has a right to retain its cultural roots and integrity. Multiculturalists support loose immigration and advocate for bilingual education and affirmative action for the benefit of all cultural groups especially the vulnerable (Martin 8).

In the centuries that would follow, America would attract numerous immigrants not just from Europe but also from Asia, Africa, and from Latin America (Martin 89). This has changed the ethnic and cultural composition of the American population in a way that Crevecoeur could not have imagined (Martin 50). While these people have been integrated into the American population in terms of labor, obeying laws, and observing the same values, a majority of them still enjoy their cultural heritage, despite discrimination. However, this model of integration has in the past been a source of negative effects, such as through segregation in the provision of various social services, including education, jobs, and even social amenities (Martin 50).

In their view, multiculturalists perceive melting pot theory as oppressive; the assimilationists on the other hand support the melting pot theory as one that promotes the will of the majority and not the minority. In addition, the assimilationist view the melting pot theory as positive and promoting national identity (Martin 11). Assimilationist disregard the multicultural perspective of separating citizens on racial and ethnic lines for special privileges. On the other hand, multiculturalists see the idea of monolithic integration as oppressive and the idea that one sees their culture as dominant to the other can be destructive. These individuals often despise others and would not want to stay with their neighbors. “The chase renders them ferocious, gloomy, and unsociable; a hunter wants no neighbour, he rather hates them, because he dreads the competition” (Crevecoeur 67). Thus, according to the multiculturalists the pluralistic perspective augments homogeneity, affirmative action unlike the melting pot theory.


Societies change—for better or worse—and the United States also does. It is clear that Crevecoeur’s idea of a monolithic integration as articulated in Letter III is not a reflection of what a true American is. The melting pot theory is a metaphor that connotes the blending of many cultures, languages and religions to form a single national identity. Immigrants become assimilated as time goes by. Some immigrants are willing to become assimilated, others become integrated while holding onto some of their cultural heritage. As immigrants flourish in new societies, their identity changes from their country of origin to being progressively assimilated in the way Crevecoeur postulated. As Philip Martin correctly points out, "most of today’s immigrants will be an integral part of the American community, albeit a changed community, as the immigrants change and America changes to accommodate them” (Martin 12). "US history and experience are infused with myths and realities" (Martin 12) as it was told by James Hector St. John, the Frenchman who wanted to eliminate his own ethnic boundaries but went back to his roots in France. Nevertheless, Crevecoeur's essay embracing the assumption that an immigrant gets absorbed in the dominant culture as a requirement to be labeled as an American, is incompatible with democracy principles, it is unjust, discriminatory and illiberal.

Essay by Benjamin Madeira - Crevecoeur Letter III — What is then an American? - Official Website - BenjaminMadeira


• [1] Castillo, Susan. "The Ambivalent Americanness of J. Hector St. Jean de Crèvecoeur." Perspectives on Identity, Migration, and Displacement. Ed. Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek, I-Chun Wang, and Hsiao-Yu Sun. Kaoshiung: National Sun Yat-sen U, Humanities and Social Sciences Series, 2010. 48-57. ISBN-10: 9860195064

• [2] Crevecoeur J. Hector St. John de. Letters from an American Farmer. New York: Fox, Duffield and Company. (1904 [1782]). Print. Pp. 48-91.

• [3] Martin & Midgley; Philip Martin and Elizabeth Midgley. “Immigration: Shaping and Reshaping America.” Population Bulletin, Population Reference Bureau, Vol. 61, No. 4, 2006.

• [4] Martin, Philip. "Immigration and Integration: The US Experience and Lessons for Europe. Commission for Migration and Integration Research, Vol 16, 2007. 1-14.

Annotated Bibliography :

• [1] Castillo, Susan. "The Ambivalent Americanness of J. Hector St. Jean de Crèvecoeur." Perspectives on Identity, Migration, and Displacement. Ed. Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek, I-Chun Wang, and Hsiao-Yu Sun. Kaoshiung: National Sun Yat-sen U, Humanities and Social Sciences Series, 2010. 48-57. ISBN-10: 9860195064
In this journal, written by Susan Castillo and published in 2010, the author uses works written by Michel Guillaume Jean de Crevecoeur to assess her identity as an American. In her analysis, Castillo is very bold and candid and observes that there are several inconsistencies with regard to Crevecoeur’s ‘Americanness’. Castillo goes further and critically analyzes the ideas that Crevecoeur talks about in his Letter III including the idea of a melting pot. Susan Castillo observes that Crevecoeur’s idea of an America excludes a huge percentage of the American population and concludes that Crevecoeur was not honest in his idea of America as a melting pot of cultures. The article makes reference to Crevecoeur’s ideas and compares them to the personal life of Crevecoeur and observes that while Crevecoeur thought himself to be American, he is made to choose between America and his mother country, France. Despite her criticism of the ideas pushed by Crevecoeur, Castillo concludes that Crevecoeur’s work was important in establishing a standard for American literature.

• [2] Martin & Midgley; Philip Martin and Elizabeth Midgley. “Immigration: Shaping and Reshaping America.” Population Bulletin, Population Reference Bureau, Vol. 61, No. 4, 2006.
This is an articles that was written by Philip Martin in 2003. Martin talks of the continued immigration to the United States which has continually reshaped the identity and the culture of this country. Martin goes further to address some of the contemporary issues that have been raised with regard to immigration. These issues include the number of immigrants who should be allowed in to the country; what kind of immigrants should be allowed and the laws that the government should introduce to deal with the surging immigrant population. Martin notes that America should continue celebrating its status as an immigrants’ country while at the same time developing an immigration policy that ensures their integration.

• [3] Martin, Philip. "Immigration and Integration: The US Experience and Lessons for Europe. Commission for Migration and Integration Research, Vol 16, 2007. 1-14.

This is a journal written by Philip Martin on the topic of immigration and integration. Martin provides some statistics, demonstrating the high number of immigrants in the US. The number of immigrants is the highest in any country and this is also coupled with a huge population of unauthorized residents. Martin sets the ground for his case and proceeds to show that these immigration statistics are as a result of a failed immigration system. Martin argues that the American population has developing resentment for immigrants because the immigration system has failed. However, Martin notes that despite the failure by the immigration system, integration has largely been successful and is mainly facilitated through the labor market. Martin asserts that US legal migrants enjoy very high wages which attracts them to the country. In the same way, the employers are happy because the migrants provide labor at a lower wage.

Martin notes that this integration has seen most employers become proponents of labor migration. Migrants are also integrated when they help in the economic development of the US as opposed to getting free amenities from the government. Martin notes that despite this integration, migrants in the US are given low wages which push them to poverty while denying them access to health and pension benefits. The situation is contrasted with what happens in Europe where, as Martin says, migrants are not active in labor participation because of unemployment. Martin notes that the employed migrants in Europe are well paid and provided with employment benefits. The conclusion Martin makes is that the US immigration problem is hard working immigrants while a majority of the European countries face an immigration problem from non-working immigrants.


A Country of Immigrants: What is an American? ::

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Video: What is an American? Crevecoeur, intended for nonprofit, educational use / study purposes only. Videoclip for study purposes only

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  1. Benjamin, you've got a seriously solid argument here. :-)

    The interesting thing about the Crèvecœur text is not just what it was attempting to do in the period in which it was written, but where it falls short, and I think you've gotten a good handle on one of those areas. Interestingly, I would argue that it actually is, in some ways, directly connected to certain aspects of how Americans see themselves. It's an odd business, this question of identity and culture, and logic is not necessarily the dominant player. :-)

    Again and as usual, well done! :-)


  2. I can't see the video. Will you share the link again?

    1. Hi, there, Angie. The video is Online again. I'm glad you were reading my essay on Crevecoeur (h)


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