On What America (and the Whole World) Needs Now

“What America needs is to hold to its ancient and well-charted course. Our country was conceived in the theory of local self-government. It has been dedicated by long practice to that wise and beneficent policy. It is the foundation principle of our system of liberty. It makes the largest promise to the freedom and development of the individual. Its preservation is worth all the effort and all the sacrifice that it may cost.

“It can not be denied that the present tendency is not in harmony with this spirit. The individual, instead of working out his own salvation and securing his own freedom by establishing his own economic and moral independence by his own industry and his own self-mastery, tends to throw himself on some vague influence which he denominates society and to hold that is some way responsible for the sufficiency of his support and the morality of his actions.

“The local political units likewise look to the states, the states look to the nation, and nations are beginning to look to some vague organization, some nebulous concourse of humanity, to pay their bills and tell them what to do. This is not local self-government. It is not American. It is not the method which has made this country what it is. We can not maintain the western standard of civilization on that theory. If it is supported at all, it will have to be supported on the principle of individual responsibility. If that principle be maintained, the result which I believe America wishes to see produced inevitably will follow.

“There is no other foundation on which freedom has ever found a permanent abiding place. We shall have to make our decisions whether we wish to maintain our present institutions, or whether we wish to exchange them for something else. If we permit some one to come to support us, we can not prevent some one coming to govern us. If we are too weak to take charge of our own morality, we shall not be strong enough to take charge of our own liberty. If we can not govern ourselves, if we can not observe the law, nothing remains but to have some one else govern us, to have the law enforced against us, and to step down from the honorable abiding place of freedom to the ignominious abode of servitude.

“If these principles are sound, two conclusions follow. The individual and the local, state, and national political units ought to be permitted to assume their own responsibilities. Any other course in the end will be subversive both of character and liberty. But it is equally clear that they in their turn must meet their obligations. If there is to be a continuation of individual and local self-government and of state sovereignty, the individual and locality must government themselves and the state must assert its sovereignty. Otherwise these rights and privileges will be confiscated under the all-compelling pressure of public necessity for a better maintenance of order and morality. The whole world has reached a stage in which, if we do not set ourselves right, we may be perfectly sure that an authority will be asserted by others for the purpose of setting us right.” — Calvin Coolidge, Arlington Amphitheater, May 30, 1925

On Local Laxity and Disregard

“When the local government unit evades its responsibility in one direction, it is started in the vicious way of disregard of law and laxity of living. The police force which is administered on the assumption that the violation of some laws may be ignored has started toward demoralization. The community which approves such administration is making dangerous concessions. There is no use disguising the fact that as a nation our attitude toward the prevention and punishment of crime needs more serious attention…

“The conclusion is inescapable that laxity of administration reacts upon public opinion, causing cynicism and loss of confidence in both law and its enforcement and therefore in its observance. The failure of local government has demoralizing effect in every direction.

“These are vital issues, in which the nation greatly needs a revival of interest and concern. It is senseless to boast of our liberty when we find that to so shocking an extent it is merely the liberty to go ill-governed. It is time to take warning that neither the liberties we prize nor the system under which we claim them are safe while such conditions exist.

“We shall not correct admitted and grave defects if we hesitate to recognize them. We must be frank with ourselves. We ought to be our own harshest critics. We can afford to be...” — Calvin Coolidge, Arlington Amphitheater, May 30, 1925

President and Mrs. Coolidge bestowing honors at Arlington’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, May 30, 1925

On Localized Not Nationalized Responsibility

“People are given to thinking and speaking of the national Government as “the Government.” They demand more from it than it was ever intended to provide; and yet in the same breath they complain that federal authority is stretching itself over areas which do not concern it. On one side, there are demands for more amendments to the Constitution. On the other, there is too much opposition to those that already exist.

“Without doubt, the reason for increasing demands on the federal Government is that the states have not discharged their full duties. Some have done better and some have done worse, but as a whole they have not done all they should. So demand has grown up for a greater concentration of powers in the federal government. If we will fairly consider it, we must conclude that the remedy would be worse than the disease. What we need is not more federal government, but better local government. Yet many people who would agree to this have large responsibility for the lapses of local authority.

“From every position of consistency with our system, more centralization ought to be avoided. The states would protest, promptly enough, anything savoring of federal usurpation. Their protection will lie in discharging the full obligations that have been imposed on them. Once the evasion of local responsibilities becomes a habit there is no knowing how far the consequences may reach. Every step in such a progression will be unfortunate alike for states and nation. The country needs, in grappling with the manifold problems of these times, all the courage, intelligence, training, and skill that can be enlisted…” — Calvin Coolidge, Arlington Amphitheater, May 30, 1925