On Understanding the Real America

The medal presented to President Coolidge by the Union League. The inscription, Amor Patriae Ducit meaning, "Love of Country Leads." could not more aptly suit its recipient.

Here a copy of the medal presented to President Coolidge by the Union League. The inscription, Amor Patriae Ducit meaning, “Love of Country Leads,” could not more aptly suit its recipient.

Engraving work done by Julio Kilenyi, 1927.

Engraving work done by Julio Kilenyi, 1927. The medal was struck by Medallic Art Company, Philadelphia.

The recent comments of Representative Sheila Jackson Lee — that if America opposes the push to grant amnesty to an estimated five million illegal aliens it would somehow be remiss on an obligation to the world — portray a far different country than the rest of us know and love. Where Lee sees only the unfairness of those who have it so good while the rest of the world has it so bad, we who understand the real America respect first of all why she is different. In a word, liberty. She is not different because of better genetics, higher moral character or material exploitation. She is different because of her founding ideals. She is different for her servant’s conscience not her nation-building adventurism. We who understand this know her selflessness, her untiring generosity, and readiness to give heart, body and treasure to those in need within the law. Americans reject the flagrant abuse of its standards and will shun the rewarding of the vicious and unscrupulous at the expense of the law-abiding and honest. Lee seeks to overturn that norm with a blind approval to all the world’s worst deviants because we, not by their choice, made them that way by the very success of the Declaration and Constitution, the building blocks of principled self-government and equality under the law, and thus, we owe them.

The “melting pot” of assimilation has been unfair to these delinquents, according to Lee. In reality, Lee’s intentional maligning of America is merely extortion by guilt on a grand scale, exacting the fruits of many generations’ work to be given to those unwilling to labor for it now but still feel entitled to enjoy freedom’s results without any of the responsibilities for their continuance. Given the first step toward legal permanence, these individuals (allowed to cut in line ahead of thousands waiting legal entry) are being promised the benefits without the burdens of full citizenship. Coolidge challenges us to understand the authentic America, by taking stock of her history, respecting her ideas, and participating in the ongoing duties and opportunities afforded to everyone willing to work hard for them lawfully. After reading Cal’s incredible address, we begin to catch a glimpse of that real America, not the “selfish” chimera Lee confuses with her country. It is, by the way, a country in which she has experienced remarkable success. Can she honestly say it has been selfish and unfair to her?

Standing on the occasion of the sixty-fifth anniversary of an organization, formed in the midst of the War between the States to defend and perpetuate the principles of the founding and preservation of the American Union, President Calvin Coolidge was awarded, on November 17, 1927, the Union League Medal in recognition of his many years of faithful service in public life. It was here that Coolidge turned his listener’s attention not to the greatness of the League’s honored guest but upon what America truly is, accompanied by a dutiful demand to honestly understand, admire, respect, and help preserve what makes it so great. There could be no honest hostility to what America actually meant and what it had achieved in less than two hundred years when properly understood in light of the millennia of human nature’s experience. Coolidge explains,

“Members and Guests of the Union League:

“Both because of the conditions that brought the Union League of Philadelphia into existence, and the patriotic devotion which has characterized its history for more than three-score years, it is especially gratifying to me to receive the mark of approbation of my public services which it has bestowed. Because it has so seldom used this method in the expression of its sanction it is the more precious to those upon whom it is conferred. The knowledge of your favor publicly declared will add increased force to the well-known admonition, not to be weary in well-doing, in the discharge of my office…

“In that time of deep distress a little band of less than a score of men met and determined to associate themselves together to support the Government of their country and further the cause of national defense. They became an example to be followed in many other sections. From such beginnings this great institution has been created. It now represents a membership running into the thousands, holding an extensive property, and exerting a profound influence for sound principles of government. If we seek for the main motive which has produced these marvelous results, we shall find that it is an abiding faith in America.

“I do not mean by America merely that territory stretching from ocean between the Great Lakes and the Rio Grande. That country has lain there throughout the age with its rich plains and mighty forests, its vast deposits of minerals, the far reaches of its watercourses, and all its other natural resources. But, as such, it cast no influence over the lot of humanity. It was only with the coming of the white races of the seventeenth century that it began a career which has raised it to its present place in the world. Its physical attributes lay dormant until their power was released by the hand of man.

“America is much more than a geographical location. It is a combination and a relationship. It is the destiny of a masterful, pioneering people, enduring all the hardships of settling a new country, determined to be free. It is the Declaration of Independence and the Federal Constitution, with a system of local self-government. It is the development of the farm, the factory, and the mine, the creation of a surpassing commerce, and the opening of vast lines of travel by sea and land, with broadening opportunity for education and freedom for religious worship. Our country is the result of incomprehensible triumph, conferring upon its own people untold material and spiritual rewards and indirectly raising the standards of the world. It is a combination of all these elements, with their past history and their present aspirations, that we refer to as America.

“This nation to-day can not be compared with what it was in 1862It could not be denied that under such conditions there was some reason for apprehending that the Government, the institutions, and the organization of society, which had been established here, were not sound and could not gather sufficient support for their perpetuation. Yet, notwithstanding this appearance, which shook the confidence of so many, the founders of this league looked beyond the disorders of the hour, and, determining to support what was sound and right and reform what was wrong, kept their faith in their country…

“If the founders of this league, under the circumstances of their time, were able nevertheless to believe in their country and raise a standard to which those who were determined upon its defense might repair, how much more ought we of this day and generation, the inheritors of all the advantages which their sacrifices secured, the most fortunate people on the face of the earth, not only to have, but by our actions constantly proclaim our faith in America.

“No one would claim that our country is perfect. No one with a proper sense of proportion, or even a limited knowledge of the world, is likely to make it the object of vainglorious boasting. Yet a moderate endowment of such sense and such knowledge ought to be sufficient not only to silence most of our critics and apologists, but to fill them with a wholesome respect and admiration. A nation which has raised itself from a struggling dependency to a leading power in the world, without oppressing its own people and without injustice to its neighbors, in the short space of one hundred and fifty years, needs little in the way of extenuation or excuse.

“But having faith in our country does not mean that we should be oblivious to or neglectful to its problems. The human race is finite. By its very character it is necessarily subject to limitations. We may have sound principles of government, but they will be administered only imperfectly. We may have wise laws, but they will be obeyed only partially. We may have judicious institutions of society, but they will be supported only incompletely. But because we can not expect perfection is no reason why we can not expect progress. In that field our success is unrivaled. The preeminence of America is unchallenged in the advance which it has made in promoting the general welfare of its people…

“To form all these people into an organization where they might not merely secure a livelihood, but by industry and thrift have the opportunity to accumulate a competency, such as has been done in this country, is one of the most marvelous feats ever accomplished by human society. It could never have been done without the utmost of private and public attention to the business side of life. Yet it has been done. The task is by no means complete, but the framework has been erected and no one can deny that the construction is making steady progress.

“The object of this economic endeavor has not been the making of money for its own sake. It certainly has not been for the purpose of endowing an aristocracy with wealth. It has been fostered and encouraged by the Government in order to provide the people at large with sufficient incomes to raise their standards of living to a position worthy of a free and enlightened nation. In the carrying out of this mighty project, which in its conception and its execution has never been surpassed by any effort for human advancement, our inhabitants have found the added benefit of a corresponding development of character. The results have reached into the humblest home in the land, carrying hope and cheer with the knowledge that the door of opportunity has been opened to them.

“It would be entirely wrong to assume that our present position has been secured as a result of accident. It has come from carefully thought our policy, which has been for the most part consistently followed. We have always held very strongly to the theory that in our country, at least, more could be accomplished for human welfare through the encouragement of private initiative than through Government action. We have sought to establish a system under which the people would control the Government, and not the Government control the people. If economic freedom vanishes, political freedom becomes nothing but a shadow. It has therefore been our wish that the people of the country should own and conduct all gainful occupations not directly connected with Government service. When the Government once enters a business it must occupy the filed alone. No one can compute with it. The result is a paralyzing monopoly…

“While we have placed the enterprise of the country unreservedly in private hands, we have adopted a system of government regulation and denounced by law restraints of trade and unfair practices in trade, in order that the public might have the full benefits of all fair competition and the opportunities of our commerce be equally free to all. Privilege has no place in either our political or economic system.

“Those are some of the economic results which have accrued from the American principle of reliance upon the initiative and the freedom of the individual. It is the very antithesis of communism, but it has raised the general welfare of the people to a position beyond even the promises of the extremists. Arising from this same principle is popular education,the right to justice, free speech, and free religious worship, all of which we cherish under the general designation of liberty under the law.

“We rest on these foundations. They have been the supports of an unexampled progress, prosperity, and general enlightenment. All of these look rather large to us now. It is probable that in the coming generations they will appear small. It is always necessary to keep in mind that we have not reached this point in our development without a world of struggle and effort, accompanied by many disappointments and many temporary recessions. We have demonstrated that we were able to meet adversity and overcome it. The test which now confronts the Nation is prosperity. There is nothing more likely to reveal the soul of a people. History is littered with stories of nations destroyed by their own wealth. It is true that we have accumulated a small but a blatant fringe of extravagance and waste, nourished in idleness, and another undesirable class who seek to live without work. A successful people are always a mark for the vicious and the criminal. But these are conspicuous mainly by contrast. The great mass of our people, whatever their possessions, are conscientious and industrious, seeking to serve humanity. They know that the doctrine of ease is the doctrine of surrender and decay. To the effort which built this country, they are giving increased effort to maintain it. The heart of the Nation is sound…

“These results have not been easy to accomplish. They have been extremely hard. They have been anything but commonplace. They mark a new epoch and set a new record in successful Government financing. The great burden of the work will be indicated when it is remembered that the Congress was called in extra session in the spring of 1921 and remained in session for nearly two years. The task is not yet completed, but we have reached the point where we can see the end. We are turning toward a new era.

“Because of the past insistence on economy in national expenditures, we are in a position to have further moderate tax reduction. But let it be remembered that tax reduction is possible solely on account of economy. Anybody can spend the money somebody else has saved. We can begin to consider internal developments. Each year $75,000,000 goes out of the Federal Treasury for constructing roads. Flood control must be completed. A waterway system for the Mississippi Valley and its tributaries, with one arm reaching to the Gulf, and another to the Atlantic, probably through the St. Lawrence, is only a question of time. The Colorado River project is pressing, the Columbia Basin not far distant. On the sea we shall round out our Navy with more submarines and more cruisers, and private ownership should provide it with an auxiliary merchant marine of fast cargo boats.

“On land we shall be building up our air forces, especially by encouraging commercial aviation. We wish to promote peace. We hold a great treasure. It must be protected. Our relationship with the vast territory between the Rio Grande and Cape Horn in a commercial way will become more intimate. Much of that country could be greatly benefited by lines of aviation, which we should hasten to assist them to open. A good system of highways should join the principal points in North and South America. While their own governments must necessarily build these, we can assist in their financing. These will be some of the rewards of a judicious management of the national finances.

“Our rise in the world has given us new problems, new responsibilities, both domestic and foreign. The web of our affairs is extremely delicate, extremely intricate. Producing, transporting, marketing, financing, all require a higher skill, a more intelligent organization than under a less developed, less prosperous people. It is, in fact, that skill and that intelligence which have been the measure of our success. The entire life of the Nation, all its economic activities, have become so interrelated that maladjustment in any one of them is sufficient to cause serious disarrangement in all the rest. We have become one Nation. We can only survive through the most elaborate system of concerted action. Any part which fails to function is chargeable with disloyalty to the whole people.

“We have been drawn into close relationship with other nations. As inventions have closed up the intervals between different countries they have been brought nearer together, not only physically but economically and morally. We are more concerned than ever with our foreign affairs. The wealth of our people is going out in a constant stream of record dimensions for restoration and development in all parts of the world. We want our moral influence to be on the side of liberty, of education, of fair elections, and of honest constitutional government. Where our obligations to our own citizens under international law have required it we have extended our help to those who were attempting to secure these results. But we have refrained from meddlesome interference, because we recognize not only the right but the necessity for each people to work out their own destiny.

“This, I believe, is a fair representation of what has been taking place in the immediate past, and what we may hope for in the immediate future. Rightly understood, there is no more sensational story of human experience. Society is made up of constants and variables. The variable attract us by their contrasts and are always appearing in the headlines. But the constants always predominate, always push ahead in the march of progress. We hear enough of criticism, we hear enough of the evil; but we must not forget commendation, we must not forget the good. This is our Government. This is our society. This is our country. It is solid, sound, secure. It is for us to put forth sufficient effort to keep it so. It is for us to maintain inviolate that profound faith so grandly exemplified by the founders of this league in all things that are American.”

President Coolidge being presented with the Union League Medal for his many years in service to the health and preservation of America's Union of States.

President Coolidge being presented with the Union League Medal for his many years in service to the moral strength, economic growth and preservation of America’s Union of States.

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