Most people in the US heard about the American Dream – a concept that anyone deserves to succeed and be rewarded for their hard work. It was first conceived and defined in the 1931 book “Epic of America” by James Adam, a famous American historian. Although it was first defined in this book, the foundation for this belief was laid by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence. Back then, this belief yet to be named, talked about equal rights for all men – to live, to be free, and to pursue happiness. In other words, this dream gives all men an opportunity to pursue whatever they feel happiness is for them under equal rights and fair democracy.
However, the phrase “all men” included only white, male property owners. Luckily, this was changed throughout the time and the rights that were included in the American Dream were extended a few times throughout history. Here’s how the American Dream changed and evolved through time and what is the American Dream today.
The Evolution of the American Dream
The American Dream is based on some basic human rights, yet not everyone had them from the start. That’s why it evolved, slowly becoming exactly what the Dream is supposed to be – equal rights for all. As it became obvious that the Dream was good only for white, male property owners, the American Dream started to evolve and rights started to be extended to other people.
Firstly, Congress extended these rights to those that were enslaved, women, and people without property. Later on, Abraham Lincoln extend these rights to slaves with an Emancipation Proclamation back in 1863 which set free all enslaved people. This was a big step towards the American Dream ideology and everyone’s right to be free.
During president Woodrow Wilson’s mandate, these rights were extended even more towards women’s rights – women were given the right to vote, an important step in American history.
Further on, in 1964, the American dream was updated again and president Lyndon Johnson protected workers from any kind of discrimination – by race, sex, religion, color, or origin. A few years later, in 1967, rights were given to those older than 40.
After that, there was a long pause in the process of extending these rights to those that were excluded from the Dream, until President Barack Obama gave the right to pursue happiness through marriage to everyone, no matter their sexual orientation. This was supported by the Supreme Court in 2015.
The legal part of the American dream evolved over time, but what about its vision? Happiness is different for everyone, and the perception of happiness changed as people grew and evolved.
While the perception of happiness included lots of material things and wealth back in the 1920s, this quickly changed as the stock market crashed in 1929, showing everyone that happiness can’t be based on greed and materialism. This led to people being more modest and seeing happiness through the American dream as having a decent home, good education, job opportunity, and health care. This continued to be a big part of the American dream with a few different things added such as secure and happy retirement, college education for those that are in pursuit of education, and health insurance for children.
The American Dream Today
There are a lot of people that think that The American Dream has changed due to the Great Recession that occurred in 2008 and changed the world forever. However, it is only partly true, because it changed the material part of the American Dream, showing people once again that happiness can’t be found and built-in materialistic wealth.
Some experts are claiming that the American Dream became a dream of leading a meaningful life – spending quality time with the important people in your life such as family and friends, contributing to society and the world by making it a better place, valuing and protecting nature, more saving, less spending, sleeping calmly at night – a life where you don’t spend your money on unnecessary things, but on the things you need.
Further on, The American Dream is changing even more due to global warming. Consumption became one of the biggest world problems – natural resources are being exhausted, different species are becoming extinct, temperatures are rising as well as the sea level, forests and trees are being killed every day. This led to experts recommending the lower levels of consumption but many worry that it’ll destroy the American economy and that people will have lower standards of living. In other words, they feel as the American Dream is in danger because of such solutions.
However, something needs to be done, not only for the health of people and our planet but for the American economy as well. The damage that has been already done has cost America $350 billion between 2007 and 2017.
The world has changed and so did The American Dream. Many people think that the idea behind it should be reorganized from the start, more suited to these quick, modern times. However, some experts recommend leaving the Dream as it is and for people to return to the original vision instead. This means remembering the main idea behind The American Dream – everyone has a right to pursue happiness, everyone has a right to life, and to be free.
It is crucial to remember that the Declaration of Independence doesn’t say anything about lifestyles or what is right and what is wrong in the pursuit of happiness. It doesn’t define how happiness should look for everyone – it gives an opportunity for everyone to pursue their vision of their own happiness.