“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
“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).
“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
Hendrik Booraem V has performed an impressive and unique contribution to the study of our thirtieth president. Carving his niche in relating the lives and eras of Presidents when they were young men, Mr. Booraem focuses in this work on the first twenty-three years of Cal Coolidge’s life. Booraem takes us along with young Coolidge through his rural upbringing, study at Black River Academy and St. Johnsbury, his time at Amherst and finally his dilemma in choosing a career. He studiously avoids the familiar terrain of previous biographies, the man as President, and only connects who he was with who he would be at the close of this book. Even then, he never indulges in any kind of narrative by which Coolidge’s rise was inevitable or foreseen. In fact, Booraem presents the red-headed young man with that justified infusion of sympathy and respect that makes a fair-minded understanding possible. As such, Booraem gives proper place to the long correspondence between Calvin and his father as well as Coolidge’s much-underrated but actually revealing Autobiography.
Booraem has presented his subject carefully despite the gaps in the record that consternate every Coolidge researcher. We are guided back to the quiet, secluded countryside of Plymouth Notch, to meet the rugged families of that area and discover that the place and time were colorful and exciting in their own independent way. We meet Cal’s father, mother and sister, his grandparents and the aunts and uncles he regarded so dearly. We learn that while the shy Vermonter inherited much from his forbears, he remained enigmatic even to neighbors. A keen consciousness of his frailty and proximity to death remained a force in how his life unfolded the way it did. It was assumed he would succumb early as his mother had. He outlived those early expectations and achieved incredible success when all indications of personality and energy seemed to circumvent that. As Booraem notes, Cal turned out to have “abilities in such abundance” that few can make sense of him at initial glance. Some biographers stop trying and are content to caricature him instead of attempting to understand him. Booraem avoids this pitfall and introduces us to a young American boy growing up in the 1890s whose reticence conceals much more than meets the eye. Booraem’s style is analytical but fluid. He succeeds in exploring that line that has eluded so many between “Coolidge the Vermonter” and “Coolidge the human being.” It makes for a fascinating read in psychology as much as biography and is difficult to put down. It is full of many of the same life struggles and questions, uncertainties and successes, of any young person today. I enthusiastically recommend it.
Thanks to Booraem’s painstaking efforts, we see Calvin in a fuller light than others have recognized. We find Calvin’s interest in the whimsical and theatrical as a youngster, the development of his wit and intellectual “power,” as he would call it. We see his love for and skill in the art of debate and rhetoric. We see him as the quiet observer rather than the energetic doer. Yet, by the end of the book, the stage is set for what Coolidge would become. It was not that college had changed him, he remained the same through his time there. Those four years would simply reveal and refine what was already present within him. Booraem shows that he developed quietly on his own, not in seclusion, but as the solitary young man in the crowd who watches, learns and improves through diligent work. He was no athlete but possessed a much more enduring kind of strength. He had friends, to be sure, Hardy and Deering foremost of all, but he was his own person. He knew who he was and what he learned from Morse, Garman and the rest, confirmed his confidence in that fact.
While some lived fast and hard, usually dying young as a result, that life held no charm to Cal who wisely perceived its folly without needing to experiment in it. Yet, he was ready for death, should it come. The maxim he would repeat in maturity, “Do the day’s work,” captures both that focus on today — not entertaining long-term plans — but also the care, thought and integrity invested in the tasks at hand. Above all, we catch a view of Calvin, not as a fully-developed POTUS at age twenty-three, but as approaching the worthy man he aspired to be, a boy in search of his father’s approval, but also an intelligent, earnest, kind-hearted, and capable person. Coolidge was a complicated personality, but, as Mr. Booraem reveals, he was also a heroic one, deserving our admiration and, in not insignificant ways, our emulation.
You can find Mr. Booraem’s fine book here.
In Robert J. Thompson’s fabulous compilation of Coolidge quotations up to 1924, entitled Adequate Brevity, there can be found some of my favorite thoughts regarding us, The People. The truth of these insights was grounded upon an unshakable confidence in people qualified to govern themselves, Coolidge held. It was a personal obligation and a public power in each American that remained very obvious to him all of his life. Too many folks today are prepared, however ill at ease they are doing so, to abdicate their fitness to speak up when things are wrong, when justice cries out that what is going on throughout this country needs someone to say the truth, pronounce what is reasonable to a situation otherwise stripped of all sanity or sense. The hold of political correctness only works when we cooperate and conform to this absurd game of national suicide. Refuse to play that game, being guilted into an unending atonement for someone else’s sins, perceived or real. Meanwhile, the current culprits of criminal wrongs in public office escape electoral consequences, passing accountability ultimately on to us for their inadequacies. Coolidge understood that our system was too important to leave to “experts” who, by virtue of their superior station or class, are somehow best suited to manage our freedoms, making our public decisions for us. We are absolutely qualified to weigh in on what is going on right now, to participate in our governance, to make and repeal our own laws, to choose who is worthy to represent us, The People, and decide as a people what kind of nation we are to be. These and so many other matters are not beyond our “pay grade” to determine. Coolidge’s thoughts on us, The People, could not be more timely, especially as Election Day draws near.
“The ultimate decision of all questions of law and justice rests with the people themselves. They have the complete authority to enlarge or diminish, to support and to overthrow.”
He also said,
“In the last resort the people are the military power, they are the financial power, they are the moral power of the government. There is and can be no other.”
Again, he said,
“What they [the people] think determines every question of civilization.”
He even met one of today’s common threats that we, mere amateurs, better keep quiet or else face the public ostracism of politically incorrect felonies of racism, sexism, bigotry, homophobia, extremism, or any of the other labels attributed to anyone brave enough to make themselves a target by speaking truth honestly, earnestly and plainly,
“Of course it would be folly to argue the people cannot make political mistakes. They can and do make grave mistakes. They know it, they pay the penalty, but compared with the mistakes which have been made by every kind of autocracy they are unimportant.”
“Unless the people struggle to help themselves, no one else will or can help them. It is out of such struggle that there comes the strongest evidence of their true independence and nobility, and there is struck off a rough and incomplete economic justice, and there develops a strong and rugged national character.”
“The power to preserve America, with all that it now means to the world, all the great hope that it holds for humanity, lies in the hands of the people.”
“There are now no pains too great, no cost too high, to prevent or diminish the duty that wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, be generally diffused among the body of the people.”
Well said, as always, Mr. Coolidge.
Married on October 5, 1905, in the parlor of the Goodhue home, they enjoyed twenty-seven years together. Their love endured those dark days of losing a son and the best of times inundated by the limelight. She always respected and honored him and he steadfastly adored and loved her. Happy Anniversary, Mr. and Mrs. Coolidge!