Historical background

The Declaration of Independence

The American Dream is a concept which developed throughout American history. In its most basic understanding, the American Dream refers to the ideal context of the government protecting each individual’s opportunity to pursue their dreams and achieve success through hard work and regardless of their social background.

The oldest document which inspired the American Dream was the Declaration of Independence from 1776, which guarantees people’s right to life, freedom, and the pursuit of a good life :

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 Founding Fathers of the United States expressed an idea which was revolutionary at that time: people’s desire to pursue happiness was a human right. This created a society which was very appealing for those aspiring to a better life. To the writers of the Declaration, the American Dream could only be achieved if it was not blocked by “taxation without representation”, which is what the British rule did in the colonies.

Note that the original US Constitution only claimed these rights for white, male property-owners. However, in time - and thanks to activism and civil rights movements - laws were added to extend these rights to African Americans, women, and other minorities.

Textual perspective - "The Declaration of Independence"
 

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America as a melting pot

The idea of the American Dream also developed with migration from Europe to America during the industrial revolution. Those who traveled to the US were looking for work opportunities and a better life than the one they had in their home countries where things tended to be more conservative and less egalitarian. America turned into a land of opportunities where religion and socio-economic background were no longer challenges in achieving prosperity, provided you worked hard.

The great migration from Europe to the US is considered to have started around the 1820s. By the end of the 19th century, people from other parts of the world also started moving to the US. However, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act prevented all foreign-born Chinese immigrants from becoming American citizens, making the Chinese the biggest group excluded from ‘the American Dream’ at the time.

The French-American writer J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur coined the theory of the melting pot, according to which the cultural, racial, and religious mix...

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