Fifty years ago, a small group of conservative students and young adults gathered at the family home of Bill and Jim Buckley in Sharon, Conn. When they left that weekend, they had formed a new organization called Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and agreed on a basic collection of principles drawn up by M. Stanton Evans that they called the Sharon Statement.
Since that meeting Sept. 10-11, 1960, literally thousands of young conservatives have passed through Young Americans for Freedom and developed into the leaders of the conservative and libertarian movement in the United States. They were the initial force for the Goldwater campaign and the opposition to New Left violence on American campuses. They provided an intellectual challenge to the liberalism that has dominated American intellectual life. They were the grass-roots force and the strategic leadership for the campaigns of Ronald Reagan and constituted a major part of the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s. Today they lead the major organizations of the 21st Century conservative movement in America.
Name a prominent conservative of a certain generation and you have cited an alumnus of Young Americans for Freedom. Among those former YAFers who lead various elements of the movement are David Keene, Jay Parker, Ron Robinson, Roger Ream, Randy Teague, David Boaz, Morton Blackwell, Howard Phillips, Gary Bauer and on and on.
Still others went into public office such as Dan Quayle, Jim Sensenbrenner, Barry Goldwater, Jr., Tom DeLay, Dana Rohrabacher, as well as other congressmen and numerous state legislators and local government officials.
YAF produced the political professionals, including Charles Black, Frank Donatelli, Bill Lacy, and others who have been essential to the success of many conservative candidates, laboring behind the scenes to bring about victory on Election Day.
Then there are the writers, editors and columnists such as Lee Edwards, Bob Tyrrell, Allan Ryskind, Don Devine, Peter Schweizer, Deroy Murdock, Tom Winter and Jeff Jacoby. Still others are prominent on talk radio, including Mark Levin, Dan Rea, and Kirby Wilbur.
At an impressionable point in their lives, they were able to enhance their understanding of conservative principles and obtain the skills and techniques needed to advance those principles in the public arena through their involvement in Young Americans for Freedom.
Without question, the story of Young Americans for Freedom is the story of the emerging conservative movement in the latter part of the 20th Century. Literally thousands of dedicated conservatives received their start and their training in YAF. Out of this one organization came a Vice President of the United States, 26 members of Congress, eight U.S. Appeals Court judges, numerous media personalities and journalists, college presidents and professors, authors and lecturers, entrepreneurs and business leaders, as well as the organizers and leaders of every kind of conservative and libertarian organization in America.
The torch of freedom has been passed. Many of those who were involved in Young Americans for Freedom are at the apex of their professional careers or approaching retirement. It is now the 21st Century and new challenges and opportunities confront the youth of America. Those who benefited from their involvement in Young Americans for Freedom in the last century have a continuing responsibility to nurture and mentor the youth of today and contribute the needed financial support for those organizations that provide the kinds of support mechanisms available to them when they were young Americans for freedom. The ongoing challenge for all conservatives is to ensure that the generations that follow will be provided the opportunity to learn, to develop leadership skills, to build networks of committed conservatives who will advance the principles enunciated in the Sharon Statement some 50 years ago.
Below is the text of the Sharon Statement:
The Sharon Statement
Adopted in conference at Sharon, Conn., on September 11, 1960.
In this time of moral and political crises, it is the responsibility of the youth of America to affirm certain eternal truths.
We, as young conservatives, believe:
That foremost among the transcendent values is the individual’s use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force;
That liberty is indivisible, and that political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom;
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;
That when government ventures beyond these rightful functions, it accumulates power, which tends to diminish order and liberty;
That the Constitution of the United States is the best arrangement yet devised for empowering government to fulfill its proper role, while restraining it from the concentration and abuse of power;
That the genius of the Constitution—the division of powers—is summed up in the clause that reserves primacy to the several states, or to the people, in those spheres not specifically delegated to the Federal government;
That the market economy, allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand, is the single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom and constitutional government, and that it is at the same time the most productive supplier of human needs;
That when government interferes with the work of the market economy, it tends to reduce the moral and physical strength of the nation; that when it takes from one man to bestow on another, it diminishes the incentive of the first, the integrity of the second, and the moral autonomy of both;
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;
That the forces of international Communism are, at present, the greatest single threat to these liberties;
That the United States should stress victory over, rather than coexistence with, this menace; and
That American foreign policy must be judged by this criterion: does it serve the just interests of the United States?