In the fall of 1960, 90 young conservatives met at the Sharon, Connecticut home of National Review editor William F. Buckley, Jr., where they founded Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) to serve as an organization for young conservative activists. As their statement of principle, the group adopted the Sharon Statement, which was drafted by 26-year-old newspaper editor M. Stanton Evans. Written “at this time of moral and political crisis,” the statement is a succinct summary of the central ideas of modern American conservatism.
Evans, long now considered an icon of the modern conservative movement, passed away March 3 at the age of 80.
Following the drafting of the Sharon Statement, Evans beloved YAF went on to become one of the most influential groups in the history of modern conservatism.
Evans gave rise to conservative thought and philosophy as a power on college campuses against the “anything goes” ideals of liberals and progressives of the 1960’s with his book Revolt on the Campus.
At a time that easily mirrors the same rise of heavy handed progressive ideology on college campuses and within a decadent culture today, Evans work to focus on the future can, and should be, a model. His work provides the example of how a more intelligent conservative dialogue can win over new generations once again.
Evans is widely credited with standing strong to rally the campaign of Ronald Reagan when in March of 1976 many were prepared to throw in the towel. Reagan went on to win primaries in North Carolina and Texas and entered the August Republican National Convention in a race still too close to call. The fight ensued among delegates and Ford narrowly escaped as the nominee. It was Reagan’s speech at the convention that positioned him as the true conservative future of the Republican Party.
“This is our challenge; and this is why here in this hall tonight, better than we have ever done before, we have got to quit talking to each other and about each other and go out and communicate to the world that we may be fewer in numbers than we have ever been, but we carry the message they are waiting for.”
It was at that point that many in the audience began to realize they had nominated the wrong man.
But for Stan Evans’ insistence on Reagan continuing the campaign in March of 1976, that defining speech from the podium of the Republican National Convention in August would not have happened. Without that speech, there would have been no President Reagan in 1980, and twenty years of prosperity based on conservative principles that brought about a renewal of communities across the country and inspired generations to public service may never have occurred.
His tenacity in the face of challenges notwithstanding, it is Evans’ Sharon Statement that he is most widely remembered for. It is considered to be one of the founding documents of the modern conservative movement. To read it today, one will hear the phrases many conservatives intuitively understand and now take for granted. But in 1960 it was groundbreaking.
One only need replace the reference to “communism” in the document with “radical Islamism” and the entire statement is as pertinent today as it was then.
“The Sharon Statement”
Adopted in conference at Sharon, Connecticut, 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?
Alfred Regnery, Chairman of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, said of Evans in 2013, “Stan always played the long game. He wasn’t interested in quick whimsical ideas that came and went. He was more interested in changing the culture, changing people’s ideas. But he knew that was a long-term undertaking and he was willing to do it.”
Indeed it was. It took twenty years from the time Evans wrote the Sharon Statement to send the first, and only, modern conservative to the White House.
His political focus on character driven individualism as a student of Russell Kirk drove him to live his conservative beliefs in his approach to political life, and we are all much better today for it.
If there is anyone that should inspire conservatives today and show the value of study, communication and consistent engagement across Mississippi and beyond, it is the work of M. Stanton Evans.
We have lost an icon. But, in celebrating his life, we can use his words to bolster our resolve and inspire a new generation.
Keith Plunkett is the Policy and Communications Director for the United Conservatives Fund. He has worked on communications and policy issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, government agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett