In 2008, Barack Obama promised hope and change. “Yes We Can,” he and his supporters shouted.

Now we learn that “we” meant government. The American people, apparently, aren’t capable of anything.

“If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that,” President Obama said last week in Roanoke, Virginia. “Somebody else made that happen.” His message was clear: Americans are incapable of doing anything without government there to subsidize or support them. This speech is just the latest piece of a campaign of condescension.

Earlier this year, America met Julia, the faceless cartoon woman who starred in an online ad for the Obama campaign. She’s the modern American girl whose success in life can be chalked up to the helping hand of government. She gets a federally subsidized education, college loans, free birth control, free prenatal care (when she “decides to have a child”), a small-business loan, and retirement security because of the ever-present and ever-President Obama.

Julia’s success apparently has nothing to do with her own initiative, talent, or hard work. Nor was she successful because of a loving family, friends, church, or any private associations. No, Julia needs government to get ahead. It wasn’t always this way.

On this date in 1848, the first convention of women’s rights met in Seneca Falls, New York. The convention was impromptu, the brainchild of Lucretia Mott (in town to visit her sister) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The centerpiece of the convention was the Declaration of Sentiments, modeled on Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. The convention and its document is an example of what James Madison described as the “vigilant and manly spirit” of America, exhibited by a few hundred women in a Methodist church.

Like Jefferson’s draft, the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments included a statement of political principles, a list of grievances, and a conclusion. The statement of principles is almost verbatim from the Declaration. It cited the self-evident truths of human equality, natural rights, the consent of the governed, and the protection of individual rights.

Instead of listing grievances against a king, these women opposed artificial impediments to their success. For instance, they challenged the common law legal tradition that considered husband and wife legally one person. That meant the woman’s property belonged to the man and that a husband would be punished for his wife’s crimes. They rejected artificial legal and social barriers to college and certain professions.

Their conclusion was not to ask government for a host of handouts but to encourage women to meet for more conventions and to assert their right to be self-governing. These women were successful. The common law traditions were replaced, and women gained access to the vote (again), to colleges, and to professional careers.

The Seneca Falls women and their heirs achieved success not because of government bureaucrats but because of the principles at the heart of our Declaration that encourage hard work and self-government. They weren’t inventing anything; they were simply insisting that the Declaration applied to them as well as to men.

The women at Seneca Falls did build a lasting movement—without any help from the government. Apparently, Barack Obama wouldn’t have approved.