On Juneteenth

To some men there are given a few great moments in life, while all the rest is commonplace. Lincoln had his great moments, for ‘he grew in stature and in wisdom,’ but he was never commonplace. He was marked by a solemn grandeur from the rude and lonely hut on the frontier until a nation stood beside his tomb. There was about him a dignity which no uncouthness of surroundings could blot out. He had a mind which no lack of letters could leave undeveloped. He had a faith which could move mountains. Two generations have sought out whatever could be associated with him, have read the record of his every word with the greatest eagerness, and held his memory as a precious heritage. Where he trod is holy ground. Yet never was a man more simply human...

He learned how to make facts clear and a principle of the law plain. Seeing his great ability, knowing his self-sacrificing honesty, the people came to have a great faith in him as he had a great faith in them. In the course of events he was sent to Congress…Nothing ever seemed to stand in the way of his being able to see the simple truth, and nothing ever seemed to move him from his wish to see the truth win. He had no will to fight for what was wrong. He might stay his hand for a while, but in the end, knowing the right, he held to it with a power which finally could not be overcome.

Coming home at the end of his term, he took up again the work of the law, but soon he had other work to do. There was never any question about what he thought of slavery. He hated it with the whole force of his whole being; but he believed not only in freedom, he believed in the Constitution of his country. He said that slavery was legal; that a Fugitive Slave Act would be valid. He had a great faith in the law. He knew that without it there would be no freedom. While he would stretch out no lawless hand against slavery, while he would observe the finding of the court in its favor, he was against its extension through the passage of any new law or the unwarranted interpretation of any old law. He was not a radical, but a conservative. He never sought to waste, but always to save. He had a love for his country so great, a faith in its people so deep, that he believed if the Union could stand according to the Constitution and the law the evil of slavery would finally fall of its own weight…

The story of this man spread…When the men of the new Republican Party met, many leaders had many different plans, but in the end the urge of the will of the people chose Lincoln. He was elected. He took office amid great stress and strain…Clearly, steadily, drawing those who loved their country more than all else around him, he kept one end alone in view, the saving of the Union…

He saw the failure of his armies through nearly two campaigns; then came Antietam. Knowing that the time for which he long had waited had come, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. He believed at last that it was possible, by breaking slavery, to keep the Union whole. Henceforth the war was not only to save the nation but to make it free…The great evil which had lain on the soul of the whole nation had been purged away by the awful scourge of war. The flag of our country had come to have the meaning which Webster said it should have. At last Liberty and Union were one and inseparable. In this hour, which was to him not one of triumph but of duty alone, the spirit of Lincoln, released from a life of anguish, returned to God who gave it…

So there came to an end this life in which the meaning of human existence reached its flood. It had within its scope every range of experience between the most humble and lonely beginning and the highest and most famous place that man could hold in all the world.

Who can look upon it and feel that stern circumstances have denied to any one a chance?

Who could know Lincoln and not have hope and faith?

He showed that the only bounds set to the height to which a man shall rise are those which he sets himself.

In the practice of law he never relied on deceit. In seeking office he used no pretense. The end he sought in life was truth through honesty. He wished to have what that could bring; no more. He did not ask that others should take his burden from him; he asked to take their burdens from them, humbly seeking the guidance of man and of God as to how it might be done. He worked with the Unseen.

What an answer he is to all those who would tear down.

All his work was to save and to build up. He wished to make himself better; he wished for gain; he wished for place. He did not try to get these by casting aside the only sure means by which they could had. He did not seek them without humility, without industry, without honesty, without forbearance, and without faith. He spoke against the seizing and pulling down of the house of another, and in favor of building up and making safe the house of oneself. He knew that those who made the best of what they had were the only ones who were sure to have more…

Lincoln made the same appeal to his countrymen which all great men have made. There was in it nothing small or mean. No man ever had a greater love of humanity. But it came not from his belief in their weakness but in their strength. His faith was not in the things of the flesh. He held out no promise of ease. He knew there could be no growth without toil, no character without effort. His faith was in the things of the spirit. He believed all men were great enough to be free. He besought them to strive mightily that they might come unto their true estate. He knew that freedom was not easy, that its burden was not light; that it could be only for those who dwelt in the high places; that to have it and keep it was a great task. But he did not hesitate to call the people up into the high places; he did not cease to urge that with increased devotion they should highly resolve to be dedicated to the great task. They heard and they obeyed.

The place which Lincoln holds in the history of the nation is that of the man who finished what others had begun. What they had dared to dream of, he dared to do. He does not lessen the glory of what they did, rather he adds to it. They built a base that was sound and solid. They left plans by which it was to be finished. The base which they made was the Union. The plans which they drew, and stated time and time again, were for a free people. But Lincoln rises above them all in one thing. He never halted; he never turned aside. He was no opportunist. He had no lack of tact. He had a mighty sense of what was timely. He was wise as a serpent. But he did not stop part way; he followed the truth through to the end. In this peculiar power it is not too much to say that he excels all other statesmen…

He answered for all time the question of whether the selfish interests of a part, or the greater interest of the whole should be supreme. This contest had been confined to no one locality and to no one issue. New England had turned to it when she thought it would make for her welfare. The South clung to it when she believed it was for her advantage. The National Union which Washington and Hamilton had formed, which Marshall had declared, which Webster and Jackson and Clay had defended, Abraham Lincoln saved, and saving, made it free…

He saw clearly that no free government could derive its just powers from anything less than a free people. What he saw, what he believed, when the time came he was ready to do. In all things he followed the truth to the end…

It is not to the city of Washington that men must turn if they would understand Abraham Lincoln…Too often the world turns its eyes to the high places, thinking that from them will come its revelations and its great events, forgetful that a greater wisdom is in those who ‘mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate.’ The greatest epoch in all human history began in a manger…

In the memory of these facts there lies a solid basis for our faith. There is in the people themselves the power to put forth great men. There is in the soul of the nation a reserve for responding to the call to high ideals, to nobility of action, which has never yet been put forth. There is no problem so great but that somewhere a man is being raised up to meet it. There is no moral standard so high that the people cannot be raised up to it. God rules, and from the Bethlehems and the Springfields He sends them forth, His own, to do His work. In them we catch a larger gleam of the Infinite.

— Calvin Coolidge, at Lincoln’s Birthplace in Springfield, Illinois, February 12, 1922

At the Lincoln Birthplace, Springfield. Photo credit: theworldaccordingtobarbara.com.

[Editorial Note: Are not, then, the dates of greater import, on which Juneteenth, ultimately, owes all of its significance, Independence Day on July 4, or perhaps the day Congress ended the slave trade (January 1, 1808), or perhaps the day on which the Emancipation Proclamation was publicly declared (January 1, 1863) or even the dates of passage — January 31, 1865; June 13, 1866; February 26, 1869 — or ratification by the states — December 6, 1865; July 9, 1868; February 3, 1870 — of what Coolidge would call the War’s “great freedom amendments”: the 13th, 14th, and 15th? Why should we celebrate the day an unfortunate few in Galveston, Texas, learned of the freedom that was already theirs…granted not by an army or local authorities but an Almighty God whose Father we all are?

Who else might have learned about the Proclamation well after its public announcement? Should their day of realization be excluded from the federal calendar? If so, why and, if not, where should it end? Should we not celebrate the day all earned it as Americans, born and yet unborn, without distinction of race, creed, color, background? Is this fragmentation of cultural identity, competition of interest, and outright Balkanization of the Union those who came before us, including Lincoln himself, not to mention generations of America’s melting pot of immigrants, of all colors, have striven to overcome?]

On Working Mightily for Freedom: Keeping Washington Out of New York and New York Out of Washington

If any one wishes to gauge the power which is represented by the genius of the American spirit, let him contemplate the wonders which have been wrought in this region in the short space of 200 years. Not only does it stand unequaled by any other place on earth, but it is impossible to conceive of any other place where it could be equaled…

When we contemplate the enormous power, autocratic and uncontrolled, which would have been created by joining the authority of government with the influence of business, we can better appreciate the wisdom of the fathers in their wise dispensation which made Washington the political center of the country and left New York to develop into its business center. They wrought mightily for freedom…

While I have spoken of what I believed would be the advantages of a more sympathetic understanding, I should put an even stronger emphasis on the desirability of the largest possible independence between government and business. Each ought to be sovereign in its own sphere. When government comes unduly under the influence of business, the tendency is to develop an administration which closes the door of opportunity; becomes narrow and selfish in its outlook, and results in an oligarchy. When government enters the field of business with its great resources, it has a tendency to extravagance and inefficiency, but, having the power to crush all competitors, likewise closes the door of opportunity and results in monopoly. 

It is always a problem in a republic to maintain on the one side that efficiency which comes only from trained and skillful management without running into fossilization and autocracy, and to maintain on the other that equality of opportunity which is the result of political and economic liberty without running into dissolution and anarchy…

When I have been referring to business, I have used the word in its all-inclusive sense to denote alike the employer and employee, the production of agriculture and industry, the distribution of transportation and commerce, and the service of finance and banking. It is the work of world. In modern life, with all its intricacies, business has come to hold a very dominant position in the thoughts of all enlightened peoples. Rightly understood, this is not a criticism, but a compliment. In its great economic organization it does not represent, as some have hastily concluded, a mere desire to minister to selfishness…

It is something far more important than a sordid desire for gain. It could not successively succeed on that basis. It is dominated by a more worthy impulse; it rests on a higher law. True business represents the mutual organized effort of society to minister to the economic requirements of civilization. It is an effort by which men provide for the material needs of each other. While it is not an end in itself, it is the important means for the attainment of a supreme end. It rests squarely on the law of service. It has for its main reliance truth and faith and justice. In its larger sense it is one of the greatest contributing forces to the moral and spiritual advancement of the race. 

…[T]he important and righteous position that business holds…is not exercised as has been the autocratic practice abroad of directly supporting and financing different business projects, except in case of great emergency; but we have rather held to a democratic policy of cherishing the general structure of business while holding its avenues open to the widest competition, it order that its that its opportunities and its benefits might be given the broadest possible participation…

While it is true that the Government ought not to be and is not committed to certain methods of acquisition which, while partaking of the nature of unfair practices, try to masquerade under the guise of business, the Government is and ought to be thoroughly committed to every endeavor of production and distribution which is entitled to be designated as true business…We are a politically free people and must be an economically free people…

It is notorious that where the government is bad, business is bad. The mere fundamental precepts of the administration of justice, the providing of order and security, are priceless. The prime element in the value of all property is the knowledge that its peaceful enjoyment will be publicly defended…

Regulation has often become restriction, and inspection has too frequently been little less than obstruction. This was the natural result of those times in the past when there were practices in business which warranted severe disapprobation. It was only natural that when these abuses were reformed by an aroused public opinion a great deal of prejudice which ought to have been discriminating and directed only at certain evil practices came to include almost the whole domain of business, especially where it had been gathered into large units. After the abuses had been discontinued the prejudice remained to produce a large amount of legislation, which, however well meant in its application to trade, undoubtedly hampered but did not improve…

Everyone knows that it was our resources that saved Europe from a complete collapse immediately following the armistice…Others did what they could, and no doubt made larger proportionate sacrifices, but it was the credits and food which we supplied that saved the situation…No positive and constructive accomplishment of the past five years compared with the support which America has contributed to the financial stability of the world…

Peace, we know, rests to a great extent upon justice, but it is very difficult for the public mind to divorce justice from economic opportunity. The problem for which we have been attempting a solution is in the first instance to place the people of the earth back into avenues of profitable employment. It was necessary to restore hope, to renew courage. A great contribution to this end has been made with American money. The work is not all done yet. No doubt it will develop that this has not been accomplished without some mistakes, but the important fact remains that when the world needed to be revived we did respond…The financial strength of America has contributed to the spiritual restoration of the world. It has risen into the domain of true business…

America must either perform her full share in the accomplishment of this great world destiny or fail. For almost three centuries we were intent upon our domestic development. We sought the help of the people and the wealth of other lands by which to increase our numerical strength and augment our national fortune. We have grown exceedingly great in population and in riches. This power and this prosperity we can continue for ourselves if we will but proceed with moderation. If our people will but use those resources which have been entrusted to them, whether of command over large numbers of men or of command over large investments of capital, not selfishly but generously, not to exploit others but to serve others, there will be no doubt of an increasing production and distribution of wealth…

If it is to have any continuing success, or any permanent value, it will be because it has not been brought about by one will compelling another by force, but has resulted from men reasoning together. It has sought to remove compulsion from the business life of the country and from our relationship with other nations. It has sought to bestow a greater freedom upon our own people and upon the people of the world. We have worshiped the ideals of force long enough. We have turned to worship at the true shrine of understanding and reason…

We can not listen to the counsels of perfection; we can not pursue a timorous policy; we can not avoid the obligations of a common humanity. We must meet our perils; we must encounter our dangers; we must make our sacrifices; or history will recount that the works of [George] Washington have failed. I do not believe the future is to be dismayed by that record. The truth and faith and justice of the ancient days have not departed from us. 

–Excerpts from President Coolidge’s speech on “Government and Business,” November 19, 1925

On What Actual Business Is

True business represents the mutual organized effort of society to minister to the economic requirements of civilization. It is an effort by which men provide for the material needs of each other. While it is not an end in itself, it is the important means for the attainment of a supreme end. It rests squarely on the law of service. It has for its main reliance truth and faith and justice. In its larger sense it is one of the greatest contributing forces to the moral and spiritual advancement of the race.

— Calvin Coolidge, excerpt from an address on “Government and Business” delivered before the New York Chamber of Commerce, November 19, 1925

President Coolidge welcoming riverboat operator & hero, Tom Lee, earlier that same year (May 1925). Photo credit: Library of Congress.