We Began With Freedom

Jim Blasingame He was the first of many members of the family Plantagenet to be king of England. Henry II claimed the throne of England after his cousin, Stephen, died in 1154. Why is this important to contemporary small business owners? Well, Henry II is considered to be the founder of a legal system to which I believe entrepreneurs owe our freedom to be, and the world is a better place as a result of entrepreneurs having such freedom.

Henry's Reforms Become Laws
As ambitious as he was intelligent, Henry's reasonably successful attempt to consolidate all of the British Isles under his rule created the need for order. His subsequent governmental and court reforms, intended more for his own political expediency than to empower the people, actually resulted in the emergence of a body of law which replaced elements of the feudal system that included such enlightened judicial practices as trial by ordeal.

The evolution of this body of law, which became known as English Common Law, includes the Magna Carta (1215), the Bail Act (1444), the Petition of Rights (1628), the Habeas Corpus Act (1679), the Bill of Rights (1689), plus many other instruments and declarations which strengthened the rights of individuals, and the ownership and enjoyment of property.

Over five centuries after the death of Henry II, the legal and cultural tide of personal freedoms and protection of private property for ordinary people caused England's youngest prime minister, William Pitt, to summarize the concept of individual rights and property under English Common Law this way:

"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 storms may enter; the rain may enter; but the King of England cannot enter; all his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement."

By the time Pitt spoke these words in the 18th century, to have been able to say this with impunity in England, let alone actually enjoy such liberty, demonstrated how far the invisible hand effect of Henry II's reforms had progressed.

But across the Atlantic - in the colonies - there was a word in Pitt's quote that kept sticking in the craws of a certain group of malcontents, and a word that was missing. The word they chocked on: King. The missing word: Freedom.

We Began With Freedom
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 nobles, no dominant church." Just the kind of world those malcontents - America's Founders - envisioned and set about creating - sans kings.

In Origins Of The Bill Of Rights, Leonard W. Levy wrote, "Freedom was mainly a product of New World conditions." Those conditions, as Thomas Jefferson so ably and famously wrote in the Declaration of Independence, were, "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." These were 18th century words for freedom, and embryonic conditions for which all of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776), which we celebrate in America this week, put their lives AND liberties on the line to give birth to.

A decade later, America's Bill of Rights, which became the first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution, clearly had its origins in a hundred-year-old English document with the same name. But the English Bill of Rights was created in a world that perpetuated the divine right of kings.

The American document, holding the New World's concept of personal rights and liberty, wasn't perfected to the Founders' satisfaction until it perpetuated rights that were, as John Dickinson had declared two decades earlier in 1766, "...born with us, exists with us, and cannot be taken from us by any human power without taking our lives." Take that, you kings!

Two hundred years after Dickinson, philosopher, novelist, and prolific defender of capitalism, Ayn Rand wrote, "The most profoundly revolutionary achievement of the United States of America was the subordination of society to moral law." To Rand, moral law is made manifest by individual rights. And even though the seed of the American experiment can be found in English common law, Rand still considered the United States "the first moral society in history."

Freedom And Entrepreneurialism
In 1999, the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, in concert with other groups, conducted a global study on entrepreneurialism. Their findings revealed that there was a direct link between rate of new business start-ups and a country's economic growth. The study also revealed that, among the many factors that contribute to entrepreneurialism, perhaps the most critical is "a set of social and cultural values, along with appropriate social, economic and political institutions, that legitimatize and encourage the pursuit of entrepreneurial opportunity." Freedom.

In countries ranking high in the study's analysis, entrepreneurialism is an integral and accepted feature of economic and personal life. Of the ten industrialized nations studied, the United States ranked number one in terms of entrepreneurialism. Study coordinator, Paul Reynolds, said there is "conclusive evidence that promoting entrepreneurialism and enhancing the entrepreneurial dynamic of a country should be an integral element of any government's commitment to boosting economic well being." Freedom.

Entrepreneurs, by definition, take risks. Without the freedom to own and enjoy the fruits of such risks, why take them? Thank you, Henry II.

And thank you, Founders. Without your vision, courage, passion, and sacrifice, plus all who rallied to your cry to give birth to the New World definition of freedom, it is doubtful that entrepreneurialism as we know it would exist. And if capitalism is the economic lever of democracy, entrepreneurialism is the force that renews the strength and reliability of that lever for each new generation.

Write this on a rock... We began with freedom: Freedom to dream and to try; Freedom to succeed and to fail; Freedom to own and to enjoy; Freedom to accumulate and to pass on to the next generation. We began with freedom, and entrepreneurialism was born. We began with freedom, and capitalism was made to flourish. We began with freedom, and the world is the better for it.

©2003 All Rights Reserved

Category: Entrepreneurship
Print page