George Washington once wrote “Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.”

The man who would become the nation’s first president had no idea how true those words would be in the country he helped create. He saw the beginnings of freedom taking root in the soldiers he commanded and the government he helped found, but he wouldn’t live to see the influence that the experiment in liberty would have on the world.

It’s no surprise that the first four presidents – Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, all played significant roles in building the United States. They declared independence, lead a revolution, created a government, and instilled in the American people that we have a right to be free.

These men strongly believed in the principles of life, property, inherent liberty, and self-governance. Adams said once, “Liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker.” He, like his compatriots, believed that supporting liberty meant establishing a limited government to preserve the rights that are inherently ours.

The Founders were wary of a government that would stifle freedom the way the British had done. Jefferson wrote in a letter to Madison that “I own I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.”

The power to govern should then be given to the people. Jefferson said in another letter, “I have no fear that the result of our experiment will be that men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master.”

Because of the bravery, wisdom, and foresight of these founding presidents, liberty has continued to grow and thrive. Forty presidents have followed in the footsteps of these revolutionaries to continue the experiment in self-government. This Presidents Day, we reflect on the men who rose to the highest office in the land, especially those who set the precedent of defending liberty at all costs.