The American Dream
The American Dream
The American Dream is a phenomenon that has existed since the promulgation of the US Constitution. However, the definition of the American Dream has evolved and undergone various modifications depending on the expectations of the people at a particular period. The concept of the American Dream was initiated by the Declaration of Independence. Later, Adams argued that the American Dream meant living a better life than one’s parents. During this time, the Great Depression, wars, a weak economy, and a high rate of illiteracy and unemployment forced parents to focus on providing basic needs for their families. Today, Clark defines the American Dream as the process of attaining middle-class status. Amidst the various definitions of American Dream, the concepts of freedom, ambition and creativity have remained the pillar of the dream that all generations, from the founding fathers to the current generations, have been pursuing.
The Founding Fathers established the concept of the American Dream through the Declaration of Independence. They believed that for the American nation to thrive, the government had to protect the opportunity of each citizen to pursue their idea of happiness. The Declaration of Independence states:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (United States Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776).
The Founding Fathers protected the ambition and creativity of all people and as a result, created a society that was conducive to all individual determined to improve their lives. Further, the Declaration mandated the government to promote the idea of the American Dream through the following words: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” (United States Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1777).Notably, Thomas Jefferson protected the freedom of all people to do whatever they may want to improve their lives by emphasizing that all American citizens are created equal and the government exists to serve the people. As such, the Declaration of Independence establishes a fairground, protected by the government, to exercise one’s creativity and innovation in the quest to better their lives.
The term American Dream was coined by James Truslow Adams (1878-1949). He defined the dream as that dream of a land where the life of all citizens is better and more prosperous, with everyone having an opportunity to improve their lives depending on their ability. In this case, Adams dream is not pegged on material things such as getting high wages, owning expensive cars and luxurious homes, but a goal of social status (214). Adams argued that every American citizen, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity or any other orientation, should have the opportunity to achieve their best potential and get recognized by others for who they are, regardless of their social status at birth (215). The definition defies the context of time since it relies on an individual’s ability to identify their strengths and use them to improve their lives. Today, this definition is evident in the US since parents allow their children to pursue ideas that were considered informal such as being a magician, becoming professional video game players among many others. Precisely, Adam dreamed of an American society where every individual has an opportunity to identify their talents and achieve their full potential regardless of their social, economic or political background.
Lastly, Clark (7) offers one of the most effective and broadest definitions of the American Dream. He claims that the American Dream is the process of climbing the social class order to the middle-class level where a person can comfortably own home is suburban areas, and participate in the political process. In this case, the American Dream is pegged on the individual self-improvement in light of the economic perspective. The definition identifies the geographical process of shifting from the cities to the outskirts, getting involved in politics and the complex process of getting to the middle-class level. Interestingly, Clark goes ahead to demystify the idea of the middle class by basing it on the broad-range set of values that have dominated the American society and the world at large. He argues that the definition of the middle class is easier explained by identifying the determiners rather than providing a specific definition. As such, Clark (7) identifies the material things such as a home, a car and consumer appliances like television, microwaves, fridges, dishwashers and personal computers. Furthermore, Clark (8) widens his scope to include issues such as private security. In brief, Clark (9) argues that the middle class demands an individual to have adequate funds that are needed to give quality education and healthy life to their children and leave enough to leave a comfortable life in retirement.
Perhaps, the American Dream could not be in existence if the Founding Fathers had not inscribed the revolutionary idea of citizens having the freedom to exercise their innovation and creativity in the Constitution. Similarly, Adams promoted the idea by coining the term ‘American Dream’. Later, Clark’s efforts to contextualize the American Dream to modern America added material things as a requirement for achieving the American Dream. However, all these definitions all end up into one idea: happiness. Identifying and utilizing one’s talent to maximum potential is satisfying to the individual making them happy at last. When a parent provides both basic and luxurious things to their children, and still live a comfortable life, they end up being happy. The Founding Father’s idea on America they wanted: one that offers everyone an opportunity to achieve their full potential remains the backbone of all these other definitions. Moreover, the idea of ultimate happiness has not only withstood the test of time, but it has made an impact all over the world. The United States of America is a model country for many other nations due to the opportunities it offers its citizens to promote prosperity and success.
Adams, James Truslow. The epic of America. Routledge, 2017.
Clark, William AV. Immigrants and the American dream: Remaking the middle class. Guilford Press, 2003.
Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Roger Sherman. “Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence.” Thomas Jefferson: A Free Mind (2004): 79.