Sixty years ago this September, 100 young conservatives launched Young Americans for Freedom at William F. Buckley’s home in Sharon, Connecticut. There they wrote the Sharon Statement, the new organization’s founding document, which has been described by the New York Times as the “seminal document” of the Conservative Movement. The principles that it puts forth still ring true 60 years later. Today, the Sharon Statement serves as the foundational document for more than 500 YAF chapters nationwide.
In this series, “We As Young Conservatives Believe”, we will break down the Sharon Statement and look more closely at how it continues to speak to young Americans today.
“We as young conservatives believe…”
“That we will be free only so long as the national sovereignty of the United States is secure; that history shows periods of freedom are rare, and can exist only when free citizens concertedly defend their rights against all enemies;”
In 1776, the American colonists declared their independence from Great Britain, which was at the time the world’s super power. The American Revolution began because King George III and the British Parliament were infringing on the colonists’ rights as British citizens and refused to listen to any pleas from the colonial leaders. The war, which ended when the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, did not end Americans’ struggles to protect their rights.
The young United States of America soon found other adversaries that threatened its citizens’ rights. In the late 1790s, American sailors were being attacked by their former allies in the French Navy, who demanded that the United States pay them to quit attacking American ships. Outraged Americans were not impressed and the cry went out, “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute!”
After that was resolved, another issue immediately arose. The Barbary Coast pirates were capturing US ships and either enslaving their crews or holding them for ransom. This prompted President Jefferson to send in the U.S. Navy to ensure the protection of American sailors. After the U.S. victory, the attacks largely stopped. (This war is the inspiration for part of the opening line in the Marines Hymn, “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli”).
A few years later, the British invaded the United States again during the War of 1812. They captured Washington D.C. and burned down the White House. This remains the only time that a foreign force has occupied the United States’ capitol. Our national anthem came from this war, as Francis Scott Key penned The Star Spangled Banner during the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814.
Today, the thought of a foreign power invading the United States strains credulity. The United States has been the world’s super power since the end of the Second World War, and its navy has maintained the freedom of the seas around the globe. This Pax Americana, or American Peace, has been going on for nearly 80 years and has seen unprecedented growth in human flourishing and the establishment of human rights around the world.
This is not to say that Americans can get complacent; there will always be those who seek to challenge the peace. After the Soviet Union fell, many felt that global peace was just around the corner. One expert described it as “the end of History”. Given the rise of anti-democratic powers such as China, it seems that they were a bit off on their predictions.
There is nothing written in stone saying that the United States must be the world’s foremost super power. Over time, the empires of history have risen and fallen by the wayside as other powers rise to challenge them. Americans must remain vigilant to ensure that the safeguards of our liberty remain, for if adversaries perceive the United States to be weak, they will strike. As President Reagan said, “Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong.”
To read the previous post in this series, click here.
To read the next post in this series, click here.
Karl Stahlfeld is the associate director of YAF’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Free Enterprise.