The American Dream

What is the American Dream?

This nation of ours is unique. You may not realize it and most of
us surely take it for granted. We may complain about the economy but
just try explaining the Price Club to a Russian or a Cuban or a
Nigerian! We may complain about our government or our President but
in how many other countries is the press free to report the leaders
indiscretions. We have so much and yet we complain so much…
actually I think it is the ability to complain that makes America
great. It is the freedom to dissent, to rail against the incumbent
powers. This freedom to disagree is what makes us so special and it
is this very freedom that is the very essence of America. What is the
American dream? Surely it is different for everyone. For some it is
wealth and power. For others it is religious freedom and justice. For
others it may be a roof over their heads. How has this nation been
able to provide these things… we shall see.

I. The American Dream

A. Values and Ideals – What are values and ideals. They are
things we stand for, things we feel are right and correct. In America
our values and ideals are:

1. justice

2. liberty

3. fairness

4. democracy

5. equality

B. Why is understanding what the American dream is

1. We vote and influence government via democracy and
we should know what this nation is supposed to be about before we
make these serious decisions.

2. Policies should be consistent with stated ideals

3. We have a responsibility to the nation and the world because
our unique status as an economic and military superpower.

C. How has the dream, our ideological roots, been created?

1. Mores (the values of a society) and culture
developed over time. Our values have been shaped by our forefathers
(and our foremothers!). Our history and the legacy of those that come
before have created our culture.

2. Religion teaches values and influences us.

3. Enlightenment thinkers from the 1600’s like John Locke,
Montesquieau, Rousseau and Voltaire have had a great impact on our
government and our political philosophy.

a. How were the ideas expressed by the enlightenment
put to use in the America?

  • John Locke – Declaration of Independence

    -Natural rights, consent of the governed

    -Life, liberty and property (Later changed to “pursuit of
    happiness” by Jefferson.)

    -Right to Rebel

  • Voltaire – 1st Amendment

    -Freedom of Speech – “I may disagree with what you say but I
    will defend till death your right to say it!

  • Montesquieau – Constitution

    -Separation of powers, checks and balances

    -Divided government into three branches 

  • Machiavelli and Hobbes

    -Endorsed a strong government.

    -Became part of the basis of federalism.

 4. Revolutionary ideas like those of John Adams, Thomas
Jefferson and Thomas Paine created a nation out of rebellion. Dissent
is the very basis of this nation, it is our heritage.

5. Immigrants have stocked this great nation. We are a nation of
immigrants. We come from every continent and every nation. Immigrants
come here for economic opportunity, religious freedom and to seek
justice. These are our values because we are all the children of

D. Mayflower Compact – 1620

1. The Pilgrims wrote out their laws and created their
government before they ever set foot in America so that the society
would have a basis in law. This written “compact” was the foundation
of their society.

2. This was a written “social contract.”

3. It illustrates the idea of consent of the governed because it
was created by the governed. They all consented (agreed) to give up
absolute and abject freedom in exchange for rule of law.

E. John Locke – English Enlightenment Thinker (1600’s)

1. John Locke wrote in the 1600’s about the nature of
government. He wrote:

“In a state of nature all men are free and

“In a state of nature no man ought to harm another.”

“Man acquires property through the products of his labor”

“In order to remedy inconveinces (problems) resulting from a
state of nature … men enter into contract, thereby creating a civil
society… to defend the natural rights of men.”

If a government violates the social contract… it rebels
against the people, and the people have the right to dissolve the

2. This meant that government was created by the people and that
people gave up absolute freedom in exchange for safety against
problems. We call this concept “consent of the governed.”
Consent is given by what is referred to as a “social


3. This also says that if the government violates the social
contract the citizens have the right to remove the government because
it was the citizens that created the government. We call this notion
the “right to rebel.

4. These three concepts are the basic philosophical foundations of
this nation.