Our Founding Fathers: The Original Entrepreneurs

A look back at American history.

ByABC News
July 1, 2015, 12:59 PM
Painting of founding fathers inside the National Archives on Washington.
Painting of founding fathers inside the National Archives on Washington.
Getty Images

— -- As we approach the celebration of the Fourth of July, I have been thinking a lot about the history of the United States and where we are today and what might help us move forward.

Our country is struggling -- in many different ways -- from race issues, to economic disparities, to infrastructure needs, to a polarized environment, to fear and disconnection. Our politics and our governing, especially in Washington, DC is dysfunctional and the ability to find solutions seems non-existent. We know we must do better, but we can’t seem to get past the terrible rancor.

In the United States today, entrepreneurs in both the business and nonprofit sectors are rising up in a major way in community after community. They are disrupting old broken systems with innovative solutions to chronic problems whether it be high tech engagement involving products and services, creating new neighborhood communities, using the law for change, or reimagining philanthropy. This goes on while our politics seems a desert of imagination and has lost the great independence we so proudly celebrate on the anniversary of the Declaration. What can we do?

Let’s start with the founding fathers (and all the mothers who also gave support as our country began). Our founding fathers were our nation’s original entrepreneurs. Follow me here while I explain. When you look at the signers of the Declaration of Independence and all the other leaders who were instrumental in our nation’s beginning, you see that each was risking not only their fortunes but their lives in taking on the British and starting a new country.

They decided the old way (under the British monarchy) wasn’t working, wasn’t just or fair, lacked freedom and liberty and gave little opportunity for the vast population who lived in the colonies. Nearly all these founding fathers were doing very well under the British System, but they decided to throw off this old institution, and create a startup. A startup for them was -- a new country. Some lost their lives, some lost all their fortunes, but as entrepreneurs it was worth the risk. And today the United States is the most powerful country on Earth because of these original social entrepreneurs.

While entrepreneurs around the country are creating many new ways to meet the needs and demands of America today, we have lost this entrepreneurial spirit in our political and governing models. It is time we change this. It is time we use the entrepreneurial spirit of the founding fathers and our intuition, and put the “I” back into leadership in our country. Our governance and politics needs more ingenuity, innovation, and imagination. We need more entrepreneurs and less opportunists. We need a political model that supports creativity and imaginative ways to confront the problems that face us and the future ahead. Without imagination we lose hope, and without hope we no longer see that change is possible. And when that happens our Democracy is broken.

And as we put the “I” back into the ship of state where our leaders operate, we also need to exercise a leadership of independence and integrity. Not independence from each other, but independence from the duopoly of our politics. Today we have two major political parties that seem incapable of change. They seem incapable of putting the country before Party. And incapable of getting past their own partisan perspective to look at the bigger picture. They won’t take risks in confronting a broken political model, and that causes us to devolve into hypocrisy, divisiveness and a loss of community of shared values. It is only by putting the “I” into leadership that a “We” can be created.

If we can take the entrepreneurial spirit that filled the hearts and souls of our founders and link that with the millions of folks today that have a similar spirit as they solve problems each day in all fifty states, we can then create a new brand of politics and leadership. A brand of politics that while folks may belong to a particular political party, operate independently from the broken institutions and old models that are no longer functional.

We are at a crucial point in our nation's history, and we need to recapture the spirit of entrepreneurism, independence, and integrity that our founding fathers embodied and apply it to our politics today. It is time we declare our own 21st century Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self evident” that we need a politics that puts country first and not party, that we need a system of governing that looks out for all and not just a few, that we are free to reimagine structures and create new ones that serve the country and not special interests, and that we as a nation are reignited through an entrepreneurial spirit and we come together in a community of trust and innovation. It is time the successful entrepreneurs today risk their fortunes and positions like our founding fathers did, and create a new model.

This is just my “startup” conversation. We are at an essential moment as we move into a Presidential election that will tell us who we are as a nation. Will you join me? Who else wants to be take the message of our founding fathers and break free from a broken political model and create something that works? Entrepreneurs of the world unite!

There you have it.

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.