On General Meade

The George Gordon Meade Memorial before highway construction required its removal and relocation to its current location in front of the Federal Courthouse in Washington. Sculpted by Charles Grafly, the statue of General Meade is flanked by six allegorical figures, with Loyalty to his right and Chivalry to his left, they include Fame, Progress, Military Courage, and Energy, what the artist believed comprised greatness in a general. The gold finial above Meade's head bears the seal of the state of Pennsylvania. Courtesy of Histories of the National Mall.

The George Gordon Meade Memorial, dedicated here by President Coolidge on October 19, 1927, before highway construction in the 1960s required removal and relocation to its current location in front of the Federal Courthouse in Washington. Sculpted by Charles Grafly, the statue of General Meade is flanked by six allegorical figures, with Loyalty to his right and Chivalry to his left (both removing his battle cloak), and also including Fame, Progress, Military Courage, and Energy, what the artist believed comprised greatness in a general. The gold finial above Meade’s head bears the seal of the state of Pennsylvania. Courtesy of Histories of the National Mall.

Appointed a mere three days before the scouts of armies north and south would encounter each other in the fields around Gettysburg, General George Gordon Meade would go on to deliver defeat to the great forces of Robert E. Lee after three days of intense fighting. Criticized for failing to pursue the honorable armies of the South to crush them once for all, Meade allowed their solemn retreat. Yet, General Meade retained his responsibilities as commander of the Army of the Potomac, when lesser men had seen Lincoln’s wrath and been summarily dismissed. Meade would continue leading the Army under the direction of Lieutenant General Grant through the Overland Campaign, the fight to Richmond and through Lee’s final surrender at Appomattox, less than two years later.

Known as “Old Snapping Turtle” for his quick temper, Meade remained in the fight and at the helm because of his unique measure of character, focus, and perseverance. Unfortunately disparaged by the onslaught of politics that ensued between the army and Washington following the tide turned at Gettysburg, Meade would barely live to see his old commander, Ulysses Grant, elected to the Presidency in 1872. Calvin Coolidge was then barely over four months old. It would be President Coolidge, however, who agreed to dedicate the memorial given to the United States by Meade’s adopted home of Pennsylvania in October of 1927. The ground had been broken in the presence of Coolidge’s predecessor, President Harding, and was finally completed after five years. Though many had passed on, some remained from those dark yet honor-graced times to be present on that day to finally recognize and remember a worthy fellow soldier and honorable American.

Of General Meade, Coolidge said, “The more we study the history of the war in which he fought, the more General Meade stands out as a responsible and reliable commander. Others may have had more dash, though none surpassed him in courage. He did not engage himself in leading hopeless charges. He was, rather, a general who kept himself sufficiently informed as to the movements of his enemy and made such preparation and wise disposition of his own troops that hopeless charges were not necessary. It can not be said that he always won, but he experienced very little of defeat. His personality was well rounded out. If it appeared to possess no lofty peaks, it was not marred by any deep depressions. If he was sometimes quick of temper, he was eminently sound of judgment. He was a solid and substantial man, one who inspired confidence, one who could be trusted. The victor of Appomattox assigned to him the second place among his generals. History has revealed that the estimate was none too high. General Lee is reported to have ranked him even higher, saying, ‘Meade, in my judgment, had the greatest ability. I feared him more than any man I ever met upon the field of battle.’

Throughout his life General Meade was a man of deep religious conviction. When he entered the service he said, ‘I go into the field trusting to God to dispose of my life and actions in accordance with my daily prayer that His will, not mine, shall be done.’ Throughout his entire military career he constantly acted in harmony with that sentiment. Time and again, in his letters and statements, he acknowledged his dependence upon Divine Providence. Like most great soldiers he was devoted to peace, not war. He even hesitated to regard those who supported the southern cause in the light of enemies, even reproving his own men for glorying in their defeat, which he would reserve for the case of a foreign foe.”

Quite a eulogy for the man who did his duty when occasion called for him and yet held tenaciously to peace as his foremost ambition. Could there be a better representation of true patriotism?

General George G. Meade by Matthew Brady

General George G. Meade by Matthew Brady

 

On What Cal Believed

President Coolidge captured by photographer Addison Scurlock, 1924.

President Coolidge captured by photographer Addison Scurlock, early 1924. While certain candidates of all stripes are evading what they believe, hiding who they are from voters, concealing what principles they support and what their vision is for local neighborhoods, counties, states, and the country, Coolidge boldly outlined his policy principles in less than two minutes. In this recording, Coolidge cements his ideals for all time in the crisp record of radio. Instead of hiding who he was and what he sought to accomplish, he freely volunteers it for voters to choose. 1924 shattered conventional wisdom with Coolidge and the Republican Party sweeping to victory in landslide proportions despite being a three-way race. The points he makes still resonate these ninety years later and serve a necessary reminder that the way to decisive victory is not through subterfuge, deception, obfuscation or timidity. Coolidge believed the Republican Party stood for very specific principles and it had better keep its commitments to the electorate on that basis. Talking about what kind of government and set of principles we should have, giving Americans something to vote for as opposed to merely vote against, is vastly neglected these days. Not so with Coolidge. The GOP would do no favors and, in fact, fail good government to water down its differences to gain votes.  Public service was too important to be so cheapened and, to Coolidge, being Republican preserved the best of America’s institutions, ideals, foundations for future progress, and her people’s renewing power for good.

“Who Was the Last President to Have a Great Second Term?” by Burt Folsom

CC portrait blk-white

Dr. Folsom reminds us, in surveying the last eight presidents who have won second terms, that Calvin Coolidge was the last national leader to have (by every economic measure) an extraordinarily successful second term. Even more impressive is the fact that Coolidge achieved this exception to the rule without seeking it, launching out on a legacy-building crusade or perpetual campaign to answer every problem with more government. Coolidge could have certainly indulged the incessant pressure to do so, yet when others attempted to increase the scope, oversight and expense of Washington, he vetoed measure after measure. As Dr. Folsom summarizes, “Calvin Coolidge may not be glamorous, but he fared well by stressing freedom for his countrymen, not ‘signature spending programs’ to ‘enhance his legacy.’ For his own quietly competent style of leadership, Coolidge deserves renewed appraisal. His accomplishments dispel the conventional concept that one must spend his way to greatness, as if it can be bought by deeper and deeper indebtedness. Instead, Coolidge’s record belongs beside those who paid off the entire nation’s debt (President Jackson), placed the country back on the gold standard (President Grant), and those who fought for limited government rather than targeting it for destruction as a means to some transformative end. Coolidge, looking back on his predecessors’ experiences found the results just as instructive against second term presidents. As scholar Jim Cooke has pointed out, Coolidge put it this way in his Autobiography, “An examination of the records of those Presidents who have served eight years will disclose that in an almost every instance the latter part of their term has shown very little in the way of constructive accomplishment. They have often been clouded with grave disappointments.”

Thank you for the timely reminder, Professor Folsom.

More Coolidge Photographic Favorites

President Coolidge reviewing official papers with C. Bascom Slemp, his official secretary, and "Ted" Clark, his personal secretary since coming to Washington in 1921. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

President Coolidge reviewing official papers circa 1924 with C. Bascom Slemp, his official secretary, and “Ted” Clark, his personal secretary since coming to Washington in 1921. Notice the large packets of documents on the desk awaiting the President’s attention. Those closest to Coolidge knew him to be a thorough and completely competent executive. He could indeed “swing” the job of President. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

President Coolidge on the White House grounds with his Secretary of War, Dwight F. Davis, and his representative to Nicaragua and then the Philippines, Henry L. Stimson, circa early 1928.

President Coolidge on the White House grounds with his Secretary of War, Dwight F. Davis, and his representative to Nicaragua and then the Philippines, Henry L. Stimson, circa early 1928. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

President Coolidge conferring with Senate Majority Leader, Charles Curtis of Kansas, 1928. Curtis was also a Kaw Indian, who would rise to the office of Vice President of the United States. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

President Coolidge conferring with friend and Senate Majority Leader, Charles Curtis of Kansas, 1928. Curtis was also a Kaw Indian, who would rise to the office of Vice President of the United States in 1929. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Looking forward to the World Series? Take a look at this great shot from 1925. As everyone watches with rapt attention, Coolidge throws out the first pitch for the old Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Looking forward to the World Series? Take a look at this great shot from 1925. As everyone watches with rapt attention, Coolidge throws out the first pitch for the old Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Go Royals!

On the Law of Service and “America First”

President Coolidge at the State, War and Navy Department offices, Washington. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

President Coolidge at the State, War and Navy Department offices, Washington. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

“No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave” — Governor Calvin Coolidge, upon vetoing a $500 salary increase by the Massachusetts House, 1919 (Have Faith in Massachusetts, p.173)

“All artificial privilege always has and always will destroy itself. The law of service is the law of action”Adequate Brevity p.99

“The principle of service is not to be confounded with a weak and impractical sentimentalism” — p.98

“Titles to nobility cannot be granted or seized. They can only be achieved. They come through service, as yours came, or they do not come at all” — p.99

“Society will remain a living organism sustaining hope and progress, content to extend its dominion not by conquest but by service” — p.100

“It is time in every activity in our land, for men in every relationship, to stop trying to get the better of each other and begin trying to serve each other” — p.99

“The service which America has rendered to others has been to a considerable degree one of example” — p.98

“If our country is to stand for anything in the world, if it is to represent any forward movement in human progress, these achievements will be measured in no small degree by what it is able to do for others” — p.99

“We have been, and propose to be, more and more American. We believe that we can best serve our own country and most successfully discharge our obligations to humanity by continuing to be openly and candidly, intensely and scrupulously, American” — Inaugural Address, March 4, 1925 (Foundations of the Republic pp.194-5).

“More and more men are seeking to live in obedience to the law of service under which those of larger possessions confer larger benefits upon their fellow men”Adequate Brevity p.99

“Public acclaim and the ceremonial recognition paid to returning heroes are not on account of their government pay but of the service and sacrifice they gave their country” — p.100

“America first is not selfishness; it is the righteous demand for strength to serve” — p.99

On “Experts” and Political Bias

District of Columbia Circuit Judge Josiah A. Van Orsdel, functioning as a polling judge, administers oath to this famous voter, Calvin Coolidge, 1924. The Coolidges would vote by absentee ballot that year since national responsibilities kept them out of their home precinct in Massachusetts. They still made a point of leading by example, however.

District of Columbia Circuit Judge Josiah A. Van Orsdel, functioning as a polling judge, administers an oath of qualification to this most famous voter, Calvin Coolidge, 1924. The Coolidges would vote by absentee ballot that year since national responsibilities kept them out of their home precinct in Massachusetts. Mr. Coolidge will fill out the ballot himself at this desk on the White House lawn. Grace would do the same. They still made a point of leading by example. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

“The public press under an autocracy is necessarily a true agency of propaganda. Under a free government it must be the very reverse. Propaganda seeks to present a part of the facts, to distort their relations, and to force conclusions which could not be drawn from a complete and candid survey of all the facts. It has been observed that propaganda seeks to close the mind, while education seeks to open it. This has become one of the dangers of the present day.

“The great difficulty in combating unfair propaganda, or even in recognizing it, arises from the fact that at the present time we confront so many new and technical problems that it is an enormous task to keep ourselves accurately informed concerning them. In this respect, you gentlemen of the press face the same perplexities that are encountered by legislators and government administrators. Whoever deals with current public questions is compelled to rely greatly upon the information and judgments of experts and specialists. Unfortunately, not all experts are to be trusted as entirely disinterested. Not all specialists are completely without guile. In our increasing dependence on specialized authority, we tend to become easier victims for the propagandists, and need to cultivate sedulously the habit of the open mind. No doubt every generation feels that its problems are the most intricate and baffling that have ever been presented for solution. But with all recognition of the disposition to exaggerate in this respect, I think we can fairly say that our times in all their social and economic aspects are more complex than any past period. We need to keep our minds free from prejudice and bias. Of education, and of real information we cannot get too much. But of propaganda, which is tainted or perverted information, we cannot have too little” — President Calvin Coolidge, “The Press Under a Free Government,” before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Washington, D. C., January 17, 1925 (Foundations of the Republic, pp.184-5).

On Lessons from Williams College for America

Colonel Williams' "Free School," established 1793 as Williams College

Colonel Williams’ “Free School,” established October 26, 1791 and chartered two years later as Williams College. Source: http://ephlib.wordpress.com/history-01/.

“Earth’s great lesson is written here. In it all men may read the interpretation of the founder of this college, of the meaning of America, of the motive high and true which has inspired her soldiers. Not unmindful of a desire for economic justice but scorning sordid gain, not seeking the spoils of war but a victory of righteousness, they came, subordinating the finite to the infinite, placing their trust in that which does not pass away. This precept heretofore observed must not be abandoned now. A desire for the earth and the fullness thereof must not be abandoned now. A desire for the earth and fullness thereof must not lure our people from their truer selves. Those who seek for a sign merely in a greatly increased material prosperity, however worthy that may be, disappointed through all the ages, will be disappointed now. Men find their true satisfaction in something higher, finer, nobler than all that. We sought no spoils from war; let us seek not spoil from peace. Let us remember Babylon and Carthage and that city which her people, flushed with purple pride, dared call Eternal.

“This college and her sons have turned their eyes resolutely toward the morning. Above the roar of reeking strife they hear the voice of the founder. Their actions have matched their vision. They have seen. They have heard. They have done. I thank you for receiving me into their company, so romantic, so glorious, and for enrolling me as a soldier in the legion of Colonel Ephraim Williams” — Calvin Coolidge, October 17, 1919

Final page of Ephraim Williams' last will and testament, it which he leaves the remainder of his estate to the "Support and maintenance of a free School for Ever, , provided the Said township fall with in the jurisdiction of the Province of Massachusetts bay, and provided, also that the Governour & General Court give the Said township the name of Williamstown..." Source: http://archives.williams.edu/founding/will4.php.

Final page of Ephraim Williams’ last will and testament, it which he leaves the remainder of his estate to the “Support and maintenance of a free School for Ever, provided the Said township fall with in the jurisdiction of the Province of Massachusetts bay, and provided, also that the Governour & General Court give the Said township the name of Williamstown…” Source: http://archives.williams.edu/founding/will4.php.