Another writer who sets out to show that America is a land of opportunity makes the following stirring statements: 12Next Page
The chief glory of America is that it is a country in which genius and industry find their speediest and surest reward. Fame and fortune are here open to all who are willing to work for them. Neither class distinctions nor social prejudices, neither differences of birth, religion, nor ideas can prevent a man of true merit from winning the just reward of his labors in this favored land. We are emphatically a nation of self-made men, and it is to the labors of this worthy class that our marvelous national prosperity is due.
The biographies which make up the greater part of the book from which the foregoing was taken included the life histories of the following persons, who are shown in the data given to have sprung from family backgrounds good enough to enable one to say that their start in life was such as to preclude them from being labeled self-made: Girard, Steward, Lawrence, Longworth, Marshall Field, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Cyrus West Field, William H. Vanderbilt, Gould, Fulton, Goodyear, Hoe, Colt, Morse, McCormick, Bennett, Marshall, Brady, West, Rogers, Swing, Longfellow, Hawthorne, Booth, and Joseph Jefferson. Those whose backgrounds are in doubt, for lack of information or because they seemed to fall quite low in the middle class and are therefore perhaps self-made, include: Astor, Chickering, Whitney, and Bonner. Those who may be said to have risen from among the plain people are: Stout, Peabody, Armour, Pullman, Howe, Powers, and Cartwright. In a word, the biographies given to prove this country to have produced its greatest men by the route of elevation from the mass included an overwhelming number of persons from families which gave their sons a great deal of impetus, their "start in life."
Great masses of Americans, in the valleys and on plains of this continent, are relegated to the limbo of the demoralized by the vigorous pen of Ross: 13
When I was a boy, no gray-haired man worked on a farm for wages unless he was a drunkard or wastrel. So short and easy was the path to farm ownership that virtually all the farm "hands" were less than thirty-five years of age.
(One may ask: were there many farm hands except sons of middle class farmers in that district?)
In another eloquent passage, Ross portrays the West as a paradise of opportunity: 14
Moreover, such differences as there were in respect to economic condition did not put distance between people. In general, class distinctions show themselves, not between those who possess and those who do not possess, but between those who possess and those who not only do not but apparently cannot possess. Always in the West -- whether the "West" was Ohio or Idaho -- the rich banker has not objected to the penniless but capable young man calling on his daughter, because the banker had been penniless himself when he married, and because he knew that this young man would be as well off as the banker now is when he had reached the same age. The abundance of opportunity of the frontier, coupled with equal access to these many opportunities, engendered a sense of social equality that gradually hindered the social consequences of economic stratification from glaringly showing themselves.
Penniless young men were to become as rich as wealthy bankers and abundant opportunities were equally accessible to all -- that is the American Dream.
Dawson and Gettys are more cautious. Like Greene, they qualify their statement by using the word "hope." Their statement reads: 15
The democratic tradition holds out hope to all who desire to advance themselves by whatever means -- wealth, learning, ability, political "pull," specialization, etc. -- that they may succeed in reaching the highest pinnacle of "success" which means social recognition, status, and elevated rank.
Cooley, like Ross, discounts the theory of Dawson and Gettys that success means elevation in rank. He says: "With us, if people have money, they enjoy it; if not, they manage with what they have, neither regarding themselves nor being regarded by others as essentially inferior." 16
Sixty years after the enactment of the laws against primogeniture and entail, de Tocqueville said: "The sons of opulent citizens have become merchants, lawyers or physicians. Most of them have lapsed into obscurity. The last trace of heredity ranks and distinctions is destroyed -- the law of partition has reduced all to one level." 17
12. W. R. Houghton, Kings of Fortune, or the Triumphs and Achievements of the Noble, Self-made Men (Chicago, 1888) p. 5.
13. Edward Alsworth Ross, The Social Trend (New York, 1922) p. 66.
14. Ibid., pp. 70 - 71.
15. Carl A. Dawson and Warner E. Gettys, An Introduction to Sociology (New York, 1929) p. 548.
16. Charles Horton Cooley, Social Organization (New York, 1909) p. 282.
17. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. I (re-published, New York, 1900) pp. 50 - 51.