from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Changing Conceptions of the American Dream
by Matthew Warshauer http://www.americansc.org.uk/Online/American_Dream.htm
How does one achieve the American Dream? The answer undoubtedly depends upon one’s definition of the Dream, and there are many from which to choose. John Winthrop envisioned
a religious paradise in a "City upon a Hill." Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of equality.  Both men yearned for what they perceived as perfection. Scholars recognized widely varying conceptions of these quests for American excellence.
racial have One
component of the money. Few will society dedicated
American Dream seems, however, to be fairly consistent: the quest for deny that Americans are intently focused on the “almighty dollar.” In a to capitalism and the maxim that, “the one who dies with the most toys
wins,” the successful
ability to purchase a big house and a nice car separates those who are considered from those who are not. Yet the question remains, how does one achieve this
success? How is the Dream realized? For many albeit elusive, gratification. Rather than adhering
formula is one
to a traditional
work ethic, far
Americans focuses on
are pinning their hopes on what they perceive three phenomena in contemporary American
as “easy” money. society that have
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captured the quest for the American that a new wave of television game wealth.
Dream. Savvy marketers have convinced their audiences shows, lottery luck, and lucrative lawsuits are the way to
Instant wealth has not always been a major component of the Dream. Americans have traditionally centered their efforts on thrift and hard work. During the Colonial Period, Benjamin Franklin counseled people on the "The Way to Wealth." Poor Richard's Almanac advised that "Early to Bed, and early to rise, makes a Man healthy, wealthy, and wise." The key to wealth was industry: "Industry pays debts," insisted Poor Richard. Americans of the Early Republic expanded Franklin's notion of industry into a labor ideology. For many the goal was not extravagant wealth, but, rather, economic independence and the opportunity for social advancement through financial gain. Abraham Lincoln insisted that the greatness of the American North was that industry allowed all men to prosper: "The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This…is free labor--the just and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all."
In the midst of industrialization following the Civil War, many Americans experienced profound hardship in the changing economic landscape. They found solace in the tales of Horatio Alger, whose characters overcame adversity through industry, perseverance, self- reliance, and self-discipline. The ubiquitous "rags to riches" legend became a cornerstone of American society; anyone could succeed and achieve wealth if they worked hard. The commitment to industry illustrated by Alger's characters, Lincoln's ideals of free labor, and Franklin's practical maxims were further solidified in the American mind by the addition of a religiously based, Protestant "work ethic." Many believed that hard work allowed one to not only achieve financial success, but, through that success, revealed God's grace.
Numerous scholars note that the shift away from the traditional American work ethic corresponded directly with the rise of industry. Work values changed dramatically when the assembly line production and machine driven atmosphere of industrial America swallowed up