On Lessons from the Great War

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Today, one hundred years ago, the world was engulfed anew in open conflict at the formal declaration of war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. At its end, some 20 million were dead and another 21 million wounded. Calvin Coolidge had much to say when it came the irretrievable and wasteful loss of war, the terrible destruction it brings upon civilization and yet the justified reasons for our involvement when the rights of our citizens are under attack. It was on one occasion, looking back eleven years after the end of that war, that then-President Coolidge offered these thoughts not only on the horrendous costs but the important lessons from a conflict that both permanently changed his generation and, consequently, the world.

“We thought the question was involved of whether the people of the earth were to rule or whether they were to be ruled. We thought that we were helping to determine whether the principle of despotism or the principle of liberty should be the prevailing standard among the nations. Then, too, our country all came under the influence of a great wave of idealism…No doubt there were other motives, but these appear to me the chief causes which drew America into the World War.

“In a conflict which engaged all the major nations of the earth and lasting for a period exceeding four years, there could be no expectation of materials gains. War in its very essence means destruction. Never before were contending peoples so well equipped with every kind of infernal engine calculated to spread desolation on land and over the face of the deep. Our country is only but now righting itself and beginning a moderate but steady recovery from the great economic loss which it sustained. That tremendous debt must be liquidated through the laborious toil of our people. Modern warfare becomes more and more to mean utter loss, destruction, and desolation of the best that there is of any people, its valiant youth and its accumulated treasure. If our country secured any benefit, if it met with any gain, it must have been in moral and spiritual values. It must be not because it made its fortune but because it found its soul. Others may disagree with me, but in spite of some incidental and trifling difficulties it is my firm opinion that America has come out of the war with a stronger determination to live by the rule of righteousness and pursue the course of truth and justice in both our domestic and foreign relations…

“We had our domestic problems which resulted from the war. The chief of these was the care and relief of the afflicted veterans and their dependents…The Government can do much, but it can never supply the personal relationship that comes from the ministrations of a private charity of that kind. The next most pressing problem was the better ordering of the finances of the Nation. Our Government was costing more than it was worth. It had more people on the pay roll than were necessary, all of which made expenses too much and taxes too high. This inflated condition contributed to the depression which began in 1920…

President Coolidge surrounded by members of the American Legion, led by John Quinn, pressuring for the Veterans' Bonus Bill, what would become the World War Adjusted Compensation Act passed by Congress over the President's veto, May 1924. Coolidge firmly disagreed with direct compensation levied upon the rest of the people. As he declared, "patriotism...bought and paid for is not patriotism."

President Coolidge surrounded by members of the American Legion, led by John Quinn (to the right of the President), pressuring for the Veterans’ Bonus Bill, what would become the World War Adjusted Compensation Act passed by Congress over the President’s veto, May 1924. Coolidge firmly disagreed with direct compensation levied upon the rest of the people for the sacrifices, not mere employment, of our military during the war. As he declared, “patriotism…bought and paid for is not patriotism.”

“Our country has a larger Army and a more powerful Navy, costing annually almost twice as much as it ever before had in time of peace. I am a thorough believer in a policy of adequate military preparation…In spite of all the arguments in favor of great military forces, no nation ever had an army large enough to guarantee it against attack in time of peace or to insure its victory in time of war. No nation ever will. Peace and security are more likely to result from fair and honorable dealings, and mutual agreements for a limitation of armaments among nations, than by any attempt at competition in squadrons and battalions…

“The real question is whether spending more money to make a better military force would really make a better country. I would be the last to disparage the military art. It is an honorable and patriotic calling of the highest rank. But I can see no merit in any unnecessary expenditure of money to hire men to build fleets and carry muskets when international relations and agreements permit the turning of such resources into the making of good roads, the building of better homes, the promotion education, and all the other arts of peace which minister to the advancement of human welfare…Whenever the military power starts dictating to the civil authority, by whatsoever means adopted, the liberties of the country are beginning to end. National defense should at all times be supported, but any form of militarism should be resisted.

“Unless the people are willing to defend their country because of their belief in it, because of their affection for it, and because it is representative of their home, their country can not be defended. If we are looking for a more complete reign of justice, a more complete supremacy of law, a more complete social harmony, we must seek it in the paths of peace…

“It is for these reasons that it seems clear that the results of the war will be lost and we shall only be entering a period of preparation for another conflict unless we can demobilize the racial antagonisms, fears, hatreds, and suspicions, and create an attitude of toleration in the public mind of the peoples of the earth. If our country is to have any position of leadership, I trust it may be in that direction, and I believe that the place where it should begin is at home…There have been and will be lapses and discouragements, surface storms and disturbances. The shallows will murmur, but the deep is still. We shall be made aware of the boisterous and turbulent forces of evil about us seeking the things which are temporal. But we shall also be made aware of the still small voice arising from the fireside of every devoted home in the land seeking the things which are eternal.”

President on a temporary stage at the American Legion Convention, October 6, 1925. Courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society.

President on a temporary stage at the American Legion Convention, October 6, 1925. Courtesy of the Nebraska State Historical Society.

Jason Noble Pierce: On the Memory of a Good Boy

Cal Jr picking tobacco 1923

Cal Jr. at work on local tobacco fields, summer of 1923

Cal Jr. at work on local tobacco fields, summer of 1923. Courtesy of Forbes Library.

As noted earlier this month, July tragically marks the ninetieth anniversary of young Calvin Jr.’s death from sepsis. The life so rapidly taken was immeasurably felt throughout the country. America loved the Coolidges, and the youngest had a particularly special place in the hearts of young and old alike. He had consistently demonstrated a perspective and character that seemed to go beyond his sixteen years.

Attempting to convey the deep impression left upon him by Calvin’s life, Jason Noble Pierce turned the thoughts of those gathered to what Calvin Jr. meant to so many as Pierce addressed the Marble Collegiate Reformed Church in downtown Manhattan the Sunday after the young man’s death. “Every one was disposed to love him,” Pierce would recall. “His youthful life attracted irresistibly. Many people who had never seen Calvin told me that they loved him because of the picture they had seen. Calvin had through all his life the very genuine spirit of religion.” He was not as some boys who go and play “church” because his parents insist or because they live in the public eye. Calvin Jr. sought the One who reveals Himself not merely on tablets of stone but whose writing lives on the heart and in the mind. Young Calvin saw the importance of what is unseen, the preeminence of what is eternal while everything else of this temporal world fades away.

A postcard view of the Marble Collegiate Reformed Church building, Manhattan, where Jason Noble Pierce eulogized young Calvin Coolidge Jr. the first Sunday after his death.

An 1890s postcard view of the Marble Collegiate Reformed Church building, Manhattan, where Jason Noble Pierce eulogized Calvin Coolidge Jr. the first Sunday, July 13, 1924, after the young man’s death.

Granted permission by Mrs. Coolidge to recite an excerpt of the last letter young Calvin had written, Dr. Pierce recounted what the boy had said about one man who had recently discovered a remedy with which to handle his diabetes. Calvin wrote: “He sure was lucky in the time he chose for having diabetes.” Then, the young man reflected, “That last is surely a foolish statement and one that is often made, for we do not believe that life is as happy as death. That’s what Christ told us.”

When Dr. Pierce turned to his efforts that past week to console the grieving President, he said, “I told Mr. Coolidge that in this sickness God was the consulting doctor trying vainly to tell his colleagues here below how to save this life because they were not able perfectly to know God’s laws and that diseases which are fatal today are healed tomorrow.” The discovery of the antibiotic properties of penicillin remained four years in the future while marketable production would not occur until the 1940s. Impossible to know these facts at the time, Mr. Coolidge looked at his preacher and responded, “That may all be true, but what would heaven be like, if it were made up only of old men and old women.” Struck silent by what he had just heard, Dr. Pierce realized that the father possessed the same unshakable measure of faith as his son. It was then, restraining tears himself, that the preacher told the congregation, “That was the time to thank God that in the hour of affliction our great President had no bitterness in his heart and was able to realize he had made a priceless gift, however unwilling must be his sacrifices.”

As the gathering succumbed to tears, Dr. Pierce endeavored to quantify what had given Calvin Jr. so powerful an impact. Finally, the preacher concluded with an encouragement that resonates through these nine decades. Whether we are parents or children, Calvin Jr. inspires us still not merely in the memory of a good young man but with an introspective look at the kind of parents and children or men and women we are, whether faith to us is some useless anachronism or perhaps a rote abstraction in a “church” somewhere or whether faith genuinely lives within us, whether we see the things that are Unseen, as Calvin’s father once put it.

It was, after all has been said, “the religious faith of this lad” that “made him what he was…And as I had the privilege in the intimacy that comes between pastor and parishioners, I saw that the life of young Calvin was a wonderful testimony of obedience.” Remembering all the quiet and unassuming occasions of Calvin’s genuine integrity and example, especially when no one was looking, the preacher concluded, “Here was little lad who never questioned his parents’ direction, but obeyed. That grief-stricken father could only think during those last days of Calvin Jr. as ‘my little boy.’ The doctors said one of the great helps through these days was that it had been Calvin’s life habit to give perfect obedience. Here was a little lad who was winsome and brave, and I imagine that is what Jesus was. Do you know the staff at the White House, who have been through the deaths of some of our Presidents and ex-Presidents, said the mass of small telegrams and telephones that came in after the death of this boy surpassed that received on any other occasion? The lad was a soldier, as brave as brave could be.” Calvin Jr. is rightly remembered for the goodness and strength he exemplified. In his estimation, however, this was no reason to boast of any surpassing excellence in him personally. He was but seeking to place first things first, developing less of material power and more of spiritual power. By first aspiring to walk humbly with God and then serve not be served, both father and son remain testaments to the abiding importance of what is essential and eternal.

Both Calvins, in front of the old home at 21 Massasoit Street, Northampton, 1920

Both Calvins, in front of the old home at 21 Massasoit Street, Northampton, 1920

Calvin gravesites

On “What It Means to Be a Boy Scout”

Jamboree 1924

Lieutenant-General Baden-Powell, founder of the international Scout movement and "Chief Scout of the World" awards Merit Badges to some of the American boys competing in the canoe, obstacle course and baseball competitions at the Jamboree.

Lieutenant-General Baden-Powell, founder of the international Scout movement and “Chief Scout of the World” awards Merit Badges to some of the American boys competing in the canoe, obstacle course and baseball competitions at the Jamboree.

An aerial view of the thousands of Scout organizations from around the world taking part in the Jamboree at Copenhagen.

An aerial view of the thousands of Scout organizations from around the world taking part in the Jamboree at Copenhagen.

King Christian X and the Danish royal family inaugurate events at which the 53 boys President Coolidge addressed participate through August 1924. The boys, representing all 48 states in the Union, would go on to win first place with 181 points, the King's victory cup and a successful introduction of the game of baseball to the other boys.

King Christian X and the Danish royal family inaugurate events at which the 53 boys President Coolidge addressed participate through August 1924. The boys, representing all 48 states in the Union, would go on to win first place with 181 points, the King’s victory cup and a successful introduction of the game of baseball to the other boys.

When President Coolidge took up the receiver of his candlestick telephone ninety years ago today, it had been eighteen days since his youngest boy, Calvin Jr., had been swept into eternity at the age of sixteen. The President, however, did not shut himself off despite his grief. Instead, on this particular day, Coolidge directed time to impart counsel to the young men of the Boy Scouts, of whom Calvin Jr. had been a member, as they gathered for dinner aboard the steamship Leviathan in New York harbor, July 25, 1924. The boys, 53 of them in number, had been chosen to represent America at the Second World Scout Jamboree to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark in August.

As the 250 guests sat aboard the steamship ninety years ago, the unmistakable voice of President Coolidge came across the amplifiers via telephone with a clarity that would impress deeply upon the boys’ consciousness in the weeks and years that followed. Many of them would fondly recall the inspiration his words gave them not only throughout their journey but through the rest of their lives.

Robert Fulton, left, and Louis Paulin present a wreath to the Coolidge family, in memory of Calvin Jr., on behalf of the Boy Scouts of America, 1924.

Robert Fulton, left, and Louis Paulin present a wreath to the Coolidge family, in memory of Calvin Jr., on behalf of the Boy Scouts of America, 1924.

The Boy Scouts, having lost their fellow Scout, Calvin Jr., had been omnipresent that second week in July, presenting a wreath to young Calvin’s family, accompanying the Marines and sailors who guarded the body and helping to bear his casket to the tomb in Plymouth. It was supremely fitting that President Coolidge express not only his gratitude but his regard for the parents and young men who would give so much to the betterment of others, as Calvin would have done.

From "President Coolidge and His Boys," an article written by W. H. Clagett, featured in the October 1923 issue of Boys' Life.  Writing to the Boy Scouts of America president, Colin H. Livingstone, on August 16, 1923, President Coolidge not only accepted the honorary leadership of the organization but also commended the work it accomplished, writing, "Both my sons are Scouts, and my observation of the benefits they have derived from their affiliation has strengthened my conviction of [Scouting's] usefulness."  Source: http://scoutingmagazine.org/issues/0010/d-wwas.html.

From “President Coolidge and His Boys,” an article written by W. H. Clagett, featured in the October 1923 issue of Boys’ Life.
Writing to the Boy Scouts of America president, Colin H. Livingstone, on August 16, 1923, President Coolidge not only accepted the honorary leadership of the organization but also commended the work it accomplished, observing, “Both my sons are Scouts, and my observation of the benefits they have derived from their affiliation has strengthened my conviction of [Scouting's] usefulness.” Source: http://scoutingmagazine.org/issues/0010/d-wwas.html.

The President identified three fundamentals of the Scouts shared by America’s institutions. He spoke,

“There was no Boy Scout organization in my boyhood, but every boy who has the privilege of growing up on a farm learns instinctively the three fundamentals of scouthood.

“The first is a reverence for nature. Boys should never lose their love of the fields and the streams, the mountains and the plains, the open places and the forests. That love will be a priceless possession as your years lengthen out. There is an instructive myth about the giant Antaeus. Whenever in a contest he was thrown down, he drew fresh strength from his mother, the earth, and so was thought invincible. But Hercules lifted him away from the earth and so destroyed him. There is new life in the soil for every man. There is healing in the trees for tired minds and for our overburdened spirits, there is strength in the hills, if only we will lift up our eyes. Remember that nature is your great restorer.

“The second is a reverence for law. I remember the town meetings of my boyhood, when the citizens of our little town met to levy taxes on themselves, and to choose from their own number those who should be their officers. There is something in every town meeting, in every election, that approaches very near to the sublime. I am thrilled at the thought of my audience tonight, for I never address boys without thinking, among them may be a boy who will sit in the White House. Somewhere there are boys who will be presidents of our railroads, presidents of colleges, of banks, owners of splendid farms and useful industries, members of Congress, representatives of our people in foreign lands. That is the heritage of the American boy.

“It was an act of magnificent courage when our ancestors set up a nation wherein any boy may aspire to anything. That great achievement was not wrought without blood and sacrifice. Make firm your resolution to carry on nobly what has been so nobly begun. Let this nation, under your influence, be a finer nation. Resolve that the sacrifices by which your great opportunities have been purchased will be matched by a sacrifice, on your part, that will give your children even a better chance.

“The third is a reverence for God. It is hard to see how a great man can be an atheist. Without the sustaining influence of faith in a divine power we could have little faith in ourselves. We need to feel that behind us is intelligence and love. Doubters do not achieve; skeptics do not contribute; cynics do not create. Faith is the great motive power, and no man realizes his full possibilities unless he has the deep conviction that life is eternally important, and that his work, well done, is a part of an unending plan.

“These are not only some of the fundamentals of the teachings of the Boy Scouts, they are the fundamentals of our American institutions. If you will take them with you, if you will be living examples of them abroad, you will make a great contribution toward a better understanding of our country, and receive in return a better understanding of other countries; for you will find in foreign lands, to a very large extent, exactly what you carry there yourselves. I trust that you can show to your foreign associates in the great scout movement that you have a deep reverence for the truth and are determined to live by it; that you wish to protect and cherish your own country and contribute to the well being, right thinking and true living of the whole world.”

As the boys embarked on the first of many great life adventures, they would carry the President’s words with them. They would not only win first place among the boys of 30 other nations participating in the events at Copenhagen, they would share a discipline and reverential character for the outdoors, law and God with the rest of the world. They would exemplify the best of America and the moral fundamentals impressed upon them by President Coolidge would stay with them forever.

Photographed here during the 16th Annual National Council of Boy Scouts, May 1, 1926 (two years after his telephone message), President Coolidge would present the first Silver Buffalo Awards in recognition of distinguished service in the Scouts, saying, “The more I have studied this movement, its inception, purposes, organization, and principles, the more I have been impressed. Not only is it based on the fundamental rules of right thinking and acting, but it seems to embrace in its code almost every virtue needed in the personal and social life of mankind. It is a wonderful instrument for good. If every boy in the United States could be placed under the wholesome influences of the Scout program, and should live up to the Scout Oath and rules, we would hear fewer pessimistic words as to the future of our nation.”

Photographed here during the 16th Annual National Council of Boy Scouts, May 1, 1926 (two years after his telephone message), President Coolidge would present the first Silver Buffalo Awards in recognition of distinguished service in the Scouts, saying, “The more I have studied this movement, its inception, purposes, organization, and principles, the more I have been impressed. Not only is it based on the fundamental rules of right thinking and acting, but it seems to embrace in its code almost every virtue needed in the personal and social life of mankind. It is a wonderful instrument for good. If every boy in the United States could be placed under the wholesome influences of the Scout program, and should live up to the Scout Oath and rules, we would hear fewer pessimistic words as to the future of our nation.”

On What Makes Heroism

Colvill_MonumentFew today are likely to hear the name of William Colvill with anything more than a passing acknowledgement. Other than to historical enthusiasts, what Colonel Colvill did and why it is important are even more obscure to most people today. Yet, a memorial in his honor still stands an hour south of Minneapolis in the town of Cannon Falls, Minnesota. Here President Coolidge came down from Wisconsin, where he and Mrs. Coolidge were staying that summer, to dedicate the improved monument to the late Colonel on July 29, 1928, almost eighty-six years ago.

In his dedication address, President Coolidge offered more than the typical niceties and platitudes politicians evoke on such occasions. Coolidge actually reflected on the meaning of heroism and after explaining how Colvill earned that distinction, he ventured into the virtual minefield of political-geographical relations to conclude that what Colvill and his fellow soldiers of the First Minnesota did resulted in a better America, both North and South.

Mr. Colvill at the Monument to the valiant First Minnesota at Gettysburg, 1897.

Mr. Colvill at the Monument to the heroic Americans of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg, 1897. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

“Heroic deeds have about them an element of immortality. We stand in reverence before those who perform them and cherish their memory down through the ages because we recognize in them the manifestation of a spiritual life, the evidence of things not seen, a presence which was without beginning and is without end, a power that lifts men above the things of this earth into the realm of the divine. Except as we cherish a belief in these realities, we should have no requirement for heroic deeds and no reverence for those who do them.” “Because of their very nature,” Coolidge declared, “because a knowledge of them inspires us to higher things, it is altogether fitting that we should assemble on this Lord’s Day to reconsecrate ourselves by dedicating a memorial to one of the heroes of…Gettysburg.” Without a constant response to “that high conception of eternal duty” there can be no heroes. A reverence for the memory of those who sacrificed in its call reaffirms our belief in “right and truth and justice,” even when it requires the giving of “life itself” to support and sustain it.

A nation’s heroes, what today might be called “role models” declare in a way no other expression can whether it believes that truth exists, right is worth defending and justice can be realized. “Heroism,” after all, as Coolidge reminds us, “is not only in the man but in the occasion. While there is a certain glamor which attaches itself to the peril which the highwayman and the bandit incur in their criminal activities, it is not genuinely heroic. It will not survive analysis. It leads nowhere. Having no moral quality, it provides no inspiration. It is only a counterfeit of the reality. If it is remembered at all, it is not as a blessing but as a curse.” The un-fulfilling fascination with moral deviancy from Jesse James and Al Capone all the way to Tupac Shakur and Ice-T affirms the soundness of Coolidge’s observations, especially when it comes to our heroes.

Colonel Colvill, 1863

Colonel Colvill, 1863

It was Colonel Colvill and the First Minnesota who turned the tide at Gettysburg on the second day of that three-day ordeal in July 1863. Just as the “overwhelming forces of the Confederates under Longstreet and Hill” were about to flank the vulnerable left side of the Union Army and proceed to roll up the entire force arrayed against them, the already depleted regiment of General Hancock, led by the eight weary companies of the First Minnesota under Colonel Colvill, rushed in to check the Confederate advance. When it was done, only 47 of the 262 men under Colvill still stood. “In all the history of warfare this charge has few, if any, equals and no superiors. It was an exhibition of the most exalted heroism against an apparently insuperable antagonist.” The actions of these Americans at so crucial a time meant something greater than preventing defeat at Gettysburg, when all was done, it saved the country, North as well as South.

“We may well stop to consider on this Sabbath Day what Power it was that stationed these men at this strategic point on this occasion, which held so much of the hope of humanity.” It was “the same Power which guided the path of the Mayflower, which gave our country Franklin and Washington, which brought this northwestern territory into the Union…and peopled it with freedom-loving immigration, which raised up Lincoln and Grant, which went to the rescue of liberty in Cuba and on the fields of France. Was it not the same Power which set these men as its sentinels on that July day to guard the progress of humanity? We we behold it all we can but conclude in the words of Holy Writ that, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’ “

But, someone may ask, how could this be after all that had happened to the South? Coolidge answers, “The time has come when our whole country can take a more dispassionate view of the long train of events that led up to Appomattox and the new constitutional guarantees of freedom to every inhabitant under our flag. Our national life was begun without any adequate and final declaration of the principle of freedom or demarcation of the line separating the authority of the States and the authority of the Federal Union. Some of the ablest minds of the country honestly differed in their interpretation of our institutions.” This was hardly the fault of that founding generation, it was left to later Americans to work out the never-ending task of self-government expressed in “a more perfect union,” a work that no single generation or region can complete on its own. Each generation has some great task to fulfill its part in the continuous renewal of liberty.

"First Minnesota at Gettysburg" by Don Troiani. Courtesy of the Minnesota National Guard. 262 Minnesotans charged 1,600 Alabamans to halt the Confederate effort to flank the Union Army, July 2, 1863.

“First Minnesota at Gettysburg” by Don Troiani. 262 Minnesotans charged 1,600 Alabamans to halt the Confederate effort to flank the Union Army, July 2, 1863. Courtesy of the Minnesota National Guard.

As opinions became increasingly intensified, the “irrepressible conflict” came. Standing removed from the heat of those events, Coolidge reminds his listeners down to this day that the South is “in many ways entitled to sympathy” not “blame.” The charge of guilt for slavery and its attendant destructiveness was not to be laid at the feet of that region in particular nor to America in general. It was a “net of circumstances” from which “it was totally unable to extricate itself” alone, despite its very best thinkers deploring conditions as they were. It was a “national tragedy” that involved all people, black and white, rich and poor, North and South. The entire country could only free itself “by an appalling national sacrifice.” No one section of the nation could do so by itself, it would take everyone together accomplishing something that no people had ever done before: the defeat of a deeply-rooted institution of human nature that had prevailed in all of mankind’s history by the ideal of moral equality before our Creator. No other nation had ever fought such a conflict for such eternal truth let alone done so successfully.

At the end of the conflict, Coolidge acknowledges, the North was “depleted” while the South was “entirely prostrated.” Though the North had an earlier start and easier task, “it was necessary” for the South “to go through the long and painful process of erecting an entirely new structure. The old methods of existence and of business had to be discarded and new systems established. This would have been most difficult under any circumstances. Coming at the end of four years of conflict, it was well-nigh impossible. But the task was performed slowly and imperfectly at first, but in recent years with a rapidity that seemed scarcely possible.” It is to the rise of this “new South,” in Coolidge’s own time, that the President turned with highest praise. The region that could have remained mired in victimhood, loss and defeat, was exemplifying for all the nation to see the exceptional resilience of American ideals. Agriculture had come back stronger than before but to this had been added the development of coal, iron, water power and manufacturing. It was especially to manufacturing that the South was rebuilding on foundations for which all ultimately had fought and sacrificed on both sides.

The Coolidges with Minnesota Governor Theodore Christianson in front of Colonel Colvill's memorial, July 29, 1928

The Coolidges with Minnesota Governor Theodore Christianson in front of Colonel Colvill’s memorial, July 29, 1928

Coolidge was not speaking in empty generalities, he reiterated firm facts everyone could observe: the South was rising anew. Forty per cent of goods imported overseas came from Southern ports. Manufactured products had nearly tripled in value in less than thirty years, totaling $9.5 million. Capital invested in the manufacture of cotton had risen from $130 million to $1 billion since 1900. Bank deposits had multiplied tenfold. Public improvements likewise illustrated exponential growth in just thirty, short years. Taking stock of these incredible achievements throughout the South, President Coolidge summarized, “It is perfectly apparent that in progress and prosperity the South is going forward in a way which it could never have done under the old system.”

These developments were neither surprising nor cause for lament to Coolidge, they were the results of freedom preserved by genuine heroes, both North and South. The great historical irony is that if Colvill had not checked the Confederates at Gettysburg, the immense blessings of a “new South” would have never come to so many Americans down to our current day. The South, with all its modern possibilities, would have never been built. After all, Coolidge notes, “It has been demonstrated that what never could have been created under a condition of servitude is the almost natural result of a condition of freedom. Human nature has been so designed that men are only at their best when they are permitted to live like men. It is when they are released from bondage of the body, given control over their own actions, receive the returns from their own labor, and released from bondage of the mind so that ignorance and superstition are replaced by education and moral influences, that most progress is made toward an enlightened civilization.”

Skylines of the “New South”

Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville, Tennessee

Mobile, Alabama

Mobile, Alabama

Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta, Georgia

Dallas, Texas

Dallas, Texas

Houston, Texas

Houston, Texas

Richmond, Virginia

Richmond, Virginia

Columbia, South Carolina

Columbia, South Carolina

This was not the work of one geographic segment of the country, however, it was lifting the entire Nation “into a new life with unparalleled swiftness,” giving labor “a new dignity throughout the whole country.” The expansion of American’s free markets some $35 billion since 1921 alone was not due to mechanical or material causes, they were only possible through the “spiritual regeneration of our country.” It was a laying aside of the “bitterness, hatred, and sectional animosities” which had “retarded” progress for years following the war. Attempting to keep “alive” these “hostile sentiments” for “political advantage” could no longer obtain an accepted place here. Racial and sectional prejudice, part of the human condition everywhere, would never be eradicated completely from every heart but they were alien to the outlooks and principles of reasonable Americans, North and South. A moral renewal had resulted in a material change. This perpetual division and sectional discord would not enjoy a place in the revitalization of America after the War had torn it apart. A new respect for each other must preside here. The floods that had inundated the lower Mississippi Valley that same spring confirmed the North and South were moving together past the old, wasteful and tired attitudes looking, instead, “with pride and satisfaction upon the brilliant contribution which the other is making to the national welfare.” Each part of America “just as eager to help the other as they are to help themselves.” Flood-relief demonstrated this by both levying a sum equal to the cost of the Panama Canal and being largely paid for by Northern states. Coolidge could joyfully commend everyone invested in America’s healing, affirming, “We are a united Nation.”

This was, essentially, why tens of thousands had come to Cannon Falls that day. Our heroes, like Colonel Colvill, inspire us to moral heights, or else they are not authentic heroes at all. The North and South had come back together on firmer foundations because Americans of all sections had risen to the occasion, sacrificing even life itself for the preservation of those “higher things,” the unseen realities, as Coolidge called them. Americans were rededicating themselves “to the support and preservation of those principles which have been revealed to us through the human understanding to be true and demonstrated through long experience to be sound.” Issuing from a renewed faith in those great ideals, all Americans, Coolidge concluded, “have come to increase our admiration for all that is heroic in life, to express our reverence for those who have made sacrifices for the well-being of their fellow men, to renew their fealty to the Constitution of the United States, to rejoice in the universal freedom which it guarantees and in the perfect Union which it has created, and finally for all these blessings in gratitude and humility to acknowledge our dependence upon the Giver of every true and perfect gift.” No firmer basis for summoning the heroism needed to reunite and redeem America can be found than this.

The President at Cannon Falls, dedicating Colvill's memorial

The President at Cannon Falls, dedicating Colvill’s memorial. Courtesy of the Hubbard County Historical Museum.

On Serving All Humanity in Disease Prevention and Medical Advancement

Courtesy of the University of Alabama, http://acumen.lib.ua.edu/u0003_0000581_0002917.

Courtesy of the University of Alabama, which now continues the work of the Gorgas Memorial Institute, http://acumen.lib.ua.edu/u0003_0000581_0002917.

Unable to meet with President Coolidge on October 2, 1923 as scheduled, Dr. Franklin Martin of the Gorgas Memorial Institute of Tropical and Preventive Medicine, left a simple request in his absence: would Coolidge accept the honorary Presidency of the Institute? The President, long appreciative of the strenuous endeavors by William C. Gorgas and his team in eradicating Yellow Fever and Malaria that had so long afflicted the people of tropical and semi-tropical regions, enthusiastically accepted and here writes one of the most expressive acceptance letters he ever wrote, commending a cause that meant a great deal to him. The work continued by the Institute in honor of the late Mr. Gorgas not only practiced the law of service but had accomplished immeasurable good for all people in the continued eradication of preventable diseases. To Coolidge, there was no virtue in allowing “the jungle” to consume a standard of living America had proven possible that in previous generations had been unknown even to monarchs. Neither progress nor justice resided in bringing standards back down for all alike. It meant keeping that standard increasingly as high as possible so that more instead of less can have a fuller life to give to those who do not have it now, at least on this side of eternity. Surrendering that fight to the elements would not only squander the great achievements of men like Gorgas and Dr. Martin but would endanger people all over the globe, plunging the world back into the dark reign of preventable disease and unnecessary loss. By accepting this honorary role, Coolidge was not assuming this work under government management but supporting the innovation and dedication of millions of individuals, empowered by freedom, to better the world through selfless service.

Addendum: Calvin Coolidge’s Advice for Voting, Campaigning and Governing

As a postscript to the wealth of good sense and political saavy of Calvin Coolidge presented yesterday, these four “honorable mentions” deserve further consideration, especially as this year has brought to the forefront things more important than the party affiliation of those seeking office. Character and qualifications are imperatives that can no longer be ranked as distant secondaries to appearances and external polish. This campaign has brought to front and center questions of where a candidate or officeholder lives or should live, how competent he or she is in representing our interests and how committed one remains to the day’s work, not merely the next election or the next political promotion. Coolidge, more timely now than ever, weighs in on all of these issues. After all, Coolidge reminds us that where a person lives is where the heart lives also and being faithful in small things makes one fit for greater things.

“They all taught me to be faithful over a few things. If they had any idea that such a training might some day make me a ruler over many things, it was not disclosed to me” — Coolidge from The Autobiography, 1929, p.19

Here Coolidge is alluding to the scene of final judgment described by the Lord in Matthew 25, verses 21 and 23; cf. Luke 16:10-12. The question Christ asks in Luke should be honestly answered by every candidate on the ballot this year: “If you have not been faithful in what is another man’s who will give you what is your own?” Coolidge unassumingly kept his focus on the work at hand, even when the lure of national prestige and popularity rose with the campaign of 1920, as he recounts, “I was Governor of Massachusetts, and my first duty was to that office. It would not be possible for me, with the legislature in session, to be going about the country actively participating in an effort to secure delegates, and I was totally unwilling to have a large sum of money raised and spent in my behalf.” Too many are concerning themselves with 2016, when there is work to be done today. How much better would office holders be if they adopted Coolidge’s attitude? Do the day’s work, make it your first duty and tomorrow will take care of itself.

“We liked the house where our children came to us and the neighbors who were so kind. When we could have had a more pretentious home we still clung to it. So long as I lived there, I could be independent and serve the public without ever thinking that I could not maintain my position if I lost my office. I always made my living practicing law up the time I became Governor, without being dependent on any official salary. This left me free to make my own decisions in accordance with what I thought was the public good. We lived where we did that I might better serve the people” — The Autobiography p.96

Whether the candidate actually lives in the same jurisdiction or district one is seeking to represent matters. It matters because voters need to know that the candidate is fully invested in what they are being elected to accomplish, that we are getting the best a candidate is and will do. It means living by the same rules you expect of others. If the candidate remains insulated from the consequences of his or her decisions, the responsibilities entrusted will neither be borne nor respected. Voters are seeking to learn whether the candidate is going to uphold integrity, serving self or for the genuine good of all those one is oath-bound to represent.

“I made progress because I studied subjects sufficiently to know a little more about them than any one else on the floor” — The Autobiography p.103

Some seek to distinguish themselves through grandstanding, boisterousness or the condescension of promoting big appearances with little substance. Coolidge demonstrated the quiet diligence of learning what the issues are, understanding the subjects under consideration not voting to learn what was in them. This measure of informed leadership is not to silence questions or win arguments but to understand the best course for responsible self-government. He advanced not by clever showmanship but by his grasp of public questions and human nature he proved qualified to speak and fit to lead.

Finally, “The requirements of the situation as it developed seem clear and plain now, and easy to decide, but as they arose they were very complicated and involved in many immaterial issues. The right thing to do never requires any subterfuges, it is always simple and direct. That is the reason that intrigue usually falls of its own weight” — The Autobiography p.133

Speaking of his part as Governor in the Boston Police Strike of 1919, Coolidge presents a maxim that applies to every time and place. Politics is so easily distracted from the essentials and as events unfold, peripherals crowd in to obscure what is fundamental. Coolidge reminds us to separate the extraneous from the essential, truth from falsehood, the constructive from the harmful, the eternal from the temporal. When that is done, the right course shines free of all pretense, sham and artificiality.