America Began With Freedom And The World Is Better For It

Jim Blasingame

The first Plantagenet King of England, Henry II, is important to America’s small business owners because he’s considered the founder of a legal system to which entrepreneurs owe their freedom to be.

His intelligence only exceeded by his ambition, Henry's attempts to consolidate all of the 12th-century British Isles under his rule necessitated the need for order. And while his motivations were for his own political expediency rather than to empower the people, Henry’s subsequent reforms actually gave birth to the legendary English Common Law, which ultimately replaced elements of the feudal system that included such enlightened practices as trial by ordeal and inquisition.

By the 18th century, with Henry’s landmark reforms having been strengthened by King John’s Magna Carta (1215) and the English Bill of Rights (1689), great progress was achieved in the legal and cultural tide of personal and property rights. For example, in 1762, British statesman William Pitt, Sr. made this important declaration: “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail — its roof may shake — the wind may blow through it — the storm may enter — the rain may enter — but the King of England cannot enter — all his force dares not cross the threshold of that ruined tenement!”

Concurrent with the expansion of English reforms, across the Atlantic in the colonies a group of now-legendary malcontents we call America's Founders envisioned and created an extraordinary variation on Pitt’s promise. That variation was a world sans kings. 

In The Fortune of the Republic, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "We began with freedom. America was opened after the feudal mischief was spent. No inquisitions here, no kings, no dominant church." 

In Origins of the Bill of Rights, Leonard W. Levy noted that, “Freedom was mainly a product of New World conditions.”  

Those conditions, as Thomas Jefferson (and his committee of five) so artfully crafted in the Declaration of Independence were, “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Approved by the Continental Congress on Thursday, July 4, 1776, those 18th-century words represented dangerous ideas for which the 56 co-signers of this revolutionary document put their lives at risk. 

And America’s founding documents weren’t perfected until they perpetuated rights that were, as John Dickinson declared a decade earlier in 1766, “...born with us, exists with us and cannot be taken from us by any human power without taking our lives.” 

Any questions?

But the Founders were on a quest to claim a more powerful variation on the promise of freedom. They knew that freedom isn’t an American franchise; it’s a blessing from God found around the world. But freedom to pursue dreams wherever they take us – personal rights, self-determination, to fail and then redeem yourself – is the very American ideal the Founders created. 

And then they named it – liberty. 

For two-and-a-half centuries, liberty has been the contract that Americans have extended to each other as we pledge devotion to the secular scripture from whence we claim that promise: the Constitution of the United States. Thank you, Founders.

By definition, entrepreneurs take risks. But those risks are only acceptable when freedom converts into the liberty to claim success, and then sustain its fruits for your own account.

The American experiment has revealed that a healthy entrepreneurial environment fosters national economic well-being. Today, 21st-century global research shows a direct connection between the rate of individual business start-ups and a nation’s macroeconomic health. Clearly, without the Founders vision, courage, sacrifice, and devotion to liberty, it’s doubtful that America’s greatest global export, entrepreneurship, would exist today as we know it. 

And if capitalism is the economic lever of democracy, entrepreneurship is the force that renews the strength and reliability of that lever for each new generation. Thank you, America’s entrepreneurs.

This week, Americans celebrate another Independence Day, holding freedom of expression as our prime and most precious right. Indeed, the first sentence of the immortal First Amendment to the Constitution includes this declaration/promise: “Congress shall make no law … abridging freedom of speech …”  

We don’t have to agree on anything else to hold this truth to be self-evident, immutable, and non-negotiable: Any assault on freedom of speech – in any nuanced form, by any aggrieved entity – is an assault on the future of America. And it must be said that the future of America – warts and all – is the future of the world.

Write this on a rock ... America began with freedom, liberty was made manifest, entrepreneurship flourished, and the world is the better for it. Happy Independence Day, America.

Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.

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