A good friend of mine posted earlier this week, hypothesizing on the reasons for a lack of socialized medicine in this country. He was blaming the Calvinist tendencies of the Puritans.
As it happens, I'm in Church History II this semester, making this very subject top-of-the mind. Last week we were going over colonial religion and movements in England and America during and after the Reformation.
I don't disagree with his basic premise, that there is a very definite Calvinist thread through the American meta-culture, that if you're poor, then it's because you deserve to be poor, and if you're sick, that's because you did something to deserve to be sick. It hearkens back to the doctrine of the Elect, that God chose the saved before the beginning of time and you cannot know if you are saved from Hell or not, so you better act as if you were. After a while, to justify theologically rulership, wealth, and power, things shifted. If you were healthy, rich, and well-born, you were obviously favored of God. Conversely, if you were poor or sick, it was because of your sins or the sins of your parents. In larger terms, America is the nation of the Elect because it was founded by Christians and brought the gospel to all corners of the world. Also, we're wealthier and more influential than anyone else.
This is an older idea than the Doctrine of the Elect. This type of thinking, which has it's modern form in the "prosperity gospel" churches, is older than Rome. The empire one. Caesar is favored by the gods, so much so, he's almost a god himself. Citizens of Rome are favored of the gods, otherwise, they wouldn't be citizens. Those who are slaves deserve to be enslaved. Athens is favored of Athena, thus is the center of scholarship and wisdom and trade. The Children of Israel are chosen by God to inhabit a land of milk and honey. The doctrine of the Elect was twisted to fit within human preconceptions and our need to have reasons for the class systems we like to build, but we needed that justification and we'd thrown out the Roman one. (Luther was much more egalitarian. We all suck, we all sin, undeserved grace is the only path to salvation, and it's open to anyone who asks).
On the other hand, I think it is massively unfair to blame the Calvinist threads on the Puritans.
The Puritan movement started really during the reign of Elizabeth I, after the Elizabethan Religious Settlement of 1559, which appointed the monarch as the head of the church and did away with many of the more physical Catholic trappings of Mass and instituted the Book of Common Prayer as the format for all worship in England. At this point, there were two main factions of the reformed Anglican church - those who believed that the church had gone far enough, in the formation of the Book of Common Prayer, the changes in the theology to make it more accessible to the people, and the slimming of the trimmings of the Catholic Church. The other crowd wanted to further purify the church of anything that looked vaguely Catholic - skip liturgical seasons, vestments, crucifixes, communion wafers, bishops, etc. - and put the laity in charge of almost all decisions. They did pick up the Calvinist theology about simplicity in worship and a congregationalist stance on Church government, but stayed kinda out on much of his other points and added quite a bit about sanctity of God's law in the lives of men, including the purity of the sabbath, and a high emphasis on works. Charles, unlike Elizabeth and James, took sides in this particular argument, and the Puritans left in something between a voluntary and involuntary exile to the Netherlands, where it was acceptable to be any Christian denomination other than Armenian. While there, they solidified their doctrines. The Puritans came into significant theological and social conflict with the Dutch Reform Church, a Calvinist/Zwinglian branch of the Protestant Reformation and the predominant church of the Netherlands. So much so, in fact, that they have the distinction of being one of the few groups the Dutch invited to leave as intolerable in their intolerance. They came to America because they wanted to found the perfect society, where everyone agreed with their theology.
No, we can blame those Calvinist threads in the American zeitgeist on the Dutch Reform Church, the English Reform Church, and the Presbyterians - contemporaries of the Puritans, but people who were never a serious part of the Anglican church. They were always Calvinist and bent on true reform of the church from without instead of the original Puritan view of reform from within. As such, many had much more hardline views about the position of the Elect in the world, and that because they had accepted and believed the one true way as revealed through scripture by Calvin and Zwingli, they were obviously the elect. They were founding their own colonies in the New World at the same time and those threads of justification dug in hard and deep.