Obtaining the American Dream is not a bad thing, as long as you don’t go too far and lose the dream altogether. The American Dream was made possible by a setting that was conducive to prosperity, peace and opportunity. Here are the three main geographic, economic and political factors.
At first, the Declaration intended for white land owners. But, overtime the idea of rights was
so string that laws were added to extend these rights to slaves, women, and non-property
owners. In this way, the American Dream changed the course of America itself.
The nation’s leaders verbalized the evolution of the American Dream. President Lincoln granted the Dream’s equal opportunity to slaves. President Wilson supported the voting rights of women. It led to the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1918. President Johnson promoted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That ended segregation in the schools. It protects workers from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. In 1967, he extended those rights to those over 40. President Obama supported the legal benefits of the marriage contract regardless of sexual orientation.
After the 1920s, many presidents supported the Gatsby Dream by guaranteeing material benefits. President Roosevelt extended equal opportunity to homeownership by creating Fannie Mae to insure mortgages. His Economic Bill of Rights advocated, “…the right to decent housing, to a job that was sufficient to support one’s family and oneself, to educational opportunities for all and to universal health care.”
President Truman built upon this idea after World War II. His “post-war social contract” included the GI Bill. It provided government-funded college degrees for returning veterans. Urban policy expert Matt Lassiter summed up Truman’s “contract” this way: “…if you worked hard and played by the rules, you deserved certain things. You deserved security and decent shelter and to not have to worry all the time that you might lose your house to bankruptcy.”
U.S. prosperity after World War II allowed people to expect those things in their lifetime. The Bush and Clinton Administrations supported the Dream of home ownership. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton presented the American Dream Plan. This included the opportunity to go to college, save for retirement, own a home, health insurance for all
children, business growth and prosperity.
President Obama furthered FDR’s idea that everyone should have access to affordable health care. He softened the blow of the recession for many by extending unemployment benefits and increasing government assistance for student loans.
There is disagreement over the definition of the American Dream today. Some even think we’ve seen the End of the American Dream. But this inspiring idea from the Founding Fathers will continue to evolve. Both the right to pursue happiness and the right to disagree about what that means are what makes the American Dream so powerful..
On August 28, 1963, delivering the culminating address at the greatest mass-protest demonstration in U.S. history, Martin Luther King, Jr., summoned all of his listeners to think anew about the heritage and promise of America. Speaking in the “symbolic shadow” of the most revered American of all, he ascended the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to remind them of the centennial year of Emancipation.
King extolled the promise that inhered in Lincoln’s momentous Proclamation and prior to that in “the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.” He confronted the nation with its failure to honor its promise of equal liberty for all, even as he implored his fellow protestors and all of his fellow citizens to understand that their destinies as Americans were indissolubly bound together. Envisioning an America whose children could all sing with new and true meaning the proud claim “sweet land of liberty” in its namesake hymn, he brought his speech to its unforgettable crescendo with his refrain: “I have a dream”—a dream not apart from or against, but rather of, from, and for America—”a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”
Fifty years later, King’s signature speech and his overall career of eloquent activism must be judged an enormous success. The “Dream” speech itself is commonly regarded as a treasure in our rhetorical heritage, unrivaled among 20th-century American speeches. Likewise, King himself, in his own day a controversial “extremist” for justice, has become for us an icon of mainstream America, revered across partisan and ideological boundaries and honored by a national holiday and a monument in the nation’s capital not far from Lincoln’s own. Still more generally, the civil rights movement as a whole has acquired a virtually unchallengeable moral authority as 20th-century America’s glorious revolution, a worthy successor to the original American Revolution and a model for further reform movements.
It is important that we remember and all too easy for us to forget this common ground of admiration for King and his ennobling cause as we work our way through the racially fraught controversies that recur in our political life. Yet it is also important that we reflect more deeply on our divisions—our persisting, seemingly ever-renewable divisions—on matters involving race. We are divided on race, and we are also divided on King. One may hope that as we reflect on King’s life and thought a half-century later, a clearer understanding of this transcendently important figure will aid us in the pursuit of a clearer understanding of the larger problem of race in America.
Despite his stirring idealism, the durability of our divisions on race would not have surprised King. The striking fact at present, however, is that decades after the triumphs of the civil rights movement, decades after King’s death and apotheosis, divisions among the broad class of King’s admirers persist and even intensify. Our common admiration for King appears on a high plane of generality, as we admire his faith in America and democracy; but as we descend to specifics, we divide.