Beneath the American faith in the future lie two main concepts, one material, the other at least potentially spiritual. The first is what James Truslow Adams called the American Dream. It is the hope of a better life than older lands and ages ever afforded: more security, more comfort, more money, wider horizons. No one should sneer at this concept just because it is necessarily material, for seekers of the American Dream performed prodigies of courage. Often they performed them unselfishly, thinking of their children rather than themselves. Willa Cather, looking at Nebraska, concluded that the earliest generation was truly heroic. “The generation that subdued the wild land and broke up the virgin prairies,” she wrote, was an army of rugged men and women who “inspire respect and compel admiration.” Their resourcefulness matched their courage. Beginning in the utter poverty of sod houses, they could look out at the end of their days on broad stretches of fertility and say, “We made this, with our backs and hands.”
Excerpt from the essay, “Forces That Will Change America” form Think Magazine (1959) by American historian and journalist Allan Nevins.