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The Origins of the American Dream

American Dream Definition

REVIEWED BY WILL KENTON  Updated Feb 20, 2019

What is the American Dream?

The American Dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success in a society where upward mobility is possible for everyone. The American Dream is achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking, and hard work, rather than by chance. Sorry, the video player failed to load.(Error Code: 100013)

American Dream

The Origins of the American Dream

The term was coined by writer and historian James Truslow Adams in his best-selling 1931 book “Epic of America.” He described it as “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.” He went on to explain, “It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. 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 idea of the American Dream has much deeper roots. Its tenets can be found in the Declaration of Independence, which states: “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.” In a society based on these principles, an individual can live life to its fullest as he or she defines it. America also grew mostly as a nation of immigrants who created a nation where becoming an American—and passing that citizenship to your children—didn’t require being the child of an American.