From the minutemen of the American Revolution to the settlers of the old West to the housewives who poured into the factories during World War II to the Tea party movement of recent years our nation began and thrives when ordinary Americans step up and do extraordinary things.
Since the beginning of our Republic the concept of a "citizen legislator" has been the ideal. Our founding fathers realized that professional politicians more concerned about their careers than "we the people" posed a threat to our liberty. Four score and seven years later President Abraham Lincoln eloquently called it a government "of the people, by the people and for the people."
Now special interests and professional politicians dominate both Washington, D.C. and Harrisburg while the interests of working families, small businesses and senior citizens take a back seat. But there are those who are willing to leave the comfort of their private lives and fight to preserve, protect and defend the God-given rights upon which our nation was established.
Thomas J. Smith was one who has answered his nation’s call.
Tom Smith, who passed away on Saturday at the age of 67, was an American success story. At the age of nineteen, when his father became ill, Tom decided to postpone college and run the family’s Armstrong County farm. He mortgaged his existing property to purchase a coal mine and – by risking capital and his financial security – successfully expanded his business operations over a 20 year period eventually mining more than a million tons of coal per year and employing over 100 people.
Along the way, Tom and his wife Saundra had three biological children. Then, the Smith’s adopted a family of four children from Texas allowing the siblings to be raised together.
After selling his mining interests in 2010 and becoming alarmed over rapidly expanding federal intrusion into our lives, Tom was in the vanguard of the Tea party movement and helped to found the Indiana/Armstrong County Patriots.
But that level of activism was not enough for Tom Smith. In 2012 he decided to run for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania. The sitting governor and state GOP endorsed another candidate, but Tom persevered dealing the party a rare defeat and besting five other candidates to win the nomination. Despite his best efforts, the headwinds against the GOP in Pennsylvania that November resulted in the re-election of the incumbent.
This is the point where most people give up. But not Tom Smith. He was only getting started. Tom became involved in a wide range of state and national policy battles serving on the boards and financially contributing to a wide range of organizations fighting for individual liberty and personal freedom.
In the summer of 2015 Tom was again planning to enter the political fray as a candidate for congress when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. That cut short his political career, but Tom remained involved fighting for the issues about which he cared deeply until his final days.
Ronald Reagan once said that "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."
Thomas J. Smith did his part to ensure that freedom endures for the next generation. His life and career will continue to serve as both an example of what citizen activism should be and as an inspiration to the rest of us to step up and continue the cause which he has "thusfar so nobly advanced."
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
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