Small Business Focus: Patriotic spirit of John Dunlap

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 10, 2002


John Dunlap has slipped into the haze of history. The role this small-business owner played in American independence is not widely known and rarely mentioned among the acts of defiance that occurred 226 years ago when our nation took its first step towards freedom.

But the Philadelphia printer’s skill heralded one of the greatest events in modern civilization. Called to action by the Continental Congress in July 1776, Dunlap crafted 500 “broadside” posters that gave the emerging nation its first look at the Declaration of Independence. The copies he quickly spun from his letterpress at 48 High Street were raced to citizens throughout the Colonies to share with them the news that self-government was the will of the people and revolution was at hand.

Certainly Dunlap was thrilled to see the words “When in the Course of human events….” Despite knowing that this dangerous experiment might fail, he took a brave stand and added his name to the bottom of the printed document, an act that could have led to a traitor’s death by hanging had the revolution failed.

Independence. It defines us as a nation, it tells the world that we will govern and defend ourselves, it drives our entrepreneurial spirit and is the foundation of our free enterprise system.

Some nations envy it, some think it arrogant, others despise the concept because they are unwilling to accept that “all men are created equal.” They refuse to acknowledge that our citizens have “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

America’s detractors also fail to realize that the spirit of John Dunlap continues to beat within the breasts of millions of small-business owners whose pursuit of happiness is the American Dream of starting their own enterprises. These are risk-takers, who through their daily efforts, serve their fellow citizens and contribute mightily to their nation’s future.

It is unlikely that today’s small-business owners will ever have an historic opportunity such as the one faced by John Dunlap, but their dedication to those ideals forged long ago is no less firm. Throughout our nation’s history, those who run America’s shops and till its soils have always been willing to shoulder the burden of securing freedom and independence. From the bridge at Concord to the mountains of Afghanistan, the battle has been borne in large part by small-business owners and their employees.

Two hundred and twenty-six years ago, Americans told a tyrant we would not be trampled upon. Those who today threaten our citizens and our way of life should view celebrations of our independence as reminders that we are a nation of John Dunlaps. We prefer to tend our shops and stores and farms. We prefer to use our precious resources building our small businesses and sharing the fruits of our labors with our families and employees. But if called upon, if needed in the service of our nation, America’s entrepreneurs, like John Dunlap, will take a firm stand and get the job done.

JACK FARIS is president of The National Federation of Independent Business, the nation’s largest small-business advocacy group.