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 the purpose of government is to protect those freedoms through the preservation of internal order, the provision of national defense, and the administration of justice;”
When Benjamin Franklin was asked by a group of American citizens what kind of government the Founding Fathers had created, he replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Franklin had just walked out of the Pennsylvania State House, where the Constitutional Convention had taken place. During the Convention, there was an intense debate between the Federalists and anti-Federalists on the size and scope of the new government’s powers. A key deal that secured the support from the anti-Federalists, who favored a smaller federal government, was the promise of a Bill of Rights that would make it more difficult for the federal government to trample upon American citizens’ rights.
This promise eventually manifested itself in the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution that were ratified shortly after the U.S. Constitution itself was ratified. Half of these amendments that make up the Bill of Rights (the Fourth through Eighth Amendments) are focused on the administration of justice and the protection of individual rights through the legal system.
The Founders sought to protect their fellow citizens’ rights. The new Constitution limited the federal government’s power while also allowing it to preserve internal order, defend the new nation, and administer justice better than the previous Articles of Confederation had allowed. The limitations on the government’s power combined with the government fulfilling its necessary roles create a system in which citizens can better exercise their God-given rights.
Political and economic freedom rely upon the government protecting its citizens’ rights. The same amendment in the Bill of Rights, the very first one, that protects the right to gather in a church pew on Sunday morning protects the rights of protestors to peaceably assemble. It is the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens’ political freedoms.
On the other hand, rioters who prevent businesses from operating by destroying property infringe upon the economic freedom of others, and it is also the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens’ economic freedom. In this way, political and economic freedom are preserved through the government maintaining civil order.
Another key part of protecting freedom is the legal system. In order for there to be justice, the rules need to be evenly enforced. Regardless of one’s economic status, ideological views, or race, each person entering the courtroom should be able to have the confidence that his or her rights and freedom will be protected and that justice will be administered. Without this equality under the law there cannot be justice.
The authors of the Sharon Statement wanted to preserve the vision of America’s Founding Fathers of a limited government that receives its authority from the people. Therefore, conservatives can, and should, argue for a government that protects its citizens’ rights. And, while each situation may require different responses, conservatives also have a general framework on how a government can successfully promote individual freedom. The government must protect its citizens from enemies, both internal and external, and see that the law applies fairly to all.
The Founders could have created a pure democracy, but they instead chose to establish a republic. They recognized that the government of a republic would protect the rights of the minority against the potential mob rule of the majority. It is up to us to keep it that way.
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.