“Coolidge’s Lessons in Education and Idealism” by Carl M. Cannon

Portrait of Calvin Coolidge in pencil by Franklin P. Mead.

Portrait of Calvin Coolidge in pencil by Franklin P. Mead and signed by the President.

Mr. Cannon reminds us of one of then-Vice President Calvin Coolidge’s finest speeches on the importance of learning the classics. Coolidge knew that the classics held a treasure trove of insight and instruction, admonition and reward to those who exercised the effort. It taught that self-government is something more than license but self-mastery makes us fit for liberty. He warned against the danger then prevalent of an ignorance of the classics, thanks to a gradual removal from its place in education. It cut students off from historical memory and thus left them vulnerable to the slick salesmanship of ambitious and unscrupulous demagogues who would take advantage of that ignorance and dominate the people as a master to slaves. The ancients had ample experience with this old, tired system and they wrote against it, inspiring the Founders to construct a “mixed government” of republican virtue and constitutional balance opposed to the statist regimes of bureaucratic Europe. They chose deliberately and knowingly to empower all people as sovereign, an establishment of law as supreme rather than men born to rule or be ruled. That concept, learned from the classics and developed in the fires of the Founder’s practical experiences stands, if we have the will and the character to make it stand.

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