On the Individual

It was on Memorial Day in Northampton, 1923, that Vice President Coolidge said,

“…[I]f our republic is to be maintained and improved it will be through the efforts and character of the individual. It will be, first of all, because of the influences which exist in the home, for it is the ideals which prevail in the home life which make up the strength of the nation. The homely virtues must continue to be cultivated. The real dignity, the real nobility of work must be cherished. It is only through industry that there is any hope for individual development. The viciousness of waste and the value of thrift must continue to be learned and understood. Civilization rests on conservation. To these there must be added religion, education, and obedience to law. These are the foundation of all character in the individual and all hope in the nation.”

When Coolidge spoke of conservation here, he was speaking of its broad sense, the preservation of not merely material resources but moral ones. If the Republic is to continue, it will be due to the moral resources of the individual, not the powers of Government. He was no libertarian nor sympathetic to objectivism, both notions that would have struck him as self-defeating and short-sighted. He knew the individual was not liberated from public responsibilities to his or her neighbor. He also knew the government had a clear role to legislate and demand obedience to law. No man was absolutely free in the exercise of one’s rights or duties. Such was a responsibility to each other as we live together in society. His outlook was rooted in a far more resilient foundation, the example of service set by Christ.

It is the individual with the real power to uphold the soundness of our future. It was the deep reservoir of an individual’s moral capital that make civilization possible, the value of whom is bestowed by God, nurtured by the instructions of the home, instilled with virtues like thrift, strengthened by religious faith, and developed with an informed mind that retains reverence for the supremacy of the law upon all people. It was the individual that would keep Benjamin Franklin’s warning from fulfillment. A Republic, with duty-minded individuals such as Coolidge describes (as opposed to the self-centered or hedonistic) would find faithful men and women through whom to entrust its legacy to the next generation. Devoid of such individuals, no civilization is secure.

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