Rags to Riches: Algerism and the American Opportunity

“[….] We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. […]” – an excerpt from The Declaration of Independence, July 4 1776

Some of you may have asked yourselves, “Why is the domain name to John’s great new blog ‘algeropportunity.wordpress….’ instead of the blog’s name: ‘Your Opinion Matters’?”

Who or what is Alger and why should I care? Well my dear friends, ‘Alger’–more formally Horatio Alger, Jr.—was a prolific 19th-century American author and cartoonist who lived from 1832 to 1899. His adult novels and cartoons progressed late in his life to be focused toward a younger audience—for children.

In 1864, Alger published his first boys’ book Frank Campaign, and in 1865 his second boys’ book Paul Prescott’s Charge. He secured his place in history with his fourth book, Ragged Dick, which was fit to print in 1868 (100 years before the most memorable year of the Civil Rights Movement).

Ragged Dick featured a variety of characters—the valiant youth, the noble mysterious stranger, the snobbish youth, and the evil squire, which Alger weaves together in conflict and mutual camaraderie. The reader joins these characters in the rough streets of New York City in the mid 1800’s.

The story’s protagonist is a young boy struggling to survive in the harsh climate of laissez-faire capitalism that shapes and defines the economic and social realities of mid-19th Century America. (i.e. there was no welfare, or Fannie Mae Home Loans for the Poor, free healthcare, etc.). A young man like Ragged Dick had the opportunity to succeed but was by no means presented with advantages other than those of his own wit.

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