“Law and Order,” 1920

“Law and Order,” 1920

In 1920, even as Calvin Coolidge would become Vice President-elect, few suspected that his voice, as clear and well-suited for radio as it was, would become a frequent part of life in the coming decade. As he would tell Senator James Watson, “I am very fortunate that I came in with the radio” (“As I Knew Them,” p.239). Jerry Wallace, in his superb book, “Calvin Coolidge Our First Radio President,” has found that not only was Coolidge the first to make full use of radio as President but he would become an instantly known and beloved voice of the era. As radio ownership would skyrocket in the 1920s, families would grow up with that distinctive “nasal twang” of President Coolidge on the waves. Of his one hundred and thirty-five Presidential speeches, including the first of his messages to Congress in December 1923, over thirty percent of those were delivered on the radio (some 40 messages, between 1923-1929). In this speech, Coolidge potently encapsulates his philosophy on government and citizenship. The text of this recording, produced by Nation’s Forum during the 1920 campaign to introduce the Harding-Coolidge team, is as follows:

“It is preeminently the province of government to protect the weak. The average citizen does not lead the life of independence that was his in former days under a less complex order of society. When a family tilled the soil and produced its own support it was independent. It may be infinitely better off now, but it is evident it needs a protection which before was not required.

Let Massachusetts continue to regard with the greatest solicitude the well-being of her people. By prescribed law, by authorized publicity, by informed public opinion, let her continue to strive to provide that all conditions under which her citizens live are worthy of the highest faith of man. Healthful housing, wholesome food, sanitary working conditions, reasonable hours, a fair wage for a fair day’s work, opportunity — full and free, justice — speedy and impartial, and at a cost within the reach of all, are among the objects not only to be sought, but made absolutely certain and secure.

Government is not, must not be, a cold, impersonal machine, but a human and more human agency: appealing to the reason, satisfying the heart, full of mercy, assisting the good, resisting the wrong, delivering the weak from any impositions of the powerful. This is not paternalism. It is not a servitude imposed from without, but the freedom of a right to self-direction from within.

Industry must be humanized, not destroyed. It must be the instrument not of selfishness, but of service. Change not the law, but the attitude of the mind. Let our citizens look not to the false prophet but to the pilgrims. Let them fix their eyes on Plymouth Rock as well as Beacon Hill. The supreme choice must be not to things that are seen, but to things that are unseen.

Our government belongs to the people. Our property belongs to the people. It is distributed. They own it. The taxes are paid by the people. They bear the burden. The benefits of government must accrue to the people. Not to one class, but to all classes, to all the people. The functions, the power, the sovereignty of the government, must be kept where they have been placed by the Constitution and laws of the people. Not private will, but that public will, which speaks with a divine sanction, must prevail.

There are strident voices, urging resistance to law in the name of freedom. They are not seeking freedom for themselves, they have it. They are seeking to enslave others. Their works are evil. They know it. They must be resisted. The evil they represent must be overcome by the good others represent. Their ideas, which are wrong, for the most part imported, must be supplanted by ideas which are right. This can be done. The meaning of America is a power which cannot be overcome. Massachusetts must lead in teaching it.

Prosecution of the criminal and education of the ignorant are the remedies. It is fundamental that freedom is not to be secured by disobedience to law. Even the freedom of the slave depended on the supremacy of the Constitution. There is no mystery about this. They who sin are the servants of sin. They who break the laws are the slaves of their own kind. It is not for the advantage of others that the citizen is abjured to obey the laws, but for his own advantage. That what he claims a right to do to others, that must he admit others have a right to do to him. His obedience is his own protection. He is not submitting himself to the dictates of others, but responding to the requirements of his own nature.

Laws are not manufactured. They are not imposed. They are rules of action existing from everlasting to everlasting. He who resists them, resists himself. He commits suicide. The nature of man requires sovereignty. Government must govern. To obey is life. To disobey is death. Organized government is the expression of the life of the commonwealth. Into your hands is entrusted the grave responsibility of its protection and perpetuation.”

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