Remnants of the Puritan Legacy: The American Work Ethic

Topics: Puritan, Work ethic, Minimum wage Pages: 7 (1463 words) Published: October 13, 2014
Ben Parsell
Dr. Castaldo
English 11, Period 2
October 1, 2013
Remnants of a Puritan Legacy: The American Work Ethic
What is the first thing that we as Americans think about when we hear Puritanism? For many, religion is the main idea that comes to mind. The Puritans were a very devoutly religious group as a whole. Religion had a strong influence on all of their actions. And they often used religion to explain things they themselves couldn’t. William Bradford writes, “These troubles being blown over. . . they put to sea again with a prosperous wind. And I many not omit here a special work of God’s Providence.” They often attributed miraculous things to the hand of God. At the foundation of their religion is this concept of predestination; each man’s eternal fate is pre-determined at birth. As Jonathan Edwards writes in his speech, “[T]hey have deserved the fire pit. . . all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will , and covenanted unobliged forbearance of and incensed God.” The Puritans obviously feared an almighty God and were lived pious lives in his mercy. Puritans also believed that we must suffer in order to gain redemption for our original sin. This suffering came largely in the form of hard work. So despite the fact that each man is predestined either to be saved or to suffer an eternity in the fiery flames of hell, the Puritans still worked hard in hopes of receiving small spiritual rewards. Another reason Puritans were so hard working is they believed that success in their line of business could mean that they one to be saved by God. Puritan religion also encouraged an increase in education. Puritans were responsible for the first school to be established in their colonies and eventually passed laws that mandated every town of a minimum size support a school. The large proportion of Puritan people in colonial America allowed them to have a large impact and influence on colonial American and American culture and society. Together, as a group, they were able to establish a complex community woven and held together by religion able to support a healthy economy, school system, and self-sufficient government. Americans have always been very hard working, there’s no question about it. Is this merely a coincidence or is there a reason our work ethic so closely resembles that of the Puritans? Americans have the highest average number of hours worked per week (about 26 per person). We take significantly less vacation time that our European counterparts (only about four weeks). Surprisingly though, this does not make us significantly more productive than other countries. Sure we get more done but that’s just because we work more often not because we are more productive. This begs the question, why do we work so hard and so much? It is easy to draw a connection and conclude that Americas’ Puritan background and beliefs have instilled a strong and determined work ethic still to this day. In Daniel Luzer’s article, The Protestant Work Ethic is Real, Luzer states, “As hard workers attempted to prosper in business in order to show that they were God’s chosen ones, over time hard work became the object in itself, particularly in the United States. ‘The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment.’” Luzer goes on to explain that after this punishment of work turned into a virtue, it just stayed with us. Although our work ethic may be rooted in Puritanism, many more factors have contributed to our hardworking attitude and the puritan ties are fading.

One of the most logical factors that determine our work ethic would be the necessity to work to provide for our families and ourselves. Many Americans are forced to work regardless of whether we want to or not. We need money to put food on the table, educate our children, provide shelter, and to sustain our high standards of living. Standard economic theory explains that the choices and preferences people make...


Cited: Winston, Inc., 1993. 37-38. Print.
Luzer, Daniel. "The Protestant Work Ethic Is Real." Pacific Standard. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Oct.
2013.
Surowiecki, James. "No Work and No Play." The New Yorker. N.p., 28 Nov. 2005. Web. 01 Oct.
2013.
Winston, Inc., 1993. 16-17. Print.
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