Discussing the Dream

So IÂ'm sitting around in the shank of an evening, talking with a friend about the American Dream.

Â"ItÂ's changed, you know,Â" he says. Â"Started out in, what? The late 1400s, lapped over into the 1500s as a dream of discoveryÂ…and exploration. That was the original American dream: a dream dreamed even before there was an America for all, except for the natives who were here.Â"

Â"Yes,Â" replied your correspondent, Â"but in the 1600s the American dream became the dream of freedom, and of, letÂ's face it, land. In those days, in Europe and elsewhere, just about the only people who had land were people born to it. The New World represented a chance for rank and file folks, regular people, to have some land. One shouldnÂ't underestimate that as a core of the American Dream in the 16th,17th and even on into the 18 and early 19 hundreds. That and freedom-individual freedom-two of the things that made America something new in history."

We agreed, the two of us, that perhaps more than any other single thing, freedom is the bedrock of the American dream. That's why the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are the twin beacons of the American experience. And any conversation about the American dream must begin and end with a discussion of them.

There is a whole school of thought-a theory, if you will-that the whole concept of the American dream didnÂ't really begin taking hold until the 20th Century. That it wasnÂ't until the truly great waves of immigration hit these shores that people began articulating the American dream. Nice theory-but history doesnÂ't support it.