What Makes America Great (Pt 6/6): The American Dream

Coming to America

The American Dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of the circumstances of their birth, can succeed through hard work, study, ingenuity, sacrifice, teamwork, and perseverance. In many nations, a person’s birth predetermines their future. Were they born into nobility or royalty or serfdom?  Where they born into the upper class or a lower caste?   In America someone can start with nothing and achieve success or even greatness.

Millions of people have made great sacrifices, even risking their lives, to come to America in pursuit of the American Dream. 

American Dream Success Stories

A plethora of success stories attest to the reality of the American Dream.

Seeking the American Dream

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Ben Franklin was born Philadelphia into a very large and poor family.  His father pulled him out of school after only two years so he could help make candles for the family business.  

Coming to America

Ben started working for his brother as an apprentice printer. He devoted his spare time educating himself with borrowed books.

After his brother beat him up, Ben ran away to Boston.  He was seventeen years old. 

He got an apprenticeship with a printer.  After years of hard work, thrift, self-discipline, and self-education, he opened his own printing business.  He was a gifted printer, writer, and entrepreneur.  He retired at age 42 as a wealthy man. 

Retirement was not a time of leisure.  Franklin dedicated himself to scientific discovery, inventions, and diplomacy.  Because he embodied the American Dream, is known as “The First American.

Franklin became famous during his lifetime. He was a domestic and international celebrity. About 20,000 attended his funeral procession.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

I was born and have ever remained in the most humble walks of life.” (Abraham Lincoln) 

Abraham Lincoln grew up reading in front of his log cabin fireplace and cutting wood and planting crops.

Becoming a U.S. Citizen

His life was filled with tragedies and disappointments. His mother died when he was nine. His older sister, who virtually raised him, died in childbirth.

In 1831, when Lincoln’s partner died, his business went into bankruptcy and Lincoln had to sell most of his assets to pay off part of the large debt.

Out of desperation Lincoln began to study law.  Through hard work and grit, he became a prosperous attorney.  

He went into politics.  However, he lost almost every election he entered.  But finally, in 1860 he won an election and became President. He is credited with saving the Union.  He is recognized by many as our greatest president.  

American Dream Rags-to-Riches Stories

Sometimes, the American Dream success is a rag-to-riches story.  (Interestingly, Benjamin Franklin coined the phrase “rags to riches” because he used the fiber from rags, to make paper for his lucrative printing business.)

For many immigrants the American Dream was the hope of owning private land, an impossibility in their native land. For some, the American Dream meant getting a public education. For some, it was the hope of becoming successful, fulfilling their destiny, or becoming independent.  

Becoming an American

Andrew Carnegie (1836-1919)

Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland. He was so poor growing up that he “slept to forget the misery of hunger.”  He worked in a hot boiler room in a noisy textile factory during childhood

When his family moved to America, he worked as a messenger boy for a telegraph company.  At the same time, he worked in a factory. Andrew finally got a job as a secretary and telegraph operator for a railroad company earning $4 per week.

Finding the Dream

Using his savings, and his family’s home as collateral, he borrowed money and invested in railroads. He was so successful as an investor he was able to create the U.S. Steel Company.  His cheap and abundant steel changed the face of America, and was used, for the first time, to build skyscrapers and major bridges.

In 1900, Carnegie sold his company so he could devote full time to philanthropy.

He is reputed to be the second richest man in history.  He donated more than $4 billion to charities.

Andrew Carnegie’s maxim is: Spend the first third of your life getting all the education you can; spend the second third making all the money you can;, and spend the last third giving it all away to worthwhile causes.

John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937)

John Rockefeller was born in 1839.  He was one of six children living in a poor family. 

Through hard work, ingenuity, and grit, he went from earning 50 cents a day as an assistant bookkeeper to founding the Standard Oil Company

He became the world’s first billionaire. He is reputed to be the richest man of all time.

He donated millions to the field of biomedical research.  His funding resulted in the creation of life savings vaccines for meningitis and yellow fever.

The American Dream is Still Alive

Some cynics believe the American Dream is now dead.  Not so.

Vietnamese Americans

The Road to Citizenship

In the 1970’s tens of thousands of Vietnamese fled the brutal Communist regime, and risked their lives to come to America.  Most came with nothing, just the clothes on their backs.  Many spent years in refugee camps at Camp Pendleton and elsewhere, waiting for American sponsors.

With the kindness of these sponsors, and with intense study and hard work, these refugees became prominent lawyers, doctors, judges, professors, teachers, and government leaders. (I had the honor of mentoring the first Vietnamese American judge.)

Their contribution to the Orange County and America is huge.

Oprah Winfrey (1954 – )

Oprah was born out of wedlock to teenage parents. She was raised by her grandmother. She was a rebellious teenager prone to running away, stealing, and getting into trouble.

She learned broadcasting and media training in high school. She worked hard and studied hard. 

At age 19 she co-anchored a local Chicago newscast and eventually hosted a daytime talk show in Chicago. She became an actor, author, magazine publisher, theater producer and philanthropist.

Oprah has amassed personal wealth of about $3 billion. She has donated over $400 million to charities, especially involving girls in Africa.

Ursula Burns (1958 –  )

The Great American Melting Pot

Ursula Burns was raised by a single immigrant mother. She grew up in the housing projects in New York City, “when it was really bad, when the gangs were there, and the drug addicts were there

Despite their poverty, Ursula’s mom insisted that she get a college education.  She studied hard in school and attended college.  In college, she started as a summer intern with the Xerox company in 1980. She worked her way up to becoming president, CEO, and Chairman of this large company.

Jerry Yang (1968 –  )

Jerry Yang was born in Taiwan in 1968.  His father died when he was two years old and his family moved to California when he was eight.  He only knew one word of English: “shoe.

He worked hard in school and graduated from Stanford.  In 1990, he started Yahoo.  After five years, he stepped down from the company, having become a billionaire.


Ellis Island Immigrants

Millions of men, women, and children have risked their lives to come to the U.S. in hope of fulfilling the American Dream. They recognized the opportunities and greatness of America, and they “voted with their feet.” That is the truest measure of “which country is best.”  That is overwhelming circumstantial evidence of the goodness and greatness of America.

While America is building walls to control the masses flooding into the country, other countries build walls to keep their citizens from escaping. Their citizens, “yearning to breathe free,” are prisoners.

Observe, the celebrities and commentators who are shouting that “America sucks,” are still here.  By staying in the U.S., they too are “voting with their feet” for America.  There are 194 other countries to chose from. Yet, these spoiled ingrates choose to stay in America. If America is so awful, where is the mass exodus? “Actions speak louder than words.

In sum, the final answer to the question, “What makes America great?” is the great American Dream.

“America,” Neil Diamond

Coming to the Land of Opportunity

On the boats and on the planes
They’re coming to America
Never looking back again
They’re coming to America

Home, to a new and a shiny place
Make our bed, and we’ll say our grace
Freedom’s light burning warm
Freedom’s light burning warm

Everywhere around the world
They’re coming to America
Every time that flag’s unfurled
They’re coming to America

Coming to America

Got a dream to take them there
They’re coming to America
Got a dream they’ve come to share
They’re coming to America

They’re coming to America
They’re coming to America
Today . . .

(Other articles at: londonedition.home.blog or http://www.londonedition.net)

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