Pursuing the American Dream: Opportunity and Exclusion Over Four Centuries / Edition 1

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Overview

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: these words have long represented the promise of America, and, even before they were penned, this country was seen as the land of opportunity. Touted by poets, pundits, and politicians, the American Dream is the spark that animates American life, the promise held out to youngsters and immigrants that hard work will result in security and prosperity.

The reality of that Dream, however, has long depended on the circumstances of the dreamer, since over the years many have been effectively barred from pursuing it. In this book Cal Jillson examines America's complex and evolving social landscape to show the contexts that have shaped the Dream and the patterns of exclusion that have left some dreaming in vain.

Jillson offers the fullest exploration yet of the origins and evolution of the ideal that serves as the foundation of our national ethos and collective self-image. By placing opportunity and aspiration at the center of the American Creed, the Dream has become a force for expanding opportunity. Jillson traces this ideal to its origins and chronicles its progress to the present day. He explores the Dream's changing content and our broadening sense of who has had the right to pursue it, charting a middle course between viewing the Dream as triumphant ideal and false promise.

Marked by continuity, renewal, and expansion, the image of the Dream, Jillson contends, has been remarkably constant since well before the American Revolution-an image of a nation offering a better chance for prosperity than any other. His book reveals how that Dream has motivated our nation's leaders and common citizens to move, sometimes grudgingly, toward a more open, diverse, and genuinely competitive society.

Pursuing the American Dream not only attests to a lasting vision, it also serves notice to those who govern that our society and economy must remain open to competition and opportunity. Indeed, Jillson reminds us all that it takes action-in the form of policy initiatives focusing on such matters as education, health care, and employment-to ensure that all Americans have a fair chance to compete with their fellow citizens for the good things in life, and to secure the American Dream for future generations.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This ambitious work is the first on its subject: a history of the sense of promise that has animated American life since its beginning. The dream of opportunity and liberation from Old World shackles arrived, Jillson shows, with the first ships and spread across the land and into every heart. But the dream was sustained by more than ideas and yearnings: as Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University, illustrates in the freshest part of his book, the dream was gradually embodied in institutions, laws and practices. Yet, as Jillson is also at pains to point out, often in numbing detail, the dream always fell short of reality by excluding some people and discriminating against others. Jillson arrives at this unsurprising conclusion through an exhaustive review of the writings of religious and political thinkers. But what opportunities he's missed! No foreigners' views of the American dream, no playwrights, films, humor or caricatures. Such coverage, if substituted for some other weighty material, might have lent greater variety and lightness to a frequently tedious exposition. One final problem, from which an American author writing about the American dream can't escape: he assumes the worth of the ideal he analyzes. The full history of the American Dream will have to be written by someone from somewhere else. 29 b&w photos. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Jillson (political science, Southern Methodist Univ.) is the author of several books on U.S. political thought. Here, he traces the development and evolution of the American dream over the past four centuries. He contends that the idea of the American dream shapes our national identity: the United States represents the land of opportunity, a chance for a better life, and social advancement that can be achieved through education, moral character, and hard work. Jillson explains that the dream endures despite the exclusion of certain groups at various times and asserts that government policy and legislation have been vital avenues for expanding the American dream, irrespective of race, gender, and ethnicity, into the 21st century. Jillson includes an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources like those found in Zachary Karabell's A Visionary Nation: Four Centuries of American Dreams and What Lies Ahead and Jim Cullen's The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea That Shaped a Nation. Highly recommended for academic libraries. Gayla Koerting, Univ. of South Dakota Lib., Vermillion Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700613427
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 8/28/2004
  • Series: American Political Thought Ser.
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 364
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Table of Contents

1 The American dream and its role in American history 1
2 American dreams : the promise of life in the new world 15
3 The dream defined : the founding visions of Crevecoeur, Jefferson, and Hamilton 48
4 The dream expanded : the democratizing visions of Jackson and Lincoln 83
5 The dream threatened : individualism in the age of the robber barons 119
6 The dream defended : the age of reform from TR to FDR 157
7 The dream at high tide : opportunity to entitlement from Truman to LBJ 196
8 The dream at ebb tide : entitlement to responsibility from Reagan to Clinton 231
9 The American dream in the twenty-first century 266
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