American Dream: Introduction and the Past

America is an important part of the world, how could it not be? The scientific developments mesmerize us, its military power makes us tremble and its culture inevitably changes everyone else's culture. All this power demands great responsibility and control, decisions must be taken for the good of mankind more than the good of its citizens.


"We hold these truths to be self- evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." This is a fragment from the Declaration of Independence, unanimous signed by the thirteen American colonies. Too bad this fragment did not make it into the US Constitution, adopted in 1787. An amendment was in fact needed (The Bill of Rights) in order to specify the actual status of American citizens and their liberties.

"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." The important word here is citizens, the ones who did not fit into this category were exposed to the possibility of having no rights. This possibility was, as we all know, a hard reality.

We can clearly see a great difference between the two texts when it comes to the ideas and the power of the words. "All man are created equal", if these words were the start of the US Constitution then yes, America would of been the land of the free and home of the brave. We should also look at the profound religious implications of the text, the word "Creator" stands for God, a universal God. The promise of a new and better form of government, a just state fundamentally different from what was seen in Europe was just that, a promise, hardly followed by concrete action.

The abolition of slavery was finally decided in 1865, through the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment of the US Constitution. Prior to this, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, under his war powers. For 78 years, and many more decades after that, the black population was seen as something sub-human, too underdeveloped to make it on their own and too primitive to be set free because of fear of rebellion. The example of Haiti is indicative of the situation in that time, a former colony of France, recognized by its former master in 1825 and by America in 1862.


Chances are that the colonists would of never succeeded with the revolution if they did not have the support of France. This help had a cost, both the Americans and the French found an alliance rather tricky, imagine becoming a friend to a former enemy, nonetheless, France had only to gain from weakening the British Empire and the prospects of improved commercial activity with the US were a great bonus. The colonists managed to secure the support of one of the powers of the time and doing so, to secure their independence, theoretically.

What started as a fight for greater recognition of the colonies inside the British Empire transformed in a full fledged revolt against monarchy and the "old ways" of Europe (may I remind you that France was still a monarchy when it all started). There is a man that, in a way, changed the future of the world, or in a less mythical way, changed the destiny of the new world, he is Thomas Paine. He fought for some things not many people even bothered to think about, anyway, he was not the first of his kind nor the last but he managed to influence the people that started a revolution.

One of those people was Thomas Jefferson (a good friend of Paine). During his presidency, the United States saw their first foreign war, the Tripolitan War, a doubling of the territory and a few other things. Before independence, American merchants were protected in the Mediterranean by the British Navy, this security was lost after the war and so America was left without any real method of protecting its commercial route. The prior presidents, Washington and Adams, opted for ransoming the prisoners instead of fighting, creating a navy and maintaining it was thought to be much more costly. At a cost of 1 million dollars, the US signed treaties with Morocco, Algiers and Tripoli guaranteeing in return of an annual tribute, the security of American trade. Needless to say, the newborn country was weak.

The war lasted from 1801 to 1805 but the result was not satisfactory and a new war was needed in 1812 to secure a decisive battle. This relatively long lasting conflict is of great importance because it marks the consolidation of the state and the creation of the navy. It would take much more time however before America would become the dominant force on the sea.

Although Jefferson was openly against the "old world" looking in retrospective we see his actions as nothing really new to a country in expansion. The Louisiana Purchase was a doubling in territorial size of the United States. This vast land was bought from the French for the price of 15 million dollars. Napoleon managed to get control of this land from Spain as a result of a treaty between the two powers. Florida remained in the hands of Spain and soon became a target for both Jefferson and his successor, Madison.

A major war broke out between the United States and Britain in the year 1812. The situation has been presented in such a way that the American people basically demanded war, this made Madison to ask Congress to engage in armed conflict with the British Empire. They were not prepared to face such an enemy and surprisingly, the Congress even rejected expanding the navy. The main reason for this war might have been the desire of some to take control of Canada. This ended up being known as the Second War of American Independence although it clearly was nothing more than a desire to take Canada while the British were in war with France. Taking advantage of the general situation, the United States went the second time into war with the Barbary States securing commerce in the Mediterranean.

The next important moment was the declaration of the Monroe Doctrine which was actually written by John Quincy Adams (who succeeded him as president), a man who dreamed at more than a republic from the Atlantic to the Pacific, he visioned the entire continent speaking one language, having one currency, one culture. In a meeting with the British minister to the United States, Stratford Canning, Adams said: "Keep what is yours and leave the rest of the continent to us". This is also an example of the type of arrogance America blessed the world with.

On December 2, 1823, in his message to Congress, Monroe declared: " (...) the occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers (...)"

Nations in both American continents were declaring their independence, these were events that promised much for the United States, from commercial benefits, to security and spheres of influence. Surprisingly, all this was done with a type of tacit British approval, the old master, turned enemy was now beginning to look more like a distant relative if not a friend. My purpose was not to give a complete history of America, an impossible undertaking for an article of this size but I needed to go through some key moments in time that steady began to create an American culture. We have seen that the promises from the Declaration of Independence were not followed by hard facts, civil rights movements continued till mid-late 20th century for example. The black people initially were perceived as too underdeveloped to take care of themselves, albeit many good and enlightened people from the northern states fought for the banning of slavery. The American Indians on the other hand were perceived as primitive but could be civilized, God knows how many of them got civilized in that period.

The United States turned up being like any other European power of that period with one important exception, the American Dream. This was why so many Europeans fought to get to the new world, to live a decent and happy life, black people and Asian people were not welcomed. The Chinese Exclusion Act which lasted till 1943 expressly stopped any Chinese immigration, a similar law was also applied to the Japanese.

Read Part 2

No comments: