Since the discovery of America in the 15th century, millions of people in Europe and other
parts of the world have focused their hopes and dreams on that land. At the time of the
Renaissance in Europe, America was either a vision of Eldorado or a place where one could
practise one's religious faith freely and unhindered. It was, too, a place where one could
live to one's own conscience and where utopias of all kinds might be realized.
America was considered to be a haven away from political and social oppression, from
famine and from the constraints of class. For the underprivileged masses in Europe, America was a
chance to start a new life and improve their social conditions. Each individual was thought to be
able to pursue his or her own happiness and to help create the form of government which would respect the
rights of citizens. Each individual could dream of future success provided he was willing
to work hard enough.
The experience of the frontier led to the firm belief that nothing was impossible, that any problem
could be solved by ingenuity, hard work and communal help. Expanding the frontier farther into the
wilderness, conquering more and more land meant progress. Progress became synonymous with being on
the move, geographically, socially and ideologically. European history and the successful American
experience on the frontier made it easy for American political leaders to point out which human rights
should be safeguarded by law and which human virtues should be fostered.
Especially in times of hardship and political unrest, American presidents have repeatedly tried to rally
the American people behind essential aspects of the American dream. So did, for example, Woodrow Wilson
in 1916 when he said,
Just what is it America stands for? If she stands for one thing more than another, it is for the
sovereignty of self-governing people.
When Russia sent Sputnik into space, America faced a new challenge in the field of science and technology.
President John F. Kennedy reminded the American people of the successful experience of the frontier
when he exclaimed,
We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier - the frontier of the 1960s, a frontier of unknown
opportunity and perils, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.
At the same time, Martin Luther King focused the attention of the American people and the world
at large and quite another frontier when in his famous speech in August 1963, he exclaimed,
Every man has a right to life, and this means that he has also a right to make a comfortable living... .
Our government, formal and informal, political and economic, owes to everyone an avenue to possess
himself of a portion of that plenty from our industrial society sufficient for his needs, through
his own work.
It seems as if there were practically no way around an allusion to at least one aspect of the
American Dream in the Inaugural Address of any American president, however vague it may sound,
I would hope that the nations of the world might say that we had built a lasting peace, based
not on weapons of war but on international policies which reflect our own most precious
values. These are not just my goals, and they will not be my accomplishments, but the affirmation
of our own nation's continuing moral strength and our belief in an undiminished, ever-expanding American
(President Carter, 1977)
When Ronald Reagan took over the presidential office, he knew what the American public wanted to
hear about the freedom of the individual, the role of the government and about the future
of the American nation.
... And let us renew our faith and our hope. We have every right to dream heroic dreams... Your dreams,
your hopes, your goals are going to be the dreams of this administration, so help me God.
With President Bush the wheel has come full circle. The Americans have a new frontier, a new promise,
and a new purpose,
I come before you and assume the presidency at a moment rich with promise. We live in a peaceful,
prosperous time, but we can make it better. ... A new breeze is blowing - and a nation refreshed
by freedom stands ready to push on; there is new gound to be broken, and a new action to be taken...
America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people
have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the
(Inauguration Address, January 20, 1989)
From: Summit, Verlag Schöningh, Schöningh-Schulbuch 400126, Paderborn 1992, pp. 10-11
1. Summarize the quotations of the American political and religious leaders and highlight
the aspects of the American dream they emphasise.
2. Describe and compare the prospects which immigrants of the 19th century had with those of the
the more recent immigrants from East Asia and Latin America.
3. Choose at least three examples of figurative language used in the text, explain them and say
what their functions are.
4. What did M L King and other civil rights activists achieve for the African Americans and, do
you think, their notion of the American dream has been realized?
5. Comment critically on Bush's remarks and say if his visions have become reality in the face of events after 1989.