On America, Elections, and the Future

The first thought of the founders was to put their own house in order. They cut loose from all that bound them to any other people. It is well to remember that. We are Americans. Whatever we accomplish must be as Americans. The instrument of that accomplishment must be America. It is the part then not only of wisdom, but in the course of absolute necessity, that this nation build up in every way its internal strength. If that fails there is no hope, for there is no substitute…

The first American enterprise for public betterment, on the civil side, was the schoolhouse. Education lies at the beginning of all hope of advancement. We are too prone to take for granted that all our citizens, because of the public school, are educated. Such is far from the case. Millions are not only uneducated but are illiterate. There is no vaster problem of social improvement than the fundamental question of education. We have our public schools and state universities, committees, boards and commissions but the needs of education not only have not been met, they have not yet been adequately stated. The requirements are simply stupendous. We have only made a beginning. There is a larger need for education than ever before and out of our abounding resources that need must be met.

We need a broader education, not merely of the understanding, but of the sympathies and the sentiments. It is idle to give power with no disposition for its correct use. When the problem of education is properly solved most social problems will vanish…

Our country must reconstruct itself. The prodigal wastefulness, in private life and public administration, must either cease or there will be danger of a severe economic reaction. We must have less of government interference in business and more reliance of the people on themselves. Our great war debts must be met, but by a system of taxation that rests evenly on the broad shoulders of the great public. Inequalities of taxation, laid to make the public think some one else was paying the bill, have not been a success, for the public still pays, but in a way that increases discontent and the cost of living. Let us be honest with the public. All a mighty undertaking but not impossible for a great people under wise leadership.

The times are troubled. People are in a ferment. Unrest prevails at home. Discord is too prevalent abroad. No man and no party ought to be rash enough to promise the performance of plans for long in advance. It is a time when all must feel their way from day to day. But this is no excuse for failure to do our best.

In fact it is the uncertainty, whether men will continue to do their best, that raises doubts as to the future, in the public estimation. There will be doubt, there will be hesitation, there may be local disorders, but the heart of America is sound. Her people as a whole understand and believe in her institutions, because they are their own, with a faith and a loyalty never surpassed by the people of any other country. They would not need to be urged to defend their birthright, they are looking for the chance.

There is one other lesson that has come down to us, the most important of all. While there ought to be no limit to the duty of obedience to law, there is a very distinct limit as to what can be accomplished by law, and the agency of government. The finer things of life are given voluntarily by the individual or they are not given at all. The law can impress the body but the mind is beyond control. Discipline, faithfulness, courage, charity, industry, character, and the moral power of the nation, are not created by government. These virtues the people must provide for themselves. Neither public ownership, or any other socialistic device, can be a substitute for them…

You know the sources of these virtues and you know their power. On them depend the decision in all elections, wherever elections result in decisions and not accidents. The decision in this election will turn, not on an attitude toward world politics, but on the attitude toward the home…

Ultimately they will make their choice…not in response to the inquiry ‘Will it pay?’ but in response to that other inquiry, which searches the soul of the universe, ‘Is it right?’

— Calvin Coolidge, candidate for Vice President, excerpt from address given on August 12, 1920

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