Fifty years ago in Sharon, Connecticut, a group of crack conservative leaders developed The Sharon Statement and formed Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). The succinct statement of these teens and twenty-somethings encapsulated the chief truths of America: freedom of the individual, limited government, the free enterprise system, strong national defense, and the genius of the Constitution.
Armed with the Sharon Statement, the Young Americans for Freedom forayed into new territory. Besides launching their new publication, The New Guard and successfully fighting liberals in academia, they took the communists head on. YAF out-demonstrated them at the White House, thwarted an American manufacturer’s trading with Communist Romania, and held a successful national signature drive that helped shoot down the nuclear test ban treaty in 1963. And those are just a few of the stories.
The conservative movement continued to grow since the signing of the Sharon Statement, and conservatives continue to look to a set of principles for guidance. Earlier this year, a coalition of conservative leaders signed The Mount Vernon Statement, named after the home of America’s first hero of freedom, George Washington. The Mount Vernon Statement echoes the same fundamental principles that the Sharon Statement enumerated half a century ago.
More importantly, it grounds the modern conservative movement to the principles of the American founding. While the Sharon statement focuses upon the outworkings of liberty and self-government, the Mount Vernon Statement harkens back to the Declaration of Independence and to the basis of human freedom: the laws of nature and nature’s God.
These core ideas coupled with youthful energy have become a powerful force for good in America. Although the principles have not altered since 1960, the political landscape certainly has. People rarely used the word “conservative” in those years, but the word and, more importantly, the movement are now far-reaching.
YAF’s success is not solely attributable to its individual leaders or particular victories, but to its dedication to the core principles of the Sharon Statement—and of America. The conservative movement cannot hope for success apart from that same commitment to its core principles.
Matthew Kuchem is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm