“…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.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…”
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Many things come to mind when asked to describe the essence of America – its energy and innovation; the various freedoms that Americans enjoy; the racial and ethnic mix of its people. But perhaps fundamental to the essence of America has been the concept of the American Dream. It has captured the imagination of people from all walks of life and represents the heart and soul of the country.
The American Dream has served as a road map for the way we often envision the course of our lives. The rules of the game are well-known, as is the bargain that is struck. For those willing to work hard and take advantage of their opportunities, there is the expectation of a prosperous and fulfilling life. The United States has long been epitomized as a land of equal opportunity, where hard work and skill can result in personal success and fulfillment, regardless of one’s station in life. While the specifics of each dream vary from person to person, the overall vitality of the American Dream has been fundamental to the nation’s identity.
It can be found throughout our culture and history. It lies at the heart of Ben Franklin’s common wisdom chronicled in Poor Richard’s Almanack, in the words of Emma Lazurus etched onto the Statue of Liberty, the poetry of Carl Sandburg, or the soaring oratory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It can be heard in the music of Aaron Copland or jazz innovator Charlie Parker. And it can be seen across skylines from Manhattan to Chicago to San Francisco. Yet it can also be found in the most humble of places. It lies in the hopes of a single mother struggling on a minimum wage job to build a better life for herself and her children. It rests upon the unwavering belief of a teenager living on some forgotten back road that one day he or she will find fortune and fame. And it is present in the efforts and sacrifices of a first generation American family to see their kids through college.
In many respects, the American Dream has been deeply rooted in the concept of a journey-the journey to a new country, the journey across generations, and of course, the journey within one’s life. It is about motion and progress, it is about optimism, and it is about finding success and fulfillment along the way. And yet the conditions under which Americans have pursued this Dream have been fraught with risk and economic uncertainty.
The settlers of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries took enormous risks coming to the new world, often arriving with little more than the clothes on their backs. Once here, there was not much in the way of government help or financial assistance (with the exception of available land). Self-reliance, rugged individualism, and determination were seen as the keys to prosperity. And yet, in spite of the risks and struggles, the American Dream has been, and continues to be, a guiding force reflecting the manner in which we see our lives unfolding. Turn on the television, listen to the radio, surf the Internet, or pick up a magazine while waiting in an airport, and the images of the American Dream are ever present. From the solidly middle class couple engaged in their careers and lifestyle, to the rags to riches superstar making millions of dollars each year, the American Dream is portrayed as attainable, as long as we commit ourselves to hard work and perseverance in striving toward our goals.
The American Dream has ultimately been about the manner in which our lives unfold and the ability of the individual, no matter where he or she comes from, to exert considerable control and freedom over how that process occurs. In a sense, it is about being able to live out our individual biographies to their fullest extent.
For more than three centuries, the hallmark of liberalism has been the attempt to promote individual liberty. Liberalism is a group of political, social and economic theories that centers on the values of individual liberty, equality, economic freedom, limited and democratic government and the rule of law. Words such as liberal, liberty, libertarian and libertine all trace their history to the Latin liber, which means “free”. Liberalism holds that all individuals should have equal treatment before the law regardless of social status, race or sex. Some important liberties in modern liberal states include freedom of speech, press, religion and association. Liberty is constrained by the harm principle, which states that you have liberty as long as you do not harm others. Liberty is a political concept that refers to freedom from undue or oppressive restraints on a person’s actions, thoughts or beliefs imposed by the state.
The modern ideology of Liberalism can be traced back to the Humanism which challenged the authority of the established church in Renaissance Europe, and more particularly to the 17th and 18th Century British and French Enlightenmentthinkers, and the movement towards self-government in colonial America. John Locke’s “Two Treatises on Government” of 1689 established two fundamental liberal ideas: economic liberty (meaning the right to have and use property) and intellectual liberty (including freedom of conscience). His natural rights theory (“natural rights” for Locke being essentially life, liberty and property) was the distant forerunner of the modern conception of human rights, although he saw the right to property as more important than the right to participate in government and public decision-making, and he did not endorse democracy, fearing that giving power to the people would erode the sanctity of private property. Nevertheless, the idea of natural rights played a key role in providing the ideological justification for the American and the French revolutions, and in the further development of Liberalism.
“all men are created equal. . . . ” This phrase caused some embarrassment when the Declaration was issued, for a number of colonists, American “patriots” as well as pro-British “tories,” pointed out that it was hypocritical for a slaveholding country to proclaim the equality of all mankind. In England Dr. Samuel Johnson criticized Washington, Jefferson, and other slaveholding colonists for their hypocrisy: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?” In fact, Jefferson, a slave-owner himself, included a sharp attack on the slave trade in his original draft of the Declaration. This section was removed by other members of Congress, however, while the claim that all men are created equal remained.
AMERICA: chronology of key events –
1565 – First permanent European settlement in North America – St Augustine, present-day Florida – founded by the Spanish. North America is already inhabited by several distinct groups of people, who go into decline following the arrival of settlers.
1607 – Jamestown, Virginia, founded by English settlers, who begin growing tobacco.
1620 – Plymouth Colony, near Cape Cod, is founded by the Pilgrim Fathers, whose example is followed by other English Puritans in New England.
17th-18th centuries – Hundreds of thousands of Africans brought over and sold into slavery to work on cotton and tobacco plantations.
1763 – Britain gains control of territory up to the Mississippi river following victory over France in Seven Years’ War.
War of Independence
1774 – Colonists form First Continental Congress as Britain closes down Boston harbour and deploys troops in Massachusetts.
1775 – American Revolution: George Washington leads colonist Continental Army to fight against British rule.
1776 4 July – Thomas Jefferson’s American Declaration of Independence endorsed by Congress; colonies declare independence.
1781 – Rebel states form loose confederation, codified in Articles of Confederation, after defeating the British at the Battle of Yorktown.
16th president preserved Union, emancipated slaves
- Born in Kentucky, 1809
- Known as ‘Honest Abe’ and the ‘Great Emancipator’
- His Gettysburg Address honoured the Union dead, set out the principles they died for
- Assassinated in 1865
1783 – Britain accepts loss of colonies by virtue of Treaty of Paris.
1787 – Founding Fathers draw up new constitution for United States of America. Constitution comes into effect in 1788.
1789 – George Washington elected first president of USA.
1791 – Bill of Rights guarantees individual freedom.
1803 – France sells Louisiana territories to USA.
1808 – Atlantic slave trade abolished.
1812-15 – War of 1812 between the US and Britain, partly over the effects of British restrictions on US trade during the Napoleonic Wars.
19th century – Residual resistance by indigenous people crushed as immigration from Europe assumes mass proportions, with settlers moving westwards and claiming “manifest destiny” to control North America; number of states in the union rises from 17 to 45.
1846-48 – US acquires vast tracts of Mexican territory in wake of Mexican War including California and New Mexico.
1854 – Opponents of slavery, or abolitionists, set up Republican Party.
1860 – Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln elected president.
1860-61 – Eleven pro-slavery southern states secede from Union and form Confederate States of America under leadership of Jefferson Davis, triggering civil war with abolitionist northern states.
1863 – Lincoln issues Emancipation Proclamation, declaring slaves in Confederate states to be free.
1865 – Confederates defeated; slavery abolished under Thirteenth Amendment. Lincoln is assassinated.
1876 – Sioux Indians defeat US troops at Little Big Horn.
1890 – US troops defeat Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee.
1898 – US gains Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines and Cuba following the Spanish-American war. US annexes Hawaii.
World War I and the Great Depression
1917-18 – US intervenes in World War I, rejects membership of League of Nations.
1939: FDR proclaims US neutrality
1920 – Women given the right to vote under the Nineteenth Amendment.
1920 – Sale and manufacture of alcoholic liquors outlawed. The Prohibition era sees a mushrooming of illegal drinking joints, home-produced alcohol and gangsterism.
1924 – Congress gives indigenous people right to citizenship.
1929-33 – 13 million people become unemployed after the Wall Street stock market crash of 1929 triggers what becomes known as the Great Depression. President Herbert Hoover rejects direct federal relief.
1933 – President Franklin D Roosevelt launches “New Deal” recovery programme which includes major public works. Sale of alcohol resumes.
World War II and the Cold War
1941 – Japanese warplanes attack US fleet at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii; US declares war on Japan; Germany declares war on US, which thereafter intervenes on a massive scale in World War II, eventually helping to defeat Germany.
1945 – US drops two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrenders.
1947 – US enunciates policy of aid for nations it deems threatened by communism in what became known as the Truman Doctrine. Cold War with Soviet Union begins.
1948 – America’s programme to revive ailing post-war European economies – the Marshall Plan – comes into force. Some $13bn is disbursed over four years and the plan is regarded as a success.
1950-54 – Senator Joseph McCarthy carries out a crusade against alleged communists in government and public life; the campaign and its methods become known as McCarthyism. In 1954 McCarthy is formally censured by the Senate.
1950-53 – US forces play leading role against North Korean and Chinese troops in Korean War.
Desegregation and the Vietnam war
1954 – Racial segregation in schools becomes unconstitutional; start of campaign of civil disobedience to secure civil rights for Americans of African descent.
JOHN F KENNEDY
Killed by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, 1963
1960 – Democratic Party candidate John F Kennedy elected president, narrowly defeating his rival Richard Nixon.
1961 – Bay of Pigs invasion: an unsuccessful attempt to invade Cuba by Cuban exiles, organised and financed by Washington.
1962 – US compels Soviet Union to withdraw nuclear weapons from Cuba in what has become known as the Cuban missile crisis.
1963 – President John F Kennedy assassinated; Lyndon Johnson becomes president.
1964 – US steps up its military intervention in Vietnam. Civil Rights Act signed into law; it aims to halt discrimination on grounds of race, colour, religion, nationality.
1968 – Black civil rights leader Martin Luther King assassinated.
1969 – Republican Party candidate Richard Nixon elected president amid growing public opposition to Vietnam war. US military presence in Vietnam exceeds 500,000 personnel.
US astronaut Neil Armstrong becomes the first person to walk on the Moon.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR
Civil rights leader was renowned for his stirring oratory
1972 – Nixon re-elected and makes historic visit to China.
1973 – Vietnam ceasefire agreement signed. The campaign had claimed some 58,000 American lives.
1974 – In a TV address, Nixon announces his resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal, over a 1972 break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters. Gerald Ford is sworn-in as his successor.
1976 – Democratic Party candidate Jimmy Carter elected president.
1979 – US embassy in Tehran, Iran, seized by radical students. The 444-day hostage crisis – including a failed rescue attempt in 1980 – impacts on Carter’s popularity and dominates the 1980 presidential election campaign.
1980 November – Republican Party’s Ronald Reagan elected president. Reagan goes on to adopt a tough anti-communist foreign policy and tax-cutting policies which lead to a large federal budget deficit.
1981 January – Iran frees the 52 US embassy hostages, on the same day as President Reagan’s inauguration.
Former president, said to have restored US self-confidence
1983 – US invades Caribbean nation of Grenada, partly prompted by its concerns over the island’s ties with Cuba.
1984 – Ronald Reagan re-elected president, beating Democratic Party candidate Walter Mondale.
1986 January – Space shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after take off from Cape Canaveral. All seven crew members are killed. Manned space flights are suspended until September 1988.
1986 – US warplanes bomb Libyan cities. “Irangate” scandal uncovered, revealing that proceeds from secret US arms sales to Iran were used illegally to fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
1988 – Reagan’s vice-president, George Bush, elected president.
1989 – US troops invade Panama, oust its government and arrest its leader, one-time Central Intelligence Agency informant General Manuel Noriega, on drug-trafficking charges.
1991 – US forces play dominant role in war against Iraq, which was triggered by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and ended with the expulsion of Iraqi troops from that country.
The Clinton years
1992 – Democratic Party candidate Bill Clinton elected president.
1992 – Congress passes North American Free Trade Agreement, or Nafta, intended to create free-trade bloc among US, Canada and Mexico.
2004: President Bush unveils space plans
1995 – Oklahoma bomb kills more than 160 people in worst ever incident of its kind in US.
1996 – Clinton re-elected, beating Republican rival Bob Dole.
1998 – Scandal over Clinton’s purported sexual impropriety with White House worker Monica Lewinsky dominates domestic political agenda and leads to impeachment proceedings in Congress.
1999 March-June – US plays leading role in Nato bombardment of Yugoslavia in response to Serb violence against ethnic Albanians in the province of Kosovo.
2000 November – Republican Party’s George W Bush wins presidency.
January 2001: Bill Clinton’s farewell
2001 July – US tests its controversial missile defence shield, or “Son of Star Wars”.
11 September attacks
2001 11 September – Co-ordinated suicide attacks on various high-profile targets, prompting the US to embark on a ”war on terror” which includes the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.
2001 October – US leads massive campaign of air strikes against Afghanistan and helps opposition forces defeat the Taleban regime and find Saudi-born dissident Osama Bin Laden, who is suspected of masterminding the 11 September attacks.
2001 October – USA Patriot Act approved by the Senate, giving the government greater powers to detain suspected terrorists, eavesdrop on communications and counter money-laundering. In November, President Bush signs a directive to try suspected terrorists in military tribunals rather than the courts.
2001 December – Energy giant Enron declared bankrupt after massive false-accounting comes to light.
2002 January – State of the Union address: President George W Bush includes Iraq, Iran and North Korea in what he describes as an “axis of evil”.
2002 State of the Union address: “Axis of evil”
2002 June/July – Telecoms giant WorldCom’s multi-billion dollar accounting fraud is revealed, eclipsing the Enron scandal to become the biggest business failure in US history.
2002 November – President Bush signs into law a bill creating a Department of Homeland Security, the biggest reorganisation of federal government in more than 50 years. The large and powerful department is tasked with protecting the US against terrorist attacks.
2003 February – Space shuttle Columbia’s 28th mission ends in tragedy when the craft breaks-up while re-entering the atmosphere. The seven astronauts on board are killed.
2003 March – Missile attacks on Baghdad mark the start of a US-led campaign to topple the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. US forces advance into central Baghdad in early April.
Bush: “We have seen the turning of the tide”
2003 1 May – Speaking on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, President Bush declares that the main part of the war in Iraq is over.
2004 May – Furore over pictures showing the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in US custody.
2004 July – Senate report says US and allies went to war in Iraq on “flawed” information. Independent report into 11 September 2001 attacks highlights deep institutional failings in intelligence services and government.
Bush second term
2004 2 November – Presidential elections: George W Bush wins a second term.
2005 August – Hundreds of people are killed when Hurricane Katrina, the most destructive storm to hit the US in decades, sweeps through gulf coast states. Much of the city of New Orleans is submerged by flood waters.
2006 March – Congress renews the USA Patriot Act, a centrepiece of the government’s fight against terrorism, after months of debate about its impact on civil liberties. The government agrees to some curbs on information gathering.
2006 April-May – Millions of immigrants and their supporters take to the streets to protest against plans to criminalise illegal immigrants.
2006 May – The only man to be charged over the September 11 attacks, self-confessed al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, is sentenced to life in jail.
2006 November – Democratic Party wins control of the Senate and House of Representatives in mid-term elections. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld steps down.
2007 January – President Bush announces a new Iraq strategy; thousands more US troops will be dispatched to shore up security in Baghdad.
The 2008-9 financial crisis sent shockwaves throughout the world
2008 September – Turmoil in the US and international financial markets as major Wall Street investment bank Lehman Brothers collapses and other big US financial players face growing troubles as a result of the “credit crunch”. With hundreds of billions of dollars wiped out in bad loans and a prolonged property slump, the US faces its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
2008 November – Democratic Senator Barack Obama becomes the first black president of the United States.
THE GEORGE W BUSH YEARS
Wave of support after 9/11 yielded to derision at home and abroad
2009 January – First “Tea Party” rally held in protest at Obama administration’s plans to bail out banks and introduce healthcare reform. The populist and libertarian movement acts as focus for conservative opposition to the president’s reform plans.
2010 March – Democrats in Congress succeed in passing a bill on health care reform, despite strong Republican opposition, procedural setbacks and public scepticism.
US and Russia announce agreement on a new nuclear arms reduction treaty to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The pact was to be signed on 8 April.
President Obama unveils a new defence policy significantly curtailing the circumstances in which the US would use nuclear weapons.
2010 May-June – Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico causes the United States’ biggest oil spill to date.
OPPOSITION TO OBAMA
Tea Party agenda provides rallying point for disgruntled conservatives
2010 November – Republicans make sweeping gains in mid-term elections, regaining control of House of Representatives.
2011 May – US forces kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in an operation in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.
2011 July – The final Space Shuttle mission is completed with the landing of Atlantis on 21 July, bringing about the end of the 30-year programme.
2011 September – Anti-capitalist protesters take to the streets of major cities, marching under the slogan “Occupy Wall Street”, against “corporate greed” and increasing government debt. The protests inspire marches in other cities worldwide.
2012 January – President Obama unveils a revised defence strategy involving budget cuts, but insists US will maintain its military superiority.
2013 January – Barack Obama is inaugurated for his second term as president
Global surveillance disclosures: The revelations of the NSA’s PRISM, Boundless Informant and XKeyscore domestic surveillance programs were first published by The Guardian and Washington Post newspapers.
2014 August – Michael Brown was shot and killed, in what was ruled by a grand jury to be self-defense, by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, igniting protests and riots in the following months.
President Obama announces a restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time since 1961
2015 April – 2015 Baltimore protests: Protests and rioting occur in Baltimore, Maryland after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.
Obergefell v. Hodges: Gay marriage is fully legalized in all 50 states.
2016 June – 2016 Orlando Nightclub Shooting: A self-proclaimed Islamic State fighter, Omar Mateen, kills 49 and injures 53 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, before being shot and killed by an officer.
Donald Trump wins the 2016 presidential election, and becomes the forty-fifth president of the United States. The Republicans also regained the majority of both the House and Senate; an election in which the Republican candidate wins the election while the majority in Congress maintains a Republican control hasn’t happened since 2004.
2017 December – The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 is signed into law, lowering income tax rates and the corporate tax rate.