America’s Founders and the Yankee Work Ethic
March 3, 2016
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
From America’s inception with the founding of the colonies, its people have been reputed as hard working. It is one of the secrets of the nation’s amazing success, but it cannot be divorced from its source, which is the Bible.

“The soul of the sluggard desireth, and
hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat” (Proverbs 13:4).

“He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster” (Proverbs 18:9).

“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do
it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

“And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Jamestown leader Captain John Smith issued the following command to the settlers because many of them were idle or were spending their time trying to find gold:

“Countrymen, the long experience of our late miseries, I hope is sufficient to persuade every one to a present correction of himself, and think not that either my pains, nor the Adventurers purses, will ever maintain you in idleness and sloth. I speak not this to you all, for divers of you I know deserve both honour and reward, better then is yet here to be had: but the greater part must be more industrious, or starve, however you have been heretofore tolerated by the authority of the Council, from that I have often commanded you. You see now that power resteth wholly in myself: you must obey this now for a Law, that he that will not work shall not eat (except by sickness he be disabled) for the labours of thirty or forty honest and industrious men shall not be consumed to maintain an hundred and fifty idle loiterers. Therefore he that offendeth, let him assuredly expect his due punishment.”

The Jamestown Colony had experimented with a form of communism in which the goods and proceeds were divided equally, but it proved to be untenable. Many used it as an excuse not to work, while those who had a heart to work were discouraged because their labors were squandered on the lazy.

John Cotton (1585-1652), a principal Puritan minister in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, preached the following:

“Faith draws the heart of a Christian to live in some warrantable calling; as soon as ever a man begins to look towards God, and the ways of his grace, he will not rest, till he find out some warrantable calling and employment. ... Paul makes it a matter of great thankfulness to God, that he had given him ability, and put him in place where he might do him service, 1 Tim. 1:12 ... As God hath called every man, let let him walk, 1 Cor. 7:19, 20. This is the clean work of faith, he would have some employment to fill the head and hand with” (Cotton,
Christian Calling).

Benjamin Franklin had a great influence on the American work ethic with his popular
Poor Richard’s Almanack. The annual publication began in 1733. A special edition in 1758 was titled The Way to Wealth.

Franklin exemplified the American work ethic in his own life as an author, painter, printer, newspaperman, journalist, postmaster, scientist, inventor, linguist, librarian, satirist, musician, politician, governor, statesman, and ambassador. He invented the lightning rod, urinary catheter, glass harmonica, Franklin stove, and bifocals. He established a newspaper (in fact, the first chain of newspapers), a printing house, a magazine, a library, an almanack, a philosophical society, a militia, a fire department, a hospital, and a university. He charted and named the Gulf Stream, devised a phonetic alphabet, and discovered the positive and negative charges of electricity and cooling by evaporation. He had a role in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the creation of the United States Constitution.

Many of Franklin’s principles on the benefit of industry were taken directly from the Bible. The following are from
Poor Richard’s Almanack:

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time; for that's the stuff life is made of.”

“Employ the time well if thou meanest to gain leisure; and, since thou art not sure of a minute, throw not away an hour. ... Do you imagine that sloth will afford you more comfort than labour? No, for as Poor Richard says, Trouble springs from idleness, and grievous toil from needless ease. Many without labour, would live by their wits only, but they break for want of stock. Whereas Industry gives comfort, and plenty, and respect: Fly Pleasures, and they’ll follow you. ... And again, he adviseth to circumspection and care, even in the smallest matters, because sometimes a little neglect may breed great mischief, adding, For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for want of a horse the rider was lost, being overtaken and slain by the enemy, all for want of care about horse-shoe nail.”

“Keep thy shop, and thy shop will keep thee.”

“So what signifies wishing and hoping for better times? We may make these times better, if we bestir ourselves. Industry need not wish, and he that lives upon hopes will die fasting. There are no gains without pains ... He that hath a trade hath an estate; and he that hath a calling hath a place of profit and honor, as Poor Richard says; but then the trade must be worked at, and the calling followed, or neither the estate nor the office will enable us to pay our taxes. If we are industrious we shall never starve; for, At the working man’s house hunger looks in, but dares not enter. Nor will the bailiff or the constable enter, for Industry pays debts, while despair increaseth them. What though you have found no treasure, nor has any rich relation left you a legacy, diligence is the mother of good-luck, as Poor Richard says, and God gives all things to industry. Then plough deep, while sluggards sleep, and you shall have corn to sell and to keep, says Poor Dick. Work while it is called today, for you know not how much you may be hindered tomorrow, which makes Poor Richard say, One today is worth two tomorrows; and farther, Have you somewhat to do tomorrow, do it today. If you were a servant, would you not be ashamed that a good master should catch you idle? Are you then your own master, be ashamed to catch yourself idle, as Poor Dick says. When there is so much to be done for yourself, your family, your country, and your gracious king, be up by peep of day; let not the sun look down and say, inglorious here he lies. Handle your tools without mittens; remember that the cat in gloves catches no mice, as Poor Richard says. ‘Tis true there is much to be done, and perhaps you are weak handed, but stick to it steadily, and you will see great effects, for constant dropping wears away stones, and by diligence and patience the mouse ate in two the cable; and little strokes fell great oaks...”

America’s founders did not teach work only; they taught confidence in God. Even Benjamin Franklin, who did not profess faith in Christ’s atonement, but was greatly influenced by the Bible, said,

“Do not depend too much upon your own industry, and frugality, and prudence, though excellent things; for they may all be blasted without the blessing of heaven; and, therefore, ask that blessing humbly, and be not uncharitable to those who at present seem to want it, but comfort and help them. ... Those who depend upon God shall not want, even in a desert” (
Poor Richard’s Almanack).

In this Franklin quoted Proverbs 3:6; 11:28; 13:25; and Psalm 32:10.

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