Friday, April 30, 2010

Homestead Dreams and Social Mobility

Social mobility is the extent to which, in a recognized culture, an individual's social status can change over the course of his or her life, or the degree to which that individual's children and succeeding generations move up and down the class system.  Social Mobility is the promise that lies at the heart of the American Dream.

The expression American Dream can mean many things. For some, it is the chance to attain more success than they could in their countries ofbirth; for others, it is the chance for their children to grow up with an education and become professionals; for still others, it is the chance to be an person without the restriction enforced by caste, race, gender or ethnicity. Once, in the past, for many the American Dream included land
ownership.  Today it sometimes includes the idea of owning a home.  The definition of the American Dream is under constant discussion.  While the term "American Dream" is associated with immigrants, native-born Americans can also be described as "pursuing the American Dream" or "living the American Dream.”

President Abraham Lincoln even defined the purpose of our government as providing the opportunity for social mobility:

“This is essentially a People's contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men - to lift artificial weights from all shoulders - to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all - to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life. Yielding to partial, and temporary departures, from necessity, this is the leading object of the government for whose existence we contend.”[1]

In 1960 the poet Archibald MacLeish, debating ‘national purpose,’ said: "There are those, I know, who will reply that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind, is nothing but a dream.  They are right.  It is the American Dream.” 

During the 19th century the American Dream for many millions of people was to own their own farm land.  The Homestead Act of 1862 which allowed settlers to own up to 160 acres of the Public Domain after 5 years residence, making some improvements, and paying a nominal fee allows hundreds of thousands to reach the American Dream.
Homestead National Monument of America preserves the ideals behind and the legacy of the Homestead Act of 1862.  Lincoln probably thought this law which he signed on May 20, 1862 elevated the condition of men, lifted artificial weights, and provided a fair chance in the race of life.

[1] From a speech by President Abraham Lincoln given to a Special Session of Congress on July 4, 1861

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