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Clint Thibodeaux
Mary Hidalgo
English 102
1 March 2015
A Devolving Dream
The American dream is very difficult to define because its standards and how it is
pursued has constantly changed over time because of various factors. Human greed has definitely
warped the reality of how this dream affects the rest of us, often through situations that are out
of our control such as government policy. As our country was growing, power was growing for a
few select elite who were believed to embody what was thought to be the American dream.
However, seeing how the self-serving financial interests of those with the most power altered
how this dream is perceived and pursued has skewed the general perception of what it really is.
The general public is jaded with thinking that the American dream is still based on the
beautiful ideals of human equality and freedom, and the ability to improve ones condition based
solely on hard work and determination, even though the reality is that it has been destroyed by
greed and an elitist lust for power.
America has long been thought of as the land of opportunity since before its birth. The
founding fathers did have a dream in mind of a free society in which one would be able to follow
a dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They also said that to them, it was selfevident that all of these men were created equal, but the reality in our country from its
conception is that these men are not treated equally (US Constitution). The ideals of freedom for
all gained America a global reputation as being the land of opportunity, attracting waves of
immigrants for well over the following century. They were drawn from their oppressed

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homelands seeking the opportunity to be able to work hard and be rewarded for their capabilities.
Yet, in a fledgling nation, these dreams of a better life disintegrated in the harsh realities of a
rugged terrain with few regulations to protect the ordinary citizens trying to make a life on the
frontier. Far out West, another hidden dream was being realized with the discovery of a gold
nugget in a river near Sacramento, catalyzing one the quickest migrations of a quarter million
people to and across the country, particularly the Chinese, French, and Latin Americans (Brands,
193). This migration revealed the true desire of most people to get rich quick and rise in the
ranks of society.
As waves of immigrants flooded into America seeking a fresh start at etching out new
lives for themselves, the economy was beginning to thrive with the help of tycoons like J.P.
Morgan and John D. Rockefeller. They were fortunate enough to be the first in a new nation to
create the market for any industry, but settled with some of the most profitable industries in the
history of the industrialized world Corenlius Carnegie controlled mining and steel production,
J.P. Morgan controlled finance and John D. Rockefeller dominated the oil industry. Rockefeller
does embody the true rags to riches story having built his entire empire from the ground up after
starting at the bottom, dirt poor. Stories like his were extremely rare in his time and are still not
as common today, but the idea of hope coupled with the guise of a dream gave people the false
notion that anyone could rise to the top with a little hard work and that it would certainly always
pay off. The perception of this dream was finally publicly manifested in the words of James
Trunslow Adams 1931 book, The Epic of America, in which he finally gives a name to this
illusion, the American dream, (Cullen, 5). He mistakenly believes that achieving this dream is
truly based on ones capabilities, regardless of social status, and that the fruits of ones labors
will yield a high payoff for their efforts.

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The problem is that this is a very unrealistic dream for the public majority. Through the
greed of the industry leaders already mentioned, the dream strayed even farther from reality as
they grew richer and monopolized markets with very little regulation. It is no secret that factory
conditions were deplorable and that the workers were exploited in extremely hazardous
conditions which endangered their lives and trapped them in this endless cycle of misery.
In order to maximize the profits and protect their interests without much interference and to
ensure that they could continue to operate their businesses as they pleased, they used their
influence capital to essentially buy governments and elections to suit their needs (Prins, 2).
These three joined forces in a secretive meeting to devise a plan that would ultimately allow
them to continue running their businesses in this way. They knew that if they put the right man in
the White House, they could continue monopolizing the industry, raking in all the profits without
competition. They set about pooling their money and chose William McKinley, Governor of
Ohio. After bankrolling his entire campaign and running shameless smear campaigns against his
running mate William Jennings Bryan, they won the pivotal election (The History Channel).
They essentially grew richer off the hard work of the lower classes of whom they tended to take
advantage. This is still a very present issue in our nation to this day which has even worsened
with the growth of massive corporations. The ruling elite in these arenas often tend to pass of
authority within their own families and connections rather than to those who might have worked
hard to achieve the very position that is handed off to an inexperienced kid because of who his
family might be. It is absolutely a misconception that hard work always pays off when this is a
reality realized by millions of citizens who go to work every day, some who have been working
the same menial jobs for years or even decades without much progression. Historian James
Cullen likens the modernization of this dream as it comes into the incandescent glow of the

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mass media, where it is enshrined as our national motto. He also intimates that this American
dream has become a birthright that seems more valuable than the underlying implications of
terms like democracy, the Constitution, or even the United States, (5). This ideal has
become so stained with materialism and career prestige that it is not representative of the ideals
of freedom and equality that it was once thought to embody.
As the wealthy continue to rule our country, their power seems to continue protecting
them, shading their intentions and business interests. Powerful men like J.P. Morgan have
distorted the goal of this American dream, adding more materialistic elements that may not be as
visible on the surface of hard work. The hard work is continuous for many because government
restrictions on wages and taxes keep them working harder with little promise of advancement. It
seems that those in power have created more barriers to keep the lower classes where they are so
they can remain where they are untouched.

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Works Cited
1. Brands, H.W. The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream.
New York: Doubleday, 2002. Print. Pg. 193.
2. Cullen, Jim. The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation. New
York: Oxford University Press. 2004. Pg. 5-7. Print.
3. Prins, Nomi. All the Presidents' Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American
Power. New York: Nation Books. 8 Apr 2014. Print. Pg. 2
4. "Taking the White House." The Men Who Built America. Writ. Randy Counsman, Keith
Palmer, and David C. White. Dir. Patrick Reams. The History Channel, 2012. DVD.
5. U.S. Constitution. Preamble, Sec. 2.1. 4 July 1776. Web. 26 Feb 2015.