What Is the American Dream?

What Is the American Dream?

The American Dream is the ideal that the government should protect each person's opportunity to pursue their own idea of happiness.

The Declaration of Independence protects this American Dream. It uses the familiar quote: "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."

The Declaration continued, "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

The Founding Fathers put into law the revolutionary idea that each person's desire to pursue happiness was not just self-indulgence. It was a part of what drives ambition and creativity. By legally protecting these values, the Founding Fathers set up a society that was very attractive for those aspiring to a better life.

To the drafters of the Declaration, the American Dream could only thrive if it were not hindered by “taxation without representation.” Kings, military rulers, or tyrants shouldn’t decide taxes and other laws. The people should have the right to elect officials to represent them. These leaders must abide by the laws themselves and not create new legislation, willy-nilly. Legal disputes must be settled by a jury rather than by the whim of the leader. The Declaration also specifically states that a country must be allowed free trade.

The American Dream legally protects every American's right to achieve their potential. That allows them to contribute their utmost to society. It is the belief that the best way to ensure national progress is to protect citizens’ right to improve their lives

In 1931, historian James Truslow Adams first publicly defined the American Dream. He used the phrase in his book Epic of America. Adams' often-repeated quote is, "The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement."

Adams went on to say that it is not, "... a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

The American Dream is "the charm of anticipated success." So said French historian Alexis de Tocqueville in his book Democracy in America. He studied American society in the 19th century.

This charm has drawn millions of immigrants to U.S. shores. It's also been a compelling vision for other nations. In her book, Spreading the American Dream, sociologist Emily Rosenberg identified five components of the American Dream that have shown up in countries around the world:

  1. Belief that other nations should replicate America's development.
  2. Faith in a free market economy.
  3. Support for free trade agreements and foreign direct investment.
  4. Promotion of free flow of information and culture.
  5. Acceptance of government protection of private enterprise.

The American Dream is a compelling reason why other nations emulate democracy. It's reassuring to know that these rights are embodied in the Declaration of Independence as envisioned by our Founding Fathers.

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