Definition of the American Dream

General aspects

The American Dream refers to a set of ideals. They refer to the freedom of opportunity for people to achieve their own version of success and happiness provided they work hard enough.

The term American Dream was popularized by historian James Truslow Adams in 1931. Adams wrote in his book The Epic of America: “…life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.”

Before James Truslow Adams, historian Frederick Jackson Turner published the Frontier Thesis in 1893, in which he argued that the American frontier is what shaped both American democracy and the American Dream. According to Turner, the process of constantly pushing the frontier line westward on the American continent led to people valuing egalitarianism as well as a lack of interest in class differences. This was a clear contrast to most European societies at the time.

African-American reformer and statesman Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) also defined the American Dream in his speeches. He was an abolitionist and former slave. In his writings and autobiographies, he advocated for equality for everyone, whether black, woman, Native American, or recent immigrant. His discourse drew attention to the fact that the American Dream was out of reach f...

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