First I think it is necessary to define what the american dream
actually is. Dictionary.com defines it as...
"the widespread aspiration of Americans to live better than their parents did."
so that is the definition I will work with. I have broken my answer
into 2 major categories , examples in which government can be seen
supporting the American dream and examples in which one could argue
that they are hurting it.
----- Supporting the American Dream -----
#### Civil Rights ####
One of the most notable areas where government has tried to help
people achieve the American dream falls in the realm of civil rights
legislation and decision. One could make the argument that government
is simply fixing what they broke in the first place, however even if
that is the case they are still attempting to change the status quo
and ensure that people are treated fairly.
A major example of congress helping a large group of society ensure a
better life for their children then they had is in the Civil Rights
Act of 1964.
"CRA '64 transformed American society. It prohibited discrimination in
public facilities, in government, and in employment. This simple
statement understates the large shift in American society that
occurred as a result. The Jim Crow laws in the South were abolished,
and it was illegal to compel segregation of the races in schools,
housing, or hiring. Although initially enforcement powers were weak,
they grew over the years, and such later programs as affirmative
action were made possible by the Civil Rights Act."
#### G.I. Bill ####
In 1944 congress passed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act (more
commonly known as the G. I. Bill) which provides veterans with money
for college or vocational education. The bill made it possible for a
lot of people who could not afford college normally to be able to
The bill also gave loans to veterans in order to buy homes and start businesses.
"the fact that the G. I. Bill paid for a G. I.'s entire education
encouraged many universities across the country to expand enrollment.
For example, the University of Michigan had under 10,000 students
prior to the war. In 1948 their enrollment was well over 30,000."
"An important provision of the G. I. Bill was low interest home loans
for servicemen. This enabled millions of American families to move out
of urban apartments and into suburban homes. Prior to the war the
suburbs tended to be the homes of the wealthy and upper class.
Although black servicemen were eligible for these loans they tended to
remain in the inner cities or in rural areas because many suburban
communities using racial segregation did not sell homes to
African-Americans and other minorities.
As a whole the bill helped to democratize the "American Dream." The G.
I. Bill of Rights has since been modified but still remains on the
books. The U.S. Military tends to use it to encourage enlistment."
#### Federally Funded Student Aid ####
The United States Government provides billions of dollars every year
in student aid. This comes in the form of interest free loans and
grants. Without this money college would ben unattainable for a large
portion of the society.
Because of this aid students across the country are able to go to
school, a lot of them being the first member of their family to do so,
which will provide them with the opportunity for a better future.
#### Federal Housing Administration Loans (FHA Loans) ####
In 1934, as part of the new deal, the Federal Housing Administration
was formed which started offering FHA loans which allowed lower income
families to purchase a home.
"FHA loans have historically allowed lower income Americans to borrow
money for the purchase of a home that they would not otherwise be able
to afford. The program originated during the Great Depression of the
1930s, when the rates of foreclosures and defaults rose sharply, and
the program was intended to provide lenders with sufficient insurance.
Some FHA programs were subsidized by government, but the goal was to
make it self-supporting, based on insurance premiums paid by
#### Homestead Act ####
The Homestead Act, which was signed into law on May 20th, 1862 by
President Lincoln, provided 160 acres to people provided that they
lived there for at least 5 years. This is one of the first major
examples of the goverement helping to support the American dream
because it allowed families who would may not have been able to, to
"In the history of the world, only a few people owned land. Ownership
of land provides empowerment and social responsibility. This was
unavailable to the great majority of the world's population. The
Homestead Act, for a short time and in one place, reversed this
balance and helped to create the current state of America. Property
given to impoverished East-coast city dwellers and masses of new
Northern European immigrants distributed wealth evenly among a working
populace. Homestead tracts were often excellent farmland and provided
subsistence and a steady income. Homestead farmers in time became the
agricultural producers to the nation as a whole. Additionally, strong
communities with a commitment to social values, education, and
personal responsibility were spawned throughout the territories
(eventually, new States) covered by the Homestead lands."
#### The Military ####
This is a bit of a high, non-specific concept, but it should be noted
that the military itself is a good example of the government helping
to preserve the american dream.
A large part of the American dream embodies the American ideal of
freedom for all. By maintaining a strong military force the
government is able to ensure the continued survival of the current way
of life as well as American freedom.
#### National INstitutes of Health ####
The NIH is another big example of the goverment supporting the
American dream. Part of being better off then our parents generation
means having a higher quality of life and many would argue living
In 1930 the United States Congress passed Ransdell Act which created the NIH.
"Today it is one of the world's foremost medical research centers, and
the Federal focal point for medical research in the U.S. The NIH,
headed by the Office of the Director and comprising 27 separate
Institutes and Centers, is one of eight health agencies of the Public
Health Service which, in turn, is part of the United States Department
of Health and Human Services."
"Simply described, the goal of NIH research is to acquire new
knowledge to help prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat disease and
disability, from the rarest genetic disorder to the common cold. The
NIH mission is to uncover new knowledge that will lead to better
health for everyone. NIH works toward that mission by: conducting
research in its own laboratories; supporting the research of
non-Federal scientists in universities, medical schools, hospitals,
and research institutions throughout the country and abroad; helping
in the training of research investigators; and fostering communication
of medical and health sciences information."
#### Entitlement Programs ####
Social Security, which was initially created during the 1930s helps
people towards the American dream because it provides for a higher
quality of life then those without it. Social security helps make
sure that when people retire they are still provided for and have a
standard of living close to what
#### Progressive Tax System ####
In America we employ what is called a progressive tax, meaning the %
of your income taxed goes up the higher your net income is. Whether
this helps or hurts the American dream is a controversial question. I
have listed it as helping the American dream because it allows for
some social mobility without crippling the poor or goverement
The alternative is a flat tax, which would mean everyone pays the same
% of their income regardless of income bracket. By taxing the rich
(who it is argued have a higher % of disposable income) more then the
poor you are able to obtain more money for the social programs listed
above while allowing the poor and middle class to live their lives,
save money, etc.
------ Hurting the Pursuit of the American Dream ------
Finding examples which show the government obstructing the American
dream proved a lot more difficult then examples where they facilitated
it. Most of the examples I was able to find involve a portion of the
society and discrimination.
It makes sense that there would be far fewer examples of government
hurting the American dream then those of it helping it. Despite the
bad rap government has gotten in recent years, it is still a tool
designed to help its citizens. Government gains nothing by passing
policies which hurt the social mobility of large section of its
#### Internment Camps ####
On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066
which authorized the detention of over 120,000 Japanese Americans.
This was in response to Pearl Harbor and fears of potential Japanese
sleeper cells within the United States.
While this did not have the long standing legacy that Jim Crow laws or
some of the other govermental policies did, the internment definetely
affected the short term ability of those held to persue the american
#### Jim Crow Laws ####
Jim Crow laws were a major infringement on a large portion of
societies ability to achieve the American dream. Named for a minstrel
song "Jump Jim Crow" written in 1828, the Jim Crow laws were a
collection of goverment policies which helped enforce racial
"For instance, Jim Crow laws regulated separate use of water fountains
and separate seating sections on public transport. Jim Crow laws
varied among communities and states. The term is not applied to all
racist laws, but only to those passed post-Reconstruction starting in
about 1890, the start of a period of worsening race relations in the
Jim Crow Laws had an obvious effect on the quest for the American
dream because it made african americans second class citizens. They
could make improvements on their place in the world but faced a glass
ceiling due in no small part to these laws.
#### Plessy vs. Ferguson ####
The Plessy vs. Ferguson decision which was handed down by the Supreme
Court in 1896 cemented the legal mindset of "separate but equal".
"Separate but equal" was a policy enacted into law throughout the U.S.
Southern states during the period of segregation, in which
African-Americans and European-Americans would receive the same
services (schools, hospitals, water fountains, bathrooms, etc.), but
that there would be distinct facilities for each race. Because of
racist attitudes, however, the facilities were, in fact, unequal, with
poorer facilities being allotted to Blacks than to Whites. According
to one account, a young boy recalled remaining late at a department
store so that he could taste the "white" water ? to his
disappointment, it tasted the same, but the water fountain worked much
better than the one designated for African Americans."
---- Conclusion ----
I am posting my answer now so that you will be able to review the
material in your studies. Once I post it I will begin working on your
follow up question which I will post as a clarification when I am
finished (shouldn't take very long).
If you have any questions or need anything cleared up simply request a
clarification and I will be happy to help.
Clarification of Answer by
07 Jun 2005 21:57 PDT
I looked into a couple of the examples you gave and have information
for you concerning them below. As for your question concerning the
American Dream and what it is exactly, I think that is a hard question
to answer. The american dream encompasses a lot of things. The
definition I gave in my answer is the best one I have found which
covers all the different facets but it is very broad and general.
There are many components to the american dream. There are the fiscal
ones, people want to have more money, a nicer house and a bigger
swimming pool then the generation that came before them. The american
dream also involves freedom, especially for those who have had it
denied to them in the past. And finally I think the American dream
involves justices and equal treatment. The idea that everyone is the
same, with equal rights and responsibilities. This desires down to
the dream of just being treated fairly. Be it in a court of law or in
the work place.
In my follow up answer I am focused on this last part of the American
dream, the concept of being treated fairly. I looked at Gideon v.
Wainwright, Furman v. Georgia. In these cases the courts struck down
policies that denied the rights of equality and fairness to sections
of society. This allowed them to know a more just and tolerant
society, which is definitely part of the american dream.
#### Gideon v. Wainwright ####
In 1963 the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Gideon v.
Wainwright. The court found that a defendant had a right to council,
even if they cannot afford it.
"the court held that the right to counsel was a fundamental right,
essential for a fair trial, thereby emphasizing the procedural
safeguards which were needed for due process of law. In this sense,
the court ruled specifically that no one, regardless of wealth,
education or class, should be charged with a crime and then be forced
to face his accusers in court without the guidance of counsel"
Because of Gideon v. Wainwright the American legal system is a much
better place. Defendants would no longer go to jail because they were
unable to afford and lawyer. This strenghtened the American dream
because it meant that in the eyes of the law everyone should be
treated fairly and equally.
#### Furman v. Georgia ####
Furman v. Georgia, which was handed down in 1972, said that the death
penalty had to be applied in a consistent manner. Justice Potter
"These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that
being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual. For, of all the people
convicted of rapes and murders in 1967 and 1968, many just as
reprehensible as these, the petitioners are among a capriciously
selected random handful upon whom the sentence of death has in fact
been imposed. My concurring Brothers have demonstrated that, if any
basis can be discerned for the selection of these few to be sentenced
to die, it is the constitutionally impermissible basis of race. See
McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184 (1964) But racial discrimination
has not been proved, n14 and I put it to one side. I simply conclude
that the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments cannot tolerate the
infliction of a sentence of death under legal systems that permit this
unique penalty to be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed"
Potter was arguing that people need to be treated fairly and equally,
even if that means they all live or they all die. The idea is that
even if they are executed at least they weren't singled out for
arbitrary reasons. This falls right in line with the idea of the
american dream that I have been talking about. People don't expect to
be given a free pass but they do expect to be treated fairly.
I hope the additional information that I provided helps. Since you
have already rated my answer (which closes it), if you decide you want
to provide a tip (which is in no way expected) the only way to do so
is create another question with the title "for djbaker-ga only" with
the question to the effect of "what is your favorite color" or similar
worth the desired tip amount.
Have a great evening and enjoy the rest of your studies. Good luck on
your exam tomorrow. Be sure to eat a good breakfast, that always used
to help me.