The Entrepreneurial Spirit of the American Citizen

The Bill of Rights Institute in Arlington, Va., recently held an essay contest for high school students on the topic: ”What civic value do you believe is most essential to being an American?” Over 50,000 students participated from all 50 states and U.S. territories. The winners and runners-up received cash prizes, with $5,000 awarded to each regional first-place winner. Eagle Publishing was proud to be one of the sponsors. will be publishing the top nine winning essays over the next two weeks. The first essay we will be showcasing is from David Rinder, a student at Marlboro High School in Morganville, New Jersey.

America has prospered throughout its existence because it has adhered to a set of strong civic values. The value most central to the American identity is the entrepreneurial spirit of its citizens. Our country flourishes on the backbone of entrepreneurs. Large, multinational corporations like, founded by Jeff Bezos, Nike, founded by Bill Bowerman and Philip Knight, and Wal-Mart, founded by Sam Walton, would not exist without individuals who were willing to take risks to satisfy unfulfilled needs in the market. The organic economic growth that America has experienced over the years has been sustained by people who took the initiative to create their own businesses and produce jobs. The roots of this entrepreneurism can be seen among the colonists who originally settled in America. Several of the colonies, including Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, the Carolinas, and Georgia, were established as proprietary colonies, and were run by individual investors. Without these entrepreneurs to recruit colonists to inhabit their lands, the additional religious and philanthropic missions espoused by these settlements would never have been achieved.

The American free-market economic system is grounded in core beliefs established by Adam Smith in his 1776 work, The Wealth of Nations, which strongly values entrepreneurial contributions. He writes of the entrepreneur, “By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security, and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this…led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.” Entrepreneurship enables the development of domestic industry and helps to promote self-sufficiency. The creation of small businesses means that owners contribute to the local economy, rather than exploiting resources and sending profits overseas to a mother company. Adam Smith’s principles of free markets, stable currency, and protection of property rights were incorporated as central tenets of America’s founding documents. This entrepreneurial spirit can also be seen among colonial entrepreneurs who ran small ships to bring tea and other products into the colonies without passing through Britain or its East India Company.

The American legacy of small business ownership has made a lasting impact on our country’s economic landscape. Small businesses create an estimated 70% of all new jobs in the US, indicating their notable influence. A prime example of the model American entrepreneur is Milton Hershey. After several failed business ventures, Hershey demonstrated his resilience and created the highly successful Hershey Chocolate Corporation. He exhibited the American civic value of an entrepreneurial spirit, which also encompasses advancing social causes. In 1909, the Milton Hershey School was founded to provide schooling for orphaned boys. Milton Hershey represents the exemplary American entrepreneur, combining economic success with philanthropic undertakings.

I have experienced firsthand the rewards of starting a business and being able to contribute to a worthy cause. In my junior year I started a tutoring business with a friend, through which we provide PSAT and SAT preparation and remedial help in academic subjects. We have worked with 17 students, and it is assuredly gratifying to see them improve their test scores. Additionally, we have been able to create a business model that allows us to give 25 % of our proceeds to charity, which to date have totaled $225 in donations. One of the charities that we contribute to is Camp Quality, a summer camp for children with cancer. We have also made a donation to the Dysautonomia Foundation in honor of one of our friends who has a rare genetic disorder. The freedom and fulfillment provided by owning my own business are key components of the American spirit.

The entrepreneurial tradition, which comprises the virtues of ingenuity, resiliency, perseverance, and hard-work, is the most important civic value. America would not enjoy a position of such economic prominence without the growth provided by corporations. Adam Smith wrote of the benefits of business ownership, "He [the entrepreneur] is both master and workman, and enjoys the whole produce of his own labor." Independence and the ability to control one’s own destiny are ideals held dear by Americans. Entrepreneurship is the most essential attribute because it results in inventions and services that augment the general welfare and create innovative ideas out of one’s dreams. It is about setting goals and realizing one’s vision, which is the essence of America.