“I am opposed to the practice of a legislative deception. It is better to proceed with candor…My oath was not to take a chance on the Constitution. It was to support it…We have had too much legislating by clamor, by tumult, by pressure. Representative government ceases when outside influence of any kind is substituted for the judgment of the representative. This does not mean that the opinion of constituents is to be ignored. It is to be weighed most carefully, for the representative must represent, but his oath provides that it must be ‘faithfully and impartially to the best of his abilities and understanding, agreeably to the rules and regulations of the Constitution and laws.’ Opinions and instructions do not outmatch the Constitution. Against it they are void…There can be no constitutional instruction to do an unconstitutional act” — Governor Calvin Coolidge, excerpt of veto message, May 6, 1920
Yesterday was Constitution Day. May it not pass this year as yet another burden on our calendar to reflect on the treasure a written Constitution has been. It provided things into which great men longed to look. Thrusting it aside so casually speaks not to our advancement but to our wholesale regression: necks offered to others to complacency wear the yoke over far more than the grievances that compelled the Declaration. Given an excellent opportunity to choose life over death, blessing over cursing, we stand at the place where a birthright is worth no more than lentils. Just as it was for Esau, there will be no instantly retrievable “do-over” once it is given away.
The end of the Great War was the defining national experience of Coolidge’s generation. It shaped the future in countless ways and left an abiding mark and enduring memory on all who lived to see it and witness its conclusion. While Coolidge himself would not live to see the Second Conflagration barely twenty years later, it was the Great War that ominously reminded everyone that all had forever changed. The Second War was not merely prompted by a generation who had forgotten that fact but rather it was provoked by those who never really understood the Great War’s cost. Those still living who had experienced that War and strove to avoid yet another one, were cast aside and disregarded in the reckless enthusiasm of envy, hatred, and the love of power.
Of the Great War’s profound impression on Coolidge, he would later write, “What the end of the four years of carnage meant those who remember it will never forget and those who do not can never be told.”
This day we remember September 11 of fifteen years ago, a day that changed everything forever. We are reminded that while the Great War’s end came with immense relief and even joy, the same flippancy toward its costs, and an erosion of its remembrance is happening with the passage of time toward 9-11. “Those who remember it will never forget and those who do not can never be told.” It is human nature to regard history as starting with one’s birth but it is a tendency we surrender to at our peril.
May this day – remembering most of all whom and what have been lost – always give us sincere pause and humble reflection. May we never forget the enormous and irreplaceable price it still exacts.