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  • Writer's pictureLiz Bowers

James Truslow Adams, The Inventor of The American Dream

“The whole of the American Dream has been based on the chance to get ahead, for one’s self or one’s children. Would this country have ever reached the point it has if the individual had always been refused the rewards of his labors and dangers?” - James Truslow Adams (Forbes)

Born October 18, 1878, was an American writer and historian. Although the vague concept of an American Dream had been around for generations, Adams first coined the term and defined it in his book, Epic of America, in 1931.

Adams was concerned that the rising materialism of the 1920s had destroyed what he considered the original American Dream. This may surprise you! Our idea today of the American Dream is often equated to a house with a yard, white picket fence, and a two-car garage. In other words, it’s all related to the stuff you have. There is also the idea that the American Dream is the traditional family unit to fit in the house; a mom, dad, and two kids. This caricature of the peak of what it meant to be American is perhaps rightly criticized. After all, today when disenfranchised American youth claim that the dream is dead or was never realistic they’re often pointing to the unlikely rise of lower socioeconomic classes rising to join the upper classes in America. While Adams himself acknowledge the material side of the American Dream, it was his argument that material gain was not the sole focus of that dream.

Admas’ concerns for the American Dream have been realized. “The American dream that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of merely material plenty, although that has doubtless counted heavily. It has been much more than that.” He argued that the true American Dream had much more to do with, “quality and spiritual values.” The building block of the true American Dream: the ideals of freedom, a government by the people, hard work, love for God, love for family, love for country, and a sense of responsibility for one's own character and destiny. It is these values that allow parents to believe that they can build a better world for their children, not simply the attainment of material wealth.

James Truslow Adams’ own family had come to America in search of that dream. His mother and her family were from Venezuela and his father was descended from English immigrants. Adams himself achieved great success in his life as a respected historian in the New England region, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his work. He also served in the Military Intelligence Division of the General Staff of the U.S. Army during World War I. He was a part of the commission to prepare for the Paris Peace Conference and later was selected to be a part of the delegation. His role focused on gathering maps, plans, and atlases that would be acquired by the War College, the American Geographical Society, and the Library of Congress.

Throughout his life, he remained critical of the direction of the nation and the impact of education and culture on the future generations of Americans. In some ways then, his coining of the American Dream as a popular phrase wasn’t just defining an ideal to strive for but sounding the first bells of alarm that if we sought it only in gold we would never truly find it and as the nation’s values decayed so would the chances of achieving that lofty ideal.

What does the American Dream mean today?


*All opinions expressed by WYO Conservative guests are theirs alone and may not represent the views of WYO Conservative’s Founder and Owner, Donna K. Rice, or any WYO Conservative affiliates.


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