Americans Don’t Die!

Americans do not believe in death.  At least, they live as if they will never die.  This has been the case from colonial times.  It is a consequence of seemingly limitless opportunity and a drive for upward mobility, denied to generations of Europeans.  Indentured servants, laborers, persecuted minorities, and peasants tilling the soil of the manor became landowners in America.  This ignited an insatiable desire for all the material gain and status possible.  An American was not condemned by custom and law to serve out his life in a particular role: He was master of his own fate.  “We have been told,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, “that the same man has often tried ten estates.  He has appeared successively as merchant, lawyer, doctor, minister of the gospel.  He has lived in twenty different places and nowhere found ties to detain him.”  Like other oppressive relics of European society, death would be left behind.  Tocqueville noted that “Americans cleave to the things of this world as if assured that they will never die.”

Americans also rejected the notion that suffering and dying for a ruling aristocracy is part of one’s fate.  In fact, most Americans rejected the notion of a ruling class altogether.  Describing Americans, Francis Baily, a British visitor during the late 1790’s, said that “the means of subsistence...

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