Later in her column Thompson says: "Now, with all the talk of lack of opportunity, the cold fact is that there are more opportunities than there are young people willing to prepare themselves for them. I am not blaming the youth. I am blaming their educations."Next Page
There seems to be a growing belief that the American Dream, "once a reality," has lost most of its validity. An Episcopal clergyman of note is quoted as contrasting the glories of the past with the actualities of today. In preaching before a distinguished congregation in 1937, the Reverend Prince said that America 28
as the world's greatest arena for the exercise of ambition and the traditional home of self-made men and women is rapidly becoming a faded memory . . . . The boast that here humanity can find emancipation from the thralls of humble birth and that every poorest lad may rise to the highest office in the land no longer stirs the disillusioned youth of modern times. America is following continental lands in developing a class-bound society. Class demarcation is becoming sharper as prospects wane and men despair of rise from the ranks where they were born . . . .
America, then, according to this theory was once a land of great opportunity for the little man, but the social classes are fast becoming crystallized. It may be true as Thompson believes, on the contrary, that the present era is one of great opportunity for those who still have the drives and habits of "industry and thrift." Recent European immigrants with this study background are proving that opportunity is not dead. Furthermore, the history of the nineteenth century, when studied in terms of educational facilities, wages, and sizes of families was probably more of an era of middle class opportunity than of opportunity for the poor, as will be shown.
It can be seen from the foregoing that there is much room for study, research, and reflection upon the nature of the American social class structure and the degrees of opportunities and mobility in this great land.
A modest appraisal of opportunity. In contrast to the rosy description of opportunity as given by Timothy Flint, the following statement by an English traveler in the period between 1785 - 1835 is both modest and lacking in "ideal" and "illusion." Mesick writes: 29
What classes of men, then, were to surmount these difficulties and eventually to become prosperous and desirable citizens of the republic? The extreme poor, of whatever trade or occupation, were always bettered by emigration to America, if they were industrious and willing to work. Except in the eastern congested districts, it was always possible to find employment with a tradesman as an apprentice, or with farmers who had more land than they could manage to cultivate.
The poor immigrant was assured of more to eat and surer work.
The following was written about America in these latter days when some men have accumulated millions, but that if it were to prove to be relatively true, as a general statement of American history, in the colonial era, the nineteenth century, and the twentieth? Dixon and Eberhart write: 30
The race of life is one in which some of the runners start near the finish line and others weighted down and handicaps limp down the track from far behind the starting gun. It is no mere accident that some individuals control hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of property while others, after a life-time of toil in the cotton fields of the South or the factories of the North, at last find their permanent rest in a pauper's grave.
Perhaps the part about the pauper's grave is superfluous. It is enough that marriages, education, wealth, family prestige, political activity, and special home training all function to separate the social classes. There were, as will be shown, and are, as every social scientist knows, poor and low class families, middle class families, and upper class families in America. How great the gaps were and how long lasting, will be demonstrated, within the limits of time and space. in the following two chapters, to which this one is but an introduction.
Frequently, those who have stated the American Dream in most glowing terms seem to have forgotten that the United States has not only progressive, prosperous and "egalitarian" sections but also vast regions which have for decades, even centuries, been characteristically anything but egalitarian.
Lewinson, for instance, writes: 31
The Southern States have, since the beginning of American history, constituted a distinct region, with a peculiar economic, social, and political complexion. They have been marked by prominent class distinctions: at the bottom of the scale, the blacks; at the top the white "Bourbons," once planters, later industrialists, financiers, and landlords. In between stood a class of small farmers, owning few or no slaves, pushed back by the plantation system into the less fertile hills. In the remote mountains and in the pine barrens near the coast, a true agricultural proletariat led a miserable existence of poverty, ignorance, and squalor.
This is not the American Dream. It is, however, true social history.
It is the intention of the present writer that the next two chapters on American history shall hew close to the line of unbiased, straight facts about the realities of the social class lines and trends.
28. Quoted in Goetz A. Briefs, The Proletariat (New York, 1937) p. 227.
29. Jane Louise Mesick, The English Traveller in America, 1785 - 1835 (New York, 1922 edition) pp. 37 - 38.
30. Russell A. Dixon and E. Kingman Eberhart, Economics and Cultural Change (New York, 1938) p. 503.
31. Paul Lewinson, Race, Class and Party (New York, 1932) p. 3.