I've been reading Team of Rivals, the marvelous story of Abraham Lincoln and his divided Cabinet, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. (A small portion of the book, concerning the political development of the Emancipation Proclamation, inspired the Spielberg movie Lincoln.)
As an outsider and backwoods Illinois lawyer who would overcome numerous obstacles to become President, Lincoln truly believed that freedom, prosperity, ambition and achievement all stem from the fundamental notion of democracy embedded in the Declaration of Independence: that “All men are created equal.” (Women’s suffrage, and entrepreneurship, would of course come later.)
He gave voice to these ideals in an emotional address in 1864 to Union soldiers from Ohio (then as now an essential swing state) who were mustering out and heading home. The Civil War would continue for another eight months of blood and fire.
“I happen temporarily to occupy this big White House,” said Lincoln.
“I am a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father’s child has. It is in order that each of you may have through this free government which we have enjoyed, an open field and a fair chance for your industry, enterprise and intelligence; that you may all have equal privileges in the race of life, with all its desirable human aspirations. It is for this the struggle should be maintained, that we may not lose our birthright… The nation is worth fighting for, to secure such an inestimable jewel.”
If only more politicians today had such clear vision and understanding of the importance of freedom and its relation to entrepreneurship. In an age of calcified big business, bloated bureaucracy and increasing global competition, entrepreneurs still need “an open field and a fair chance.”