Government & Constitution

American Enterprise: An Intrinsic Quality of Greatness

The power of industry is a quintessential civic value in American society. More than a civic value, it is intrinsic in the American people’s right to property. As Samuel Adams stated in The Rights of the Colonists, "the absolute rights of Englishmen and all freemen, in or out of civil society, are principally personal security, personal liberty, and private property." By "private property," Adams was referring to the peoples’ right to keep their property, especially property obtained through their own work. The guarantee of keeping ones’ property ensures that the work a person does is valued, because he may earn from it. This is arguably the most important of the natural rights, because the ability to work and be secure in one’s property is the ability to better oneself and one’s position in the world.

Support for this value is, in large measure, what differentiated the American colonists from their British counterparts across the Atlantic. In Europe, the Middle Ages and the feudal hierarchy of life had established a system where one was born into a class and worked for his whole life without the possibility of changing his class or improving his family status. This feudal system developed over time to a caste system, where social classes were determined by heredity and divided the people into rigid social groups.

However, as colonists came and settled in America, the lack of rigid social classes coupled with the abundance of land and resources meant that individuals did not need to live within the confines of a pre-determined social class. In the colonies, a man could start with little and use his own skills to earn money and property. The colonists valued the ability to improve their standing in society through their own hard work, and this value has been passed down through generations to remain the most important of civic values held today.

An incredible example of industry in American society is a woman named Madame C. J. Walker. Walker was born to former slaves in 1867 on a plantation in Louisiana. She was an orphan by the time she was seven and she worked in the cotton fields with her sister to support herself. In 1905, Walker began selling a hair product geared toward black women which she had developed. Through her hard work and entrepreneurial spirit, Walker built her business to an unheard-of height for a black woman of her time. As her products gained popularity, Walker used her wealth to contribute to community projects in the Indianapolis area and became a political activist, working with the NAACP and their anti-lynching movement. She was a woman from the humblest of backgrounds, who through her own intense labor managed to improve both her status in the world and her community. As Walker herself said, "There is no royal flower-strewn path to success, and if there is, I have not found it for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard." Walker’s industriousness is what has made this country great, and it is important for Americans today to recognize and live with this, the most important civic value.

The power of industry is something I’ve recognized and put to use in my own life to be able to take advantage of opportunities and benefit in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise. Last summer I spent about six hours a day working at my neighborhood pool, three to four days a week. Cleaning bathrooms and vacuuming the pool was not glamorous or exciting work, but through my hard and sometimes tedious work, I was able to earn enough money to pay to go to cheerleading camp with my team. I worked hard towards a goal, and attending that camp helped me better my skills in my chosen sport. My experience at camp enabled me to not only be a more productive member of my team, but also to take a leadership position on the team. Now, as a team captain, I recognize the value of industry in providing opportunity for individuals that most wouldn’t have had before.

This example is minute compared to Madame C. J. Walker’s industriousness during her life, but it highlights a simple way all Americans can benefit from the most important American civic value: the spirit of industry. The intrinsically American value of industry has been fundamental in the development of our country’s character, and continued industriousness will be essential in our future as well.


Sign Up