Written by Teall Haycock
The American Dream
This passion for holding an ownership stake in one’s domain can be traced to the earliest European settlers of what was then known as the New World. America’s first settlers took life endangering risks when they departed their familiar, orderly and civilized societies to take the extraordinary journey across the foreboding Atlantic Ocean. They left everything behind in order to start new lives.
Among the earliest travelers, many died en route, while many more perished in the first few years following their arrival. These settlers found themselves at the edge of a vast and untamed wilderness that was notably described by William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony, as a “hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men.”
But the Pilgrims were on a religious mission – inspired by God and their faith – to find a new home out of reach from the persecutions of King James I, who did not share their religious convictions. In contemporary jargon, the Pilgrims sought their own “turf” – their own homes in their own domain – defendable against unwanted forces, be they edicts of a distant king or the threats of hostile natives.
The battle for freedom and liberty between Americans and their intended oppressors continued through the American Revolution and other military conflicts, including disputes with Mexico, France, and Spain.
The American Dream
Declaration of Independence
The mentality of home ownership as something everyone had the right to strive for is even implicit in the first sentence of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.
“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.”
We can define liberty as: “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.” The desire, and ultimately the attainment for liberty was – and remains – the most powerful force that galvanized and strengthened our country to this day.
The existence of seemingly unlimited land, in some ways available for the taking, was simply unheard of in Europe. Indeed, most Americans strongly disagreed with Bradford’s portrayal of the wilderness as being “hideous and desolate.” Rather, the vast unexplored lands of the New World were seen as an opportunity for wealth and freedom. Early settlers sought their fortunes in the fur trade, buffalo meat and hides, timber, farming, whaling, trade, and development of natural resources such as gold, silver, and eventually oil.
The passion for “homeownership as happiness” gradually but relentlessly became the crown jewel of the uniquely American ethos: that success and prosperity – including home ownership – are available to all who aspire to it; all it takes is lots of hard work, diligence, and persistence. This societal framework was further ingrained into our culture through several “Homestead Acts” passed by Congress beginning in the mid 19th century and continuing into the early 20th century.
These Acts granted tracts of land to settlers who would acquire ownership of land – often more than 100 acres per person or family – to anyone willing to develop and work the land in accordance with government specifications. This was an opportunity unique to America – no such opportunity has ever before existed in the modern world.
Land of Opportunity
The esteemed Pulitzer Prize winning historian James Truslow Adams captured the true spirit of our culture in his remarkable book, “The Epic in America,” that was published in 1931. It was in this book that the term “The American Dream” was introduced to the world. It has been a standard part of our vocabulary, and our very way of thinking, ever since.
As Adams so eloquently put it: “The American Dream is 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. 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.”
Home ownership has become an integral part of The American Dream largely because it is attainable by anyone, regardless of where they came from or who they are. Yes, it is true that our nation has, in some ways, a checkered past; but as a nation we remain powerful and united. We live by any faith we choose, we submit to and adhere to the rule of law, and we are fully enabled to seek prosperity, buy a home, and raise a family.