The United States has been exceptional as the country founded upon a moral idea: individual rights.

The founding fathers recognized man’s rights as inalienable. Rights are discovered, not granted.

Justly, the founding fathers expelled the government which sought to enslave them. Pledging their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor,” they fought. They risked it all, not to be richer, but to be men—living men with all the freedoms such a title requires.

They founded a new government. Its power derived not from arbitrary kingship, nor force, nor tradition. Its power rested on the objective fact of the right of each man to his own life and property.

What is so exceptional about America? Liberty.

Though the new nation was marred by the Old World’s legacy of slavery, the people would grasp the ideal of freedom. The nation would pay the price for its original failures in a bloody civil war. But then America would become the beacon of hope for the world.

Why did millions of immigrants choose America as their destination? Other nations had natural resources. Other nations had superior infrastructure. Other nations were “home.” But home was not good enough, for the Old World accorded man little chance to rise above his station.

Men were born into a class, and they stayed in it. Trade was controlled by law. Taxation was brutal.

But there was America.

Today we see the problems of racial prejudice and we understand how short we fall. But have you ever asked why people flooded to America a century ago, in times of even greater prejudice? They came to escape something worse than private prejudice. They came to escape state oppression which places the chance prejudices of bureaucrats and princes as laws over man.

Ask an immigrant one hundred years ago if America was a land of prejudice. His answer would be, “No. It’s a land of freedom. I’m allowed to work. The laws don’t stop me. Yes, some neighbors may hate me. But here I am free.”

When we compare this original America to the tyrannies of its European counterparts, we see what made America exceptional. And when we see the progress from America as a nation of slavery to a land of freedom, to greater rights for all people, we see the greatness of its original principle.

The principle of individual rights is the principle of life itself.

To live as a man means to think for oneself, to act, to build, and to flourish. America’s economic prosperity and growth in the 19th Century was unprecedented in the time before or since. Liberty was the ground for every other advance in wealth, health, opportunity, and goodwill.

The economic argument is clear: free markets lead to prosperity. But I do not celebrate America only for its prosperity. Egypt and Babylon had riches. Napoleon had wealth. But I celebrate America because it represents man unshackled.

America is the story of man raising his own moral stature.

Given the chance, people do want to work to improve their lives. In America’s rise we see not merely the gathering of possessions. We see the spiritual grandeur of men rising to the title of Owner. Producer.

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