Benjamin franklin and the American dream

Nian Sheng Huang, Carla Mulford

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Scopus citations


During the colonial era, British and British North American readers were treated to promotional accounts praising North America and its promise as paradisiacal, beyond anything that anyone before had experienced or could imagine. Arthur Barlowe wrote in 1584, for instance, that the air off present-day Roanoke Island “smelt so sweet” that the mariners at the coastline felt as though they “had bene in the midst of some delicate garden abounding with all kinde of odoriferous flowers.” The island, even in midsummer, had, Barlowe reported, “many goodly woodes full of Deere, Conies, Hares, Fowle,… in incredible abundance.” John Smith wrote about similar abundance in New England. “[W]ho can but approove this a most excellent place, both for health and fertility?” he asked, in Description of New England (1616). He described the land as “onely as God made it, when he created the worlde” and concluded that if the land were properly “cultured, planted and manured by men of industrie, judgment, and experience” there was no doubt “but it might equalize any of those famous Kingdomes, in all commodities, pleasures, and conditions.” Barlowe‘s report confirmed the wonders of the Europeans‘ “new world” first reported by France, Spain, and the Netherlands. Smith‘s reports repeatedly showed how the land‘s abundance would reward hardwork and careful husbandry. These two, among the best known of the many early British writers who promoted North America, reveal that the now proverbial conception of the American Dream has had a long history in American culture. In the eighteenth century, when Britain achieved significant maritime power in the Atlantic world, a more modern-sounding version of the American Dream became commonplace. This version emphasized that the land could be highly productive and thus beneficial and lucrative to individuals, if those who came to North America were willing to work hard, save what they earned, live clean and pure lives, and help others achieve.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Benjamin Franklin
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781139002349
ISBN (Print)2008033470, 9780521871341
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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