The first Plantagenet king of England, Henry II, is important to contemporary small business owners because he founded the legal system that paved the way for modern entrepreneurship.
Ambitious and intelligent, Henry’s consolidation of the 12th century British Isles under his rule created the need for order. While his reforms were more for his political expediency than to empower the people, they actually gave birth to the English Common Law, which replaced feudal practices such as trial by ordeal.
Six centuries after Henry’s death, the tide of freedoms and property rights that evolved from his reforms washed up on the other side of the Atlantic. In the colonies, a group of malcontents – America’s Founders – created and fought for a new interpretation of Henry’s legacy, which is to say, sans kings.
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 …”
In “Origins of the Bill of Rights,” Leonard W. Levy wrote, “Freedom was a product of New World conditions.” Those conditions, as Thomas Jefferson so artfully 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 the 56 signers of Jefferson’s document put their lives and liberties at risk on July 4, 1776. But America’s founding documents weren’t perfected until they perpetuated rights that were, as John Dickinson declared a decade earlier in 1766, “…born with us, exists with us and cannot be taken from us by any human without taking our lives.”
By definition entrepreneurs take risks. But only freedom to enjoy success makes risks acceptable. Thank you, Henry II.
Research shows a direct connection between entrepreneurship and economic growth. And the American experiment has demonstrated that a robust entrepreneurship fosters national economic well-being. Thank you, Founders.
Without their vision, courage and sacrifice entrepreneurship as we know it would not exist today. And if capitalism is the economic lever of democracy, entrepreneurship renews the strength and reliability of that lever for each generation.
We began with freedom: freedom to dream and to try; to succeed and to fail; to own and to enjoy; to accumulate and to pass on to the next generation. We began with freedom and entrepreneurship was born. We began with freedom and capitalism was made to flourish.
Write this on a rock…America began with freedom. Happy Independence Day.
Jim Blasingame is one of the world's leading experts on small business and entrepreneurship. He is the creator and award-winning host of the nationally syndicated radio program, The Small Business Advocate® Show. In addition to his weekly columns, Jim is the author of two books; Small Business is like a Bunch of Bananas and Three Minutes to Success.