Success in America: The Yeoman Dream and the Industrial Revolution

Success in America: The Yeoman Dream and the Industrial Revolution

Success in America: The Yeoman Dream and the Industrial Revolution

Success in America: The Yeoman Dream and the Industrial Revolution

Excerpt

Despite the assumptions of many Americans--and many non- Americans, too--the idea of success in this country has not always been equated with great wealth: indeed, it was not until the mid-nineteenth century that such a definitions became a sanctioned code. Before that, beginning with the Puritans and modified by the Enlightenment, success was most often associated with a figure of middling income who worked his own fee-simple farm, the veoman. This kind of success had three major elements: a competence, independence, and morality. In brief, these elements may be defined as wealth somewhat beyond one's basic needs, freedom from economic or statutory subservience, and the respect of the society for fruitful, honest industry. Such success may be labeled "traditional" not only because of its roots deep into the sixteenth century and earlier, but also because of its use by many nineteenth-century Americans as a focus of defensive attitudes in the face of radical social change. The defense of traditional success and its related yeoman dream comprises the subject of this book, and the range of evidence cited is an attempt to show how widespread was that dream and its defense in our culture during the first half of the nineteenth century.

For northern Europe, the seventeenth century was a period of opportunity for material advancement both at home and abroad, and, as Max Weber has argued, the Puritans incorporated this opportunity in their code of behavior now familiarly known as the Protestant Ethic.

Blamed or praised as a code central to the American mind, this . . .

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