On Representing America’s Spirit

Hall of Flags, Boston. Photo credit: George Dow, 1964.

Officers and men of the United States Army:¹ 

In this room through which we are accustomed to pass with uncovered heads, you present today these flags which you have carried with so much credit to yourselves and your country and always to victory. These flags represent not only those who have borne and honored them, but those who may see them and be inspired by them in the years to come, not only those who gaze upon them now, but those who may gaze upon them with appreciation, as we do today. 

We are here to welcome the return of these flags as a memorial of a momentous period in our history. These flags are to remain not only as a memento of the history which is made today, but as an earnest of the history which is to come. Today you bear the voice of the Commonwealth in appreciation of the splendid service which you have rendered. 

Members of the 26th Infantry Division (“Yankee Division”) ascending the steps to the Hall of Flags, June 14, 1919. Photo credit: Leslie Jones Collection.
The “Yankee Division” formed in ranks at the Hall of Flags, June 14, 1919. Photo credit: Leslie Jones Collection.

It is a privilege to me to be here on this day, and to extend the recognition of the Commonwealth for your patriotic achievements by which you have honored your state not only, but also your whole country. Today it is a happy circumstance that you can represent America and the American spirit. It is worthy of the best in our past history. I recall the lines of the poet: 

‘Elect and thrice blest the Roman

Who sees Rome’s happiest day; 

Who sees that long victorious throng

Wind down the sacred way

And round the bellowing forum; 

And through the suppliant’s grove

Up to the everlasting gates 

of Capitolian Jove.’²

It is the true American spirit which you represent today and which you have illustrated and honored in the war. 

I accept these colors in behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I accept them from you who have come back to us from the war where they were borne and honored. They will remind all in the future of the devotion of the sons of the Commonwealth and they will be to all an inspiration to great achievements in the future. 

— Governor Calvin Coolidge, address in the Hall of Flags, June 14, 1919

 

¹ The 26th Infantry Division (YD, “Yankee Division”), the second division of the American Expeditionary Force to arrive in France following the First Division, the 26th would be the first National Guard unit organized, trained, and sent overseas. The YD spent 210 days in combat between landing in September 1917 and returning in March 1919, earned six campaign streamers for participation in the Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne offensives, the invasion of Ile de France, and Lorraine campaign. The YD also earned U. S. and French citations on nineteen occasions and included two posthumous recipients (PFC Dilboy and PFC Perkins) of the Medal of Honor. 

² “The Prophecy of Capys” from The Lays of Ancient Rome (1842) by Thomas B. Macaulay 

 

Happy Flag Day!

Calvin Coolidge and his sons, John (right) & Calvin Jr. (left), on Flag Day, 1919. Photo credit: Leslie Jones Collection.

On Labor Not Laurels

America cannot live on past glory alone. The work of a nation has never yet been done. 

‘Right forever on the scaffold, 

Wrong forever on the throne, 

But that scaffold sways the future, 

And behind the dark unknown

Standeth God within the shadow,

Keeping watch above his own.’¹ 

That the Pilgrims braved exile in a wilderness across the sea; that the Thirteen Colonies endured the sacrifices of a seven years’ revolutionary war; that the men of the North poured out their blood to preserve the Union, all the gleaming pages of our history, give us no title to luxurious ease, no freedom from conflict, no assurance of an effortless existence. 

‘Lo, all the pomp of yesterday

Is one with Nineveh and Tyre.’² 

The Coolidges receiving a veteran of ’61 at Plymouth Notch. Photo credit: Leslie Jones Collection.

We must have the resolution now to dare and do; we must have the spirit now to overcome, which inspired the men who followed [John] Carver, Washington, and Lincoln. Of course we look to the past for inspiration, but inspiration is not enough. We must have action. Action can come only from ourselves; society, government, and state, call it what you will, cannot act; our only strength, our only security, lies in the individual. 

American institutions are builded on that foundation. That is the meaning of self-government, the worth and the responsibility of the individual. In that America has put all her trust. If that fail, democracy fails, freedom is a delusion and slavery must prevail. 

We have come to the time when we must prove ourselves. The great crisis is at hand. Had Washington, or Lincoln, or McKinley failed, the torch of liberty would have been dimmed but not extinguished. Failure now means the night of despotism, it means that another Caesar is to rule, another Praetorian Guard will sell the purple to the highest bidder. 

Vercingetorex throws down his arms at the feet of Julius Caesar by Lionel Noel Royer, 1899

But we are not to fail. The individual is responding. Ten millions of our youth have enrolled. Evasion is almost negligible. The wealth of the Nation has volunteered. All the material and men for war are forthcoming. 

In recognition of what you have done, of what you are ready to dare, of that last full measure of devotion you are offering to your country, I have been given the privilege of presenting to you this guidon, donated by one of your Lowell citizens. It is presented not to your commanding officer, not to some worthy color bearer, but to every individual of your Battery B. Take it. Bear it for America, for Truth and Freedom, ‘Truth coming from whatsoever source and Freedom knowing no bounds but those which Truth has set.’ 

— Lieutenant Governor Calvin Coolidge, on the presentation of a silk guidon to Battery B, 2nd Field Artillery, at Lowell, Massachusetts, June 15, 1917. 

 

D-Day (June 6, 1944) remained almost twenty-seven years in the future but Coolidge reminds us, looking ahead to some of the most intense fighting of the Great War, that our freedom can end when we cease to fight for it. May we not forget. 

¹ “The Present Crisis” by James Russell Lowell, 1845; The poem opens with the lines:

‘When a deed is done for Freedom, through the broad earth’s aching breast 
Runs a thrill of joy prophetic, trembling on from east to west,         
And the slave, where’er he cowers, feels the soul within him climb 
To the awful verge of manhood, as the energy sublime        
Of a century bursts full-blossomed on the thorny stem of Time.’               

² “Recessional” by Rudyard Kipling, 1897

On Democratic Tendencies

A later Mr. Coolidge giving a speech. Photo credit: Leslie Jones Collection.

Every Democratic platform is a strange mixture of a promise of economy and a promise of more reforms that mean only more taxes and more debt. Now, I doubt if this expense can be materially decreased. I have made that statement during this campaign. It is confirmed by my experience as the Mayor of a city and by a study of the state finances. I do believe a Republican governor can check it, and I am as firmly convinced that a Democratic administration will increase it. 

It is the policy of the Democratic party in these days to have government do everything. There is scarcely an activity of life which the Democratic party will not vote to turn over to the government…The framers of our government had seen the evils of government monopoly; they knew from experience that government business meant an end of private business. They believed in the freedom and the independence of the individual. They drew a constitution that prohibited the use of public money for private purposes with the same care that it prohibited the creation of a nobility. Now the Democratic party is attempting to repeal this constitution. They are attempting to create a nobility in business, supplied with public money, supported at public expense, against which the private individual will be as powerless as the serf was powerless against the noble. That is the real meaning of government ownership — the limitation and the extinction of personal freedom and personal independence. 

There is another tendency of Democratic principles in the limitation of freedom. We are extending government aid in all directions — much of it helpful, much of it necessary, but it is a dangerous tendency. We ought to create opportunity; we ought to give every protection. But we ought not to provide a privileged class at the expense of the tax-payers. We ought not to work toward a condition where one class lives on the government and the other class pays the taxes. I want to repeat that self-government means self-support. 

We have established great supervising bureaus. They have enormous inquisitorial powers. They may be made instruments of good or of great evil. They are both state and federal. We call them Boards and Commissions. They need men of the broadest outlook. Their duties should be supervision and control — not operation. They should stand in the place of policemen, not of owners. Under Democratic theories and Democratic opportunities, this distinction is breaking down. The industries of the State do not object to all reasonable police supervision. They cannot remain independent and have government operation. The Democratic party in state and nation is making an experimental laboratory of our industries. Under this system, independence will vanish. The whim of an inspector is set over the operation of all business. 

We do not object to supervision. The Republican party established it. We do object to attempted operation without responsibility. Here is where the state and nation needs the return of our party to power. Ruthless and unskilled interference is breaking down our industries. The slim margin of profit is vanishing under the expense of unbusinesslike restrictions. You need the Republican standard in the appointing power; you need it to control and supervise Commissions. Unless this is speedily restored, danger and destruction wait…

Give us a Republican administration that will make appointments on merit, not political expediency. Let us return to Republican ideals of supervision under the law; we do not need more legislation. Repeal even is unnecessary. What Massachusetts needs — what the Nation needs — is a wise administration of the law. Look not to the legislature for relief — look to the executive. 

— Senator Calvin Coolidge, Address in East Boston, September 2, 1915

The Coolidges receiving visitors at the Homestead in Vermont. Photo credit: Leslie Jones Collection.