Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., believes that the country is in a time of “constitutional crisis,” and he served up a history lesson at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on the founding fathers and the roots of American exceptionalism and conservatism.

Sasse, who has emerged as one of the Senate’s most conservative voices since taking office in 2015, devoted his CPAC speech Thursday to America’s founding.

He stressed the need for conference attendees to place the American idea ahead of their policy preferences and political affiliations. Here are seven quotes from his remarks:

  1. “American exceptionalism is not some sort of ethnic claim that because of something we received in the bloodstream, Americans are better than other people. American exceptionalism is a claim about history. American exceptionalism is a claim about what happened in the American founding, and if we don’t understand why the American founding was extraordinary, you can be sure that our kids won’t understand why America is extraordinary.”
  2. “Our founding moment is truly extraordinary. Our founders were making a claim about human dignity. Our founders were saying that everybody, everywhere—not just those who have been blessed to be born in this place—but everybody, everywhere is ordained with natural rights. Everyone everywhere is created in the image of God with natural rights, and government is just our shared project to secure those rights.”
  3. “Government is not the author or the source of any of our rights. … Government is a tool, and our founders recognized that that tool is necessary in a fallen world because unfortunately the world is broken and there are people who want take your property, who want to take your liberty, who want to take your life.”
  4. “The meaning of America is not in Washington, D.C. The meaning of America is in all the communities and the little platoons that you come from.”
  5. “Fundamentally, the American founders understood that throughout human history almost everyone had been wrong about the nature of government.”
  6. “People have been wrong about the nature of government and the nature of freedom, and we the people in America believe that our rights come to us via nature, and government is our project to secure them, so we the people give the government enumerated powers. We don’t ever wait for the government to give us an rights. We claim those by nature.”
  7. “The Constitution is the best political document that’s ever been written. The Constitution is just a list of powers that we decide to give the government, and when that list ends, the government has no further powers. The Constitution is not some list of the limited rights the people have. The government is limited, and the people’s rights are limitless.”

Running through Saturday, CPAC offers conservatives across the country an opportunity to gather with fellow activists and leaders for speeches, panels, exhibits, and other activities at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, just outside Washington, D.C., at Maryland’s National Harbor.