Alexander Hamilton: The American Dream

Overcoming enormous odds and challenges to find great success during his short life, Alexander Hamilton can be considered both the architect and the exemplar of the American Dream.

Hamilton is the architect in that his vision for our economy laid the foundation for our thriving free market system. By showing what can be achieved through the inimitable and unbeatable combination of hard work, determination, and native intelligence, he is the exemplar.

Though people have been living the American Dream for more than two centuries, the phrase itself was first used less than 100 years ago. In his 1931 book Epic of America, historian and writer James Truslow Adams wrote: “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.” While the mere mention of the phrase evokes a visceral response that makes definition and qualification all but superfluous, the American Dream has been commonly defined by such specifics as home ownership, an improved standard of living from one generation to the next, and the pursuit of higher education.

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.

James Truslow Adams

What does the dream mean today? In their 2014 book, Chasing the American Dream, authors Mark Robert Rank, Thomas A. Hirschl, and Kirk A. Foster, identify three elements of the American Dream that put it in broader and perhaps more meaningful context: having the freedom to pursue one’s interests and passions in life; the importance of economic security and well-being; and the importance of having hope and optimism with respect to seeing progress in one’s life.

While the definition of the American Dream may have changed or may be more conceptual than concrete, its fundamental meaning is the same. The American Dream is–and always will be–about opportunity and the freedom to pursue it.