A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

The Sharon Statement (1960)
Young Americans for Freedom

When we talk about the 1960s as an era of radicalism, as a time when young people rejected the status quo and attempted to transform American life and politics, we are almost always talking about the Left and groups such as Students for a Democratic Society. But in the 1960s, the sense of possibility that motivated young people to seek fundamental changes in American society was by no means restricted to the Left. Beginning at the dawn of the decade, conservative youth also rejected the domestic policies of what was called the “liberal consensus,” a dominant political understanding that combined relatively modest government-sponsored social programs with a faith in capitalism and economic individualism. Unlike their peers in the New Left, however, conservative youth did not reject the two-party political system, but instead attempted to capture the Republican Party and move it dramatically to the right.

Young Americans for Freedom was the most important organization for conservative youth in the 1960s. The organization was founded in September 1960, at the Sharon, Connecticut, family estate of conservative columnist and National Review editor William F. Buckley. Like the authors of the Port Huron Statement, which was written two years later, the ninety young men and women who gathered for the Sharon Conference believed that the United States was at a critical turning point in its history. Their “Sharon Statement” was a statement of principles for a time of “moral and political crises.” It affirmed what the authors called “eternal truths” derived from the individual’s right to use his “God-given free will,” central to which was an unrestricted free market economy. The Sharon Statement also offered a justification for States’ Rights and called for victory over—not coexistence with—communism.

In the mid-1960s, the YAF had roughly the same membership as the historically much-better-known SDS, and wielded greater political power. YAF played a critical role in securing the 1964 Republican presidential nomination for the “true conservative” Goldwater over more moderate Republican candidates such as Nelson Rockefeller. Though Goldwater was defeated, YAF saw victory in its ability to shift the party to the right. At the same time, it had to contend

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