Friday, September 08, 2017

From the Archives - Present at the creation: YAF co-founder Carol Dawson remembers the 1960 Sharon Conference

Present at the creation: YAF co-founder Carol Dawson remembers the 1960 Sharon Conference
September 8, 2010 11:52 PM MST

A noteworthy anniversary will be commemorated this Saturday, September 11.

Most people, of course, associate that date with the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001. On that day 50 years ago, however, a group of young Americans came together to lay the foundation for a conservative revolution that transformed U.S. politics for the next two generations.

Sharon Statement YAF Carol Dawson Young Americans for Freedom 1960s conservative movement
On September 11, 1960, the Sharon Statement was issued. The Sharon Statement concisely listed the values and goals of the then-nascent conservative movement. Historian John A. Andrew says in his book, The Other Side of the Sixties, that it was “a short but definitive exposition of conservative principles that became their ideological compass.”

The Sharon Statement says, for instance, that “liberty is indivisible,” that “political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom,” and that the “purpose of government is to protect those freedoms.”

An immediate result of the Sharon Conference (so named for its location at William F. Buckley’s home, Great Elm, in Sharon, Connecticut) was the founding of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF).

Present at the Creation
Earlier this year – on Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, by coincidence -- the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner had an opportunity to speak with Carol G. Dawson, one of the participants at the Sharon Conference and a founder of Young Americans for Freedom.

Dawson, who now lives in Lancaster County on Virginia’s Northern Neck, described the atmosphere at the meeting as electrifying.

“My feelings at the time,” she explained, “were of being overwhelmed because the intellectual caliber of all those people was just astounding. I learned a lot. Of course, some of the giants like Bill Buckley and Brent Bozell and others who were there became more real to me,” because of her subsequent interactions with them.

The meeting also abated feelings of isolation of that era’s young conservatives, she said.

“There’s a lot to be said for finding out you are not alone,” she said. “You’re not alone, there are other people who are like you, who feel the way you do, who are motivated” to take action to advance their shared values.

Early Days
In the early days of YAF, Dawson said, “a lot of time was spent in spirited debate about the by-laws of the organization, what kind of board of directors it would have, and how we would re-elect board of directors or replace them.”

There were challenges, too.

“The early days were a bit rough,” Dawson remembered. “There were a lot of people who were thrown off the board and that sort of thing.”

Despite bumps in the road, “it led to some really close friendships, as well. I would have to say that the people I knew through that organization today rank as my closest friends other than family,” she noted, smiling, “So we must have been doing something right.”

The Sharon Statement, Dawson said, remains relevant half a century later.

“I think it clarifies,” she explained. “It clarifies the issues that are still important and always will be important. To bring in the title of [M. Stanton Evans’] book, ‘The Theme Is Freedom;’ that’s still what it’s all about.”

The Legacy
Four years after Sharon, its momentum launched Barry Goldwater’s campaign for President.

In 1971, disaffected YAFers founded the Libertarian Party. Other YAFers set up and ran think tanks and advocacy groups.

By 1980, the movement begotten at Sharon triumphed in the election of Ronald Reagan.

Five decades on, echoes of the Sharon Statement can be heard in the chants of the Tea Party and seen on the placards carried at events like next Sunday’s 9/12 Taxpayers March on Washington.

As Dawson said, “the theme is freedom” and that’s what it’s all about.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on September 8, 2010. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

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