America is a nation of idioms. Some true, some not so much. My favorite American idiom is “By the sweat of one’s brow.” America is a land where the streets are paved with gold. It is a land of unlimited opportunity and success is gained through one’s own efforts or hard work. “By the sweat of his brow (fill-in the story of wealth and prosperity). Another popular idiom is “America is the melting pot of the world.” This maxim refers correctly (until recently) to the historical process of America’s cultural assimilation and acculturation of mostly Western Europeans during the 20th Century. Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty, very American, and true.
A truism that doesn’t get a lot of play is “America is a nation of second, third and even fourth in line younger brothers and sisters.” This refers to the ancient and still in place European blood-line traditions of inheritance where the oldest son inherits all while the rest of the clan inherit nothing. Working for dad might have been one thing, but working for your brother (the squanderer) until he kicks the bucket, well that’s another. With nothing to lose, why not try your luck in the new world? A land where tradition, blood, family and seniority had little meaning and “By the sweat of one’s brow…” you get the picture.
It may have even been possible that many of these immigrant fortune seekers may also have heard the words of the Declaration of Independence and that America was a land where everyone had the right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. They may have even understood the Constitution guaranteed these Rights from undue government interference. That these Rights were inalienable, meaning that every person was entitled to a certain fundamental fairness in their dealings with the government. That each new citizen was entitled to due process of law. Words like proper notice and the Right to be heard.
They may have even understood that America was a nation comprised mostly of Christians, but was not a Christian nation. They may have heard about the First Amendment and it’s guarantees of religious free exercise for all and where there was no official, government endorsed religion.
They may have heard about free speech. The Right to criticize one’s own government without fear of retaliation or retribution. Where there was no royalty to criticize, no titles, no upper crust of society to fear. A land where anyone could attain wealth and status through a combination of unfettered ambition and, you guessed it, “By the sweat of one’s brow.” And to state the obvious, there must have been quite a bit of sweating going on in those days.
They may have heard The Star-Spangled Banner. America, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Those going west may have heard “Home on the Range” which paints the American west as where seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day. “Go west young man” probably sounded dang good right about then.
America, the shiny city on the hill. The place where anything was possible for someone without even a dollar in their pocket but the guts to make a long, arduous journey from far away based on nothing but the promise of a better life for oneself and family. By nothing more than the sweat of one’s brow, and far away from the misery which they once called home.