On Lessons from Phillips Andover

Celebrations at Andover as the Coolidges arrive, May 19, 1928

Celebrations at Andover as the Coolidges arrive, May 19, 1928

It was on this day eighty-six years ago that the President and First Lady came to Andover, Massachusetts, to join in the celebrations of one of the oldest chartered secondary schools in America, marking its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary, May 19, 1928. Phillips Andover, established in 1778, is now two hundred and thirty-six years of age, virtually born with the country. While it has built a long and distinguished reputation, with alumni including two presidents, numerous judges, educators, scholars, statesmen, entrepreneurs, architects, diplomats, military heroes, economists, authors and actors, from Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1825) and Frederick Law Olmstead (1838) to Bill Belichick (1971) and John F. Kennedy Jr. (1979). It is necessary, however, to do more than take stock of where we now are but look back at the foundations of this institution for a renewed sense of purpose and revitalized direction ahead. Coolidge calls us to reflect on the man whose devoted character established this academy and who still summons all Americans to live worthy of its ideals.

President Coolidge addressing the crowds at the Academy

President Coolidge addressing the crowds at the Academy

President Coolidge, addressing the crowds in Andover that day, said,

“My Fellow Citizens:

“It is more than the passage of time that brings us here to observe and celebrate this anniversary of Phillips Academy. One hundred and fifty years is a very respectable period of modern history. The number of chartered institutions which can claim an existence of that length is not large. The significance of this occasion, however, lies not in the number of days but in the importance of purpose and the magnitude of accomplishment. This institution had its beginnings in a very interesting era. The morning mist at Lexington and Concord had scarcely been dissipated. The Declaration of Independence was still a novelty. Liberty and independence were in the making. A new nation was coming into existence. Men were turning toward the dawn, intent upon establishing institutions stamped with their own individuality…

“…The new academy was to represent the spirit of the time. It stood upon foundations that were deeply religious. Its first and principal object was declared to be ‘the promotion of true piety and virtue. It provided instruction in the classics, the sciences, and the arts’…But this academy was conceived to have a broader purpose than to serve any profession or class, and it was therefore dedicated to teaching students ‘the great end and real business of living.’ It was to be ‘ever equally open to youth of requisite qualifications from every quarter.’ It was to be a national school of breadth and vision, of freedom and of equality, dedicated without reserve to the service of God and man.

Judge Samuel Phillips, Jr.

Judge Samuel Phillips, Jr.

“It has always been recognized that this school owes very much of the atmosphere which has always surrounded it to the character of Samuel Phillips, Jr. It was the inspiration of a young man seeking to minister to young men. When he became the object of a little envy by some of his fellow students at college, we find him writing to his father: ‘Let me be interested in the Lord and no matter who is against me.’ Such a statement from the pen of Judge Phillips was neither form nor cant, but the expression of his abiding faith in the great realities. Yet he was intensely interested in the people about him and in current affairs…He was not a recluse, but rather a leader and an organizer, even in his undergraduate days, with the natural social qualities of youth. Samuel Phillips has applied himself to his work, he had followed the truth, he had brought his faculties under discipline. His mastery over himself gave him a mastery over his associates, and imparted not only to his work, but to his pleasures, a dignity and a character…For his own part he committed himself whole-heartedly to the Revolution. We find him during the Battle of Bunker Hill removing the Harvard library to a place of safety. He was one of a number of citizens to confer with General Washington at Cambridge, and was later producing gunpowder for the Army. But he was not so much interested in warfare as he was in truth and liberty. He does not rank as a soldier, but as a statesman.

“While plans were being perfected for this academy, Judge Phillips was a member of the constitutional convention of the Commonwealth, where he served on a special committee to draft a declaration of rights and frame of government…In this work he was associated with such men as John Adams and James Bowdoin…[T]he preamble and declaration of rights…then adopted…contains more political wisdom, sound common sense, and wise statesmanship than I have ever seen anywhere else within a like compass. If it could be faithfully expounded to the youth of our country it would do much to rescue them from unsound social and political doctrines…

John Adams

John Adams

broadsideMA Constitution ratified 1780

James Bowdoin

James Bowdoin

 

 

“In the frame of government there is a noble expression of the aims of education and the arts and a wise provision for their promotion and protection by the public authorities. These were the beliefs and opinions that Judge Phillips and his associates held. For their perpetuation and preservation this school was founded.

“The character of the founder and the attendant circumstances gave it a very broad outlook. Everything provincial was disregarded. It has always been and is now decidedly national in its scope…While careful provision was made to increase the intellectual power of the students, even greater emphasis was placed on increasing their moral power. The attention of the master was especially directed to the fact that ‘knowledge without goodness is dangerous,’ and he was charged constantly to instruct the students in the precepts of the Christian religion. Our doctrine of equality and liberty, of humanity and charity, comes from our belief in the brotherhood of man through the fatherhood of God. The whole foundation of enlightened civilization, in government, in society, and in business, rests on religion. Unless our people are thoroughly instructed in its great truths they are not fitted either to understand neglectful of their responsibilities in this direction is to turn their graduates loose with simply an increased capacity to prey upon each other. Such a dereliction of duty would put in jeopardy the whole fabric of society. For our chartered institutions of learning to turn back to the material and neglect the spiritual would be treason, not only to the cause for which they were founded but to man and to God.

The Coolidges, both college graduates, in cap and gown during their visit to the 150th Anniversary of Phillips Academy. To their right stands the Headmaster, Alfred Stearns, to their left, Alfred L. Ripley (believe it or not).

The Coolidges, both college graduates, in academic cap and gown during their visit to the 150th Anniversary of Phillips Academy. To their right stands the Headmaster, Alfred Stearns; to their left, Alfred L. Ripley (believe it or not).

“One of the results of these beliefs led this school to come out squarely for equality. It provided an opportunity which was to be open to all. Our country has rightly put a very large emphasis on this principle…Yet there has been great difficulty in bringing the Government within its operation. At its outset there was a tendency to establish a ruling class consisting of wealth and social position. When that was overturned the other extreme prevailed, which was followed by a fluctuating back and forth between these two. Neither of them is in harmony with our theory of equality. Our country and its Government belongs to all the people. It ought not to be under the domination of any one element or any one section. For it to fall under the entire control of the people of wealth or people of poverty, of people who are employers or people who are wage earners, would be contrary to our declared principles. They should all be partakers in the responsibilities and benefits, and all be represented in the administration of our Government. Those who are charged with the conduct of our affairs should be equally solicitous for the welfare of all localities and all classes. There should be no outlaws and no favorites, but all should be beneficiaries of the common good through the discharge of common duties.

“It was the thought of Judge Phillips to give to our youth the benefit of careful training during their early years. He knew that unless correct habits of thought are formed at the very outset of life they are not formed at all. Two great tests in mental discipline are accuracy and honesty. It is far better to master a few subjects thoroughly than to have a mass of generalizations about many subjects. The world will have little use for those who are right only a part of the time. Whatever may be the standards of the classroom, practical life will require something more than 60 per cent or 70 per cent for a passing mark. The standards of the world are not like those met by the faculty, but more closely resemble those set by the student body themselves. They are not at all content with a member of the musical organizations who can strike only 90 per cent of the notes. They do not tolerate the man on the diamond who catches only 80 per cent of the balls. The standards which the student body set are high…When the world holds its examinations it will require the same standards of accuracy and honesty which the student bodies impose upon themselves. Unless the mind is brought under such training and discipline as will enable it to acquire these standards at an early period, the grave danger increases that they may never be acquired.

6208542564_a42e1fa9a4_b Coolidges at Andover 5-1928

“It is for this reason that our secondary schools are of such great importance…While the needs of our universities are very great, and every effort should be made to meet them, it does not seem that sufficient emphasis has been placed on the needs of our secondary schools…Judge Phillips said very little concerning the scholarship of the master and his assistants, but he put a great deal of emphasis on their character. He was looking beyond the lessons of the classroom to the ‘real business of living.’

“…Next after his duty to his Maker, Samuel Phillips placed his duty to his country…But it is scarcely to be considered that he thought duty to country consisted in holding public office. He undoubtedly was concerned with the larger field of good citizenship. While it will always be necessary to give attention to the choice of public officers, if good citizenship could be made to prevail, offices would very largely look after themselves…[H]e was more interested in training young men for citizenship than in preparing them for public office. To his mind, faith in God was inseparable from faith in his country and faith in his fellow men.

6192828053_50c0a1fa2a_b CC in Andover

“In these days, when there is so large an amount of delegated power, the danger increases that the average citizen may take too much for granted. Because the affairs of his country have been progressing satisfactorily, he may think nothing can change their course. Such is not the case. When the country makes progress it is because some one gives it careful attention and direction, and because the people are contented, industrious, and law-abiding, and as a whole are discharging their duties of citizenship.

“When the cause of the Revolution still hung in the balance, when this school was conducted in an abandoned carpenter shop, before our Federal Constitution had made our scattered Colonies into one nation, when authority was weak and all the future was uncertain, the patriots of that day offered life, fortune, and honor in defense of their country. They did not doubt; they did not complain. They went forward, placing their hope on the sure support of liberty and justice, the improvement of agriculture, industry, and commerce, and the advance of education. The day has come when we have seen their hope fulfilled, when we have seen their faith justified, and when success has demonstrated the correctness of their theories. The general advance made by our country is commensurate with the advance which has been made by Phillips Academy. As we behold it our doubts ought to be removed, our faith ought to be replenished. Our determination to make such sacrifices as are necessary for the common good ought to be strengthened. We may be certain that our country is altogether worthy of us. It will be necessary to demonstrate that we are worthy of our country.”

On the Future Soundness of Medicine

“America has so many elements of greatness that it is difficult to decide which is the most important. It is probable that a careful consideration would reveal that the progress of civilization is so much a matter of interdependence that we could not dispense with any of them without great sacrifice…[O]ne of the most important factors of our everyday existence is the public health, which has come to be dependent upon sanitation and the medical profession…This great work is carried on partly through private initiative, partly through Government effort, partly by a combination of these two working in harmony with the science of chemistry, of engineering, and of applied medicine. In its main aspects it is preventive, but in a very large field it is remedial. Without this service our large centers of population would be overwhelmed and dissipated almost in a day and the modern organization of society would be altogether destroyed. The debt which we owe to the science of medicine is simply beyond computation or comprehension…

Poster in front of a Chicago theater in 1918

Poster in front of a Chicago theater in 1918. Most Americans remembered that dreadful outbreak as the American Medical Association met in May 1927 for its 78th Annual Session in Washington. They knew it was the courageous doctors and nurses throughout the country who treated the sick, helped whom they could and prevented many more deaths at great personal risk.

“…Although great progress has been made and certain fundamental rules have become well established, we can not yet estimate the development of scientific research as much more than begun. But great effort is being put out all around us and a constant advancement of knowledge is in progress. This has been especially true in the science of medicine. Many of the diseases which laid a heavy toll on life have been entirely eradicated and many others have been greatly circumscribed. The average length of life has been much increased…

“…If there is any one thing which the progress of science has taught us, it is the necessity of an open mind. Without this attitude very little advancement could be made. Truth must always be able to demonstrate itself. But when it has been demonstrated, in whatsoever direction it may lead, it ought to be followed. The remarkable ability of America to adopt this policy has been one of the leading factors in its rise to power. When a principle has been demonstrated, the American people have not hesitated to adopt it and put it into practice. Being free from the unwarranted impediments of custom and caste, we have been able to accept whole-heartedly the results of research and investigation and the benefits of discovery and invention.

“This policy has been the practical working out of the applied theory of efficiency in life. We have opened our mines and assembled coal and iron with which we have wrought wonderful machinery, we have harnessed our water power, we have directed invention to agriculture, the result of which has been to put more power at the disposal of the individual, eliminating waste and increasing production. It has all been a coordination of effort, which has raised the whole standard of life.

John A. Andrew Hospital, the well-known Tuskegee Veterans medical facility, directed by Dr. John A. Kenney, Jr. It would be none other than President Coolidge who defended the black leadership of that institution and helped ensure proper care was given to all those who came to it. Coolidge did not abide racial preferences on any front, but was especially involved in the controversy at Tuskegee over race and the progress of medicine there.

John A. Andrew Hospital, the well-known Tuskegee Veterans medical facility, directed by Dr. John A. Kenney, Jr. a leading specialist in dermatology research. It would be none other than President Coolidge who defended the black leadership of that institution and helped ensure proper care was given to all those who came to it. Coolidge did not abide racial preferences on any front, but was especially involved in the controversy at Tuskegee over race and the progress of medicine there.

“In the development of this general policy the science of medicine has had its part to play…We are practicing economy in our governmental affairs. But the conservation of human health and life is one of the greatest achievements in the advance of civilization, both socially and economically.

“What an incalculable loss to the world may have been the premature blotting out of a single brilliant creative mind which might have been saved through modern healing or preventive measures.” A policy which subordinates the precious potential of an individual’s life to inefficient and wasteful procedures is a repudiation of civilization. Coolidge makes clear who is responsible for such continual advancements in medicine, looking back to a time before “medical men,” without the involvement of bureaucrats, removed diseases “of their terrors,” when once “a single case of yellow fever or cholera reported in New York Harbor caused such panic as seriously to interfere with business. Now such sporadic cases would scarcely cause public comment…There is no finer page in the history of civilization than that which records the advance of medical science. The heroism of those who have worked with deadly germs and permitted themselves to be inoculated with disease, to the end that countless thousands might be saved, was less spectacular but no less far-reaching than that on the battle field or of an isolated rescue from a burning building or a sinking ship.”

Influenza took the lives of 6 million people in 1918. Those who survived remembered how devastating the loss was, especially just as the War came to a halt.

Influenza took the lives of 6 million people in 1918. Those who survived remembered how devastating the loss was, especially just as the War came to a halt. It was also remembered that government-operated military bases were the first and most severe hit. Coolidge, like most in the audience in May of 1927, knew that government’s tendency to place political considerations in the administration of healthcare was not a viable model or safe solution for the future.

It was hardly coincidental that not only had average lifespans tripled since the early 19th century but “most of that gain has been made in the past half century” through the increase of knowledge and personal initiative by practitioners and patients. Of course, government at all levels had become aware of the “public functions” entailed in preserving health and conserving life, as “[n]o more striking achievement was ever accomplished than by Doctor Gorgas, of the United States Army, in cleaning up the Panama Canal Zone. Under French control, the death rate in that area was 240 per thousand. In 1913 it had dropped to 8.35 per thousand. Without this work the construction and operation of the canal would have been impossible.” Yet, government does not maintain health, it can only help the institutions which do, the individual and the doctor.

For medical advances to continue in the universities  and growing number of hospitals around the country, physicians and nurses would have to be allowed to continue their work freed of regulatory and administrative constraints to apply new findings and best procedures for the good of the patient. Free markets had and would continue to furnish results. The affordability of health insurance would continue to spread, so that Coolidge could proudly observe that “[n]ot a few individuals” could retain the physicians they chose to provide personal care all year around. The steadfast and formal opposition to mandatory health insurance by the very group of medical professionals President Coolidge addressed was not a roadblock to progress, it was a means to conserve and expand sustainable and proficient care for as many people as wished to make use of it. A sound future remained in this direction. “The modern broad-minded physician…willing to use or to recommend whatever methods seem best suited to the case in hand” had to be encouraged not shackled by the red-tape of administration. It is the physician — not government — who is “the strongest advocate of prevention.” Bureaucrats, known for prioritizing political considerations above real-time initiative and medical innovation, simply do not possess the competence or skill necessary to supplant those closest to the situation, even in the best of times.

Dr. Jabez N. Jackson led the American Medical Association  and its Annual proceedings as Coolidge came to visit, May 1927.

Dr. Jabez N. Jackson led the American Medical Association and its Annual proceedings as Coolidge came to visit, May 1927.

Mordecai Johnson, the new President of Howard University in 1926, would cultivate and develop a medical school that would lead research and medical knowledge in the years to come. Bringing on Amherst graduate (class of 1926) Dr. Charles R. Drew would prove an immeasurable contribution to medical care, especially in the field of blood transfusion. Coolidge was a faithful advocate for the University and helped build up its medical program.

Mordecai Johnson, the new President of Howard University in 1926, would cultivate and develop a medical school that would lead research and medical knowledge in the years to come. Bringing on Amherst graduate (class of 1926) Dr. Charles R. Drew would prove an immeasurable contribution to medical advancement, especially in the field of blood transfusion. Coolidge was a faithful advocate for the University and helped build up its medical program.

Dr. Charles R. Drew

Dr. Charles R. Drew

 

The roar of economic growth during the 1920s contributed tremendously to the breadth and inclusiveness of opportunities, not merely economic and professional but in the health of Americans. Coolidge could report with the full awareness of so illustrious an assembly of medical people as present that night that “the great body of our population is able to secure adequate medical attention.” How was this possible? This was long before the New Deal, the Great Society or “Obamacare.” He was not exaggerating, however, as the more than 6,200 attendees knew. The audience filling a packed auditorium that day comprised members of the American Medical Association, an organization representing 94,000 of the 140,000 physicians in the country at that time. They knew he was right. “This is true,” Coolidge declared, “to a remarkable degree of all our great centers of population,” with only the remotest quarters unable to provide such service, a fact which was itself changing with better roads and Ford’s automobile. The larger cities could furnish “free dispensaries” and “free service” thanks to the unsparing dedication of “time and…skill” physicians were already giving “for the alleviation of human suffering.” America’s “private benefactors,” “organized charities” and “governmental agencies” may contribute support and encouragement “to this most important purpose” but it is to those directly concerned, the skilled medical men and women of this country and their patients, who make it possible.

“This is an enormous contribution…to human welfare. It is one of the undeniable evidences of the soundness and success of American institutions. The fact that our attainments and our blessings have become common is no reason why they should be ignored.” As the Annual Session of 1927 would come to a close three days later, President Coolidge would launch a Committee on the Costs of Medical Care to study the intricate problems and propose solutions for making care even more attainable, lowering its costs while increasing its access. The forty-eight medical professionals, administrators and economists appointed to the Committee would meet regularly for five years, submitting numerous reports and concluding their research with a final study on the issue in 1932. Among the recommendations fought for and approved by the AMA since 1920 remained a commitment to voluntary health insurance and an individual’s choice of care.

In fact, the only way Roosevelt’s Social Security Act passed in 1935 was contingent on the stipulation insisted by the Association that health insurance remain a matter left up to individuals. The Association would continue championing freedom of choice against Truman’s plan to socialize medicine in 1948 and the practice of fee splitting in 1952, an activity that would only escalate costs and create more middlemen that further separates a patient from obtaining only the care for which one chooses to pay.

Yet, with much of this still future, President Coolidge stood before the thousands gathered in Washington that evening of May 17, 1927, to close with some timeless observations on where the future of medicine turned if it were to remain sound and solvent. We could sit back and criticize the deficiencies of our free market system and the shortcomings of medical care or we could remember how far we have come because of that freedom to innovate, improve and serve. “Mere fault finding has no value except to reveal the poverty of the intellect which constantly engages in it,” Coolidge proclaimed. “Our country, our Government, our state of society, are a long way from being perfect, but the fact that our structure is not complete is no reason for refusing to assess at their proper value the usefulness and beauty of those parts which are nearing completion, or withholding our approval from the general plan of construction and neglecting to join in the common effort to carry on the work.”

Medical professionals gathered in Washington for the 1927 AMA Session gather here to honor the 500 doctors who died while at their work during World War I, May 17, 1927.

Medical professionals gathered in Washington for the 1927 AMA Session gather here to honor the 500 doctors who died while at their work during World War I, Arlington Amphitheater, May 17, 1927.

Humanity can no longer live under the excuse of insufficient experience. “It has located a great many fixed stars in the firmament of truth. No doubt a multitude of others await the revelation of a more extended research. But because we realize that we have not yet located them all is no reason for doubting the existence of those already observed or disregarding the records which reveal their position. To engage in such a course would lead to nothing but disaster.” By rejecting the markers of history, presuming to “reinvent the wheel” of human nature along failed and close-minded lines of experience, our current crop of leaders in Washington is beckoning that very disaster Coolidge foresaw.

The problem is not one of knowledge, Coolidge reminds us, but an unwillingness “to live in accordance with the knowledge which we have.” Coolidge elaborated, “Approbation of the Ten Commandments is almost universal. The principles they declare are sanctioned by the common consent of mankind. We do not lack in knowledge of them. We lack in ability to live by them.” Medical knowledge will continue to increase but it cannot advance us beyond moral knowledge with its obligations. The “structural weakness” we see is not in the foundations of American liberties, it resides “[s]omewhere in human nature” itself. “We do not do as well as we know. We make many constitutions, we enact many laws, laying out a course of action and providing a method of relationship one with another which are theoretically above criticism, but they do not come into full observance and effect.” Crime and war continue with us, even with what is, as Coolidge affirmed on another occasion, “the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race” by living under the American Constitution. The standard of freedom is not flawed, we are, as human beings.

Gathered to honor the memory of the American who discovered the aesthetic properties in surgery of sulphuric ether, Dr. Thomas A. Grooner, Dr. Charles H. Mayo and the daughter of Dr. Long, visit the statue of Crawford from Georgia, May 16, 1927.

Gathered to honor the memory of the American who discovered in 1842 the aesthetic properties in surgery of sulphuric ether, Dr. Thomas A. Grooner, Dr. Charles H. Mayo and the daughter of Dr. Long, visit the statue of Dr. Crawford Long, native of Georgia, May 16, 1927.

The future soundness of medicine rests not in greater restrictions on individual responsibility over health, the rationing of care along political factors, the replacement of medical competence with bureaucratic oversight or the increasing reach and revenue of third parties in the process but remains among those “fixed stars” discovered by America’s balance of liberty with self-government and personal prevention. The solutions are found in maximizing a patient’s range of choices, supporting not tying the able hands or closing the open-minds of those who directly provide care, while reaffirming the sanctity of an individual’s life.

President Coolidge with his predecessor's physician, General Sawyer and Passed Assistant Surgeon Joel T. Boone, who became a Coolidge family close friend and primary doctor. Boone's medical judgment was exceptional and the loss of President Harding, rescue of Mrs. Harding's life and the death of Calvin Jr. weighed heavily on him, despite doing all that the best medical expertise could do in each case. Boone was a sound physician and a strong example of medical heroism.

President Coolidge with his predecessor’s physician, General Sawyer and Passed Assistant Surgeon Joel T. Boone, who became a Coolidge family close friend and their primary doctor during the 1920s. Boone’s medical judgment was exceptional and the loss of President Harding, the timely rescue of Mrs. Harding’s life and the death of Calvin Jr. weighed heavily on him, despite doing all that the best medical expertise could do in each case. Boone was a sound physician and a strong example of medical heroism.

The Hippocratic standard “Never do harm to anyone” means more than a thousand decrees from Washington because it finds validation in the fundamental precepts of the Ten Commandments. Many “of our social problems” have physical causes but that is not the final word on the matter. Our problems go deeper than the physical symptoms. “If we could effectively rid our systems of poison, not only would our bodily vigor be strengthened, but our vision would be clearer, our judgment more accurate, and our moral power increased. We should come to a more perfect appreciation of the truth.” Coolidge maintained, “It is to your profession in its broadest sense untrammeled by the contentions of different schools,” not to mention administrative boards and political planners, “that the world may look for large contributions toward its regeneration, physically, mentally, and spiritually, when not force but reason will hold universal sway.”

President Coolidge was not pronouncing some all-encompassing faith in either a “Church of Medicine” or a Great Collective State, but was appealing to something far more profound, more ancient and eternally important. The future soundness of medicine remained where it always has — with the free will, ability and moral power of the individual, who administers care to the whole person not through coercion but through what one gives willingly in service to others according to the patient’s ability to pay. The fullest provision of treating mind, body and soul will never be actualized via statute or administrative ordinance. Only we can make that happen. Strengthening the partnership between patients and their doctors realizes the freedom of contract inherent in our system. It smooths the path to medical — and spiritual — progress. Or, as Coolidge put it, “As human beings gain in individual perfection, so the world will gain in social perfection, and we may hope to come into an era of right living and right thinking, of good will, and of peace, in accordance with the teachings of the Great Physician.”

Overruling his own doctor, President Coolidge ventures out in the rain to greet the thousands of doctors gathered at the White House the day after his speech to these professionals in Washington for the American Medical Association's Annual Session, May 18, 1927.

Overruling his own doctor, President Coolidge ventures out in the rain to greet the thousands of doctors gathered at the White House the day after his speech to these professionals in Washington for the American Medical Association’s Annual Session, May 18, 1927.

On Garman

Surveying the immensely strong faculty of Amherst during the time Calvin Coolidge came into contact with the school, Claude M. Fuess, in his book on Amherst, turns to Charles Edward Garman, the professor of philosophy from 1882-1907. It was of Garman’s courses Coolidge would later observe, “all the other studies ‘were in the nature of a preparation’ ” and though Garman’sactual career at Amherst covered less than a quarter of a century,” he “left behind him an influence such as almost no other college teacher in the United States has exerted.” Graduating from Amherst with the Class of 1872, ironically the year Coolidge was born, Garman went to Yale but his desire to teach brought him back to his alma mater by 1880 through the capable leadership of President Seelye. By 1882, Professor Garman had taken up his signature course in philosophy. Using no textbooks, he had a masterful grasp of dialectics and used it to great effect. “He tried to compel his students to think for themselves, to weigh evidence, to accept nothing on authority, and to follow the truth no matter where it led. He would permit them to build up one after one erroneous systems of belief — would, in fact, assist them in doing so; and then, by questioning, often by fierce discussion, he would destroy the heresy which they had come to regard as infallible. It is characteristic of his modernity that he used a wealth of illustrations from science…he compared public opinion to a cake of ice, which yields to slow pressure but cracks under a sharp blow.”

“…His influence on such men as Alfred E. Stearns, ’94, Harlan F. Stone, ’94, Calvin Coolidge, ’95, Dwight W. Morrow, ’95, and many other distinguished graduates of that period, cannot be overestimated. He has rightly been described as ‘a scholar with a keenly analytical mind, a masterly power of synthesis, and an ardent love of truth.”

His tenuous health required special care, creating an artificially tropical temperature in his room to protect his throat, riding in closed buggies and wearing a heavy coat and scarf even through the heat of summer. His infrequent public appearances combined with these eccentricities to create an atmosphere of mystery around the kindly man. “His heart was warm,” Fuess notes, “and he performed many good deeds which were never revealed.” It has been observed that the surest indication of a great teacher is preserved in the lives of his students. By such a test, Garman was one of the truly great. “He was to his pupils himself a model of intellectual curiosity, of tolerance, of idealism, whom they were eager to emulate.” Despite never publishing anything in his lifetime, the Amherst class of 1908, one of his last, set a tablet in the College Church inscribed with the simple tribute, “He chose to write on living men’s hearts.” The class of 1884 together with Garman’s widow prepared the only volume of his lectures, addresses and letters for publication in 1909, two years after his passing.

“But,” as Fuess continues, “in a very definite sense he still lives. Justice Stone declared recently that his work on the Supreme Bench had naturally brought him in touch with what were supposed to be the best brains in the country, but that he had yet to encounter an intellect that he considered equal to Garman’s. Coolidge is even more specific in his assessment of the man,

“We looked upon Garman as a man who walked with God. His course was a demonstration of the existence of a personal God, of our power to know Him, of the Divine immanence, and of the complete dependence of all the universe on Him as the Creator and Father ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’…The conclusions which followed from this position were logical and inescapable. It sets man off in a separate kingdom from all the other creatures in the universe, and makes him a true son of God and a partaker of the Divine nature. This is the warrant for his freedom and the demonstration of his equality. It does not assume all are equal in degree but all are equal in kind. On that precept rests a foundation for democracy that cannot be shaken. It justifies faith in the people…I know that in experience it has worked…In time of crisis my belief that people can know the truth, that when it is presented to them they must accept it, has saved me from many of the counsels of expediency.”

“…In ethics he taught us that there is a standard of righteousness, that might does not make right, that the end does not justify the means that expediency as a working principle is bound to fail. The only hope of perfecting human relationship is in accordance with the law of service under which men are not so solicitious about what they shall get as they are about what they shall give. Yet people are entitled to the rewards of their industry. What they earn is theirs, no matter how small or how great. But the possession of property carries the obligation to use it in a larger service. For a man not to recognize the truth, not to be obedient to law, not to render allegiance to the State, is for him to be at war with his own nature, to commit suicide. That is why ‘the wages of sin is death.’ Unless we live rationally we perish, physically, mentally, spiritually.

“…A great deal of emphasis was placed on the necessity and dignity of work. Our talents are given us in order that we may serve ourselves and our fellow men. Work is the expression of intelligent action for a specified end. It is not industry, but idleness, that is degrading. All kinds of work from the most menial service to the most exalted station are alike honorable. One of the earliest mandates laid on the human race was to subdue the earth. That meant work.

“If he was not in accord with some of the current teachings about religion, he gave to his class a foundation for the firmest religious convictions. He presented no mysteries or dogmas and never asked us to take a theory on faith, but supported every position by facts and logic. He believed in the Bible and constantly quoted it to illustrate his position.” In fact, to the surprise of all, he opened his remarks to the senior class of 1904 in chapel service with the unapologetic admission, “Believing as I do in the divinity of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ…” Coolidge continues, “He divested religion and science of any conflict with each other, and showed that each rested on the common basis of our ability to know the truth.”

“To Garman,” Coolidge wrote, “was given a power which took his class up into a high mountain of spiritual life and left them alone with God. In him was no pride of opinion, no atom of selfishness.” Finishing his course students discovered what commencement meant as they stepped from formal education into the beginnings of “their efforts to serve their fellow men in the practical affairs of life.” Some professors expect fawning adulation, gathering followers devoted to one’s personality rather those who will take what they can from him while continuing to think for themselves, building on what they had learned. A cult of personality was not Charles Garman. He was not the Alpha and Omega of all that life had to teach. Christ more than adequately held unchallenged title to that. Garman expected his course “to be supplemented. He was fond of referring to it as a mansion not made with hands, incomplete, but sufficient for our spiritual habitation. What he revealed to us of the nature of God and man will stand. Against it ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail.’ “

“As I look back upon the college I am more and more impressed with the strength of its faculty, with their power for good. Perhaps it has men now with a broader preliminary training, though they then were profound scholars, perhaps it has men of keener intellects though they then were very exact in their reasoning, but the great distinguishing mark of all of them was that they were men of character.” Perhaps that is the ultimate explanation to Fuess’ query as to what made Amherst so unique among America’s colleges and universities in the 1880s and 1890s. It was principally the character of the men who taught — and learned — there that so special an environment existed for the development of the whole person, so capable of producing “such a large proportion of famous men” who would go on to lead successful lives, leaving indelible marks through their service in business, law, ministry, and government (Amherst, pp.244-5).

Justice Stone, writing to Fuess, confirms this estimation, “I think you and President Coolidge understand the case. After forty years of contact with all sorts of men both in and out of educational institutions, Garman, Morse, and ‘Old Ty’ are still in my opinion great men…” What made men and institutions great was not in  some mystical attachment to “hocus pocus” or the nostalgia of youth, it was anchored firmly in the integrity of men like Garman whose reasoned conclusions merit renewed study and consideration. Experience has proven them to be more prescient and enduring than we may realize. Coolidge would agree.

"He was constantly reminding us that the spirit was willing but the flesh was strong, but that nevertheless, if we would continue steadfastly to think on these things we would be changed from glory to glory through increasing intellectual and moral power. He was right" -- Calvin Coolidge on Charles Edward Garman, The Autobiography, (New York: Cosmopolitan, 1929, p.69).

“He was constantly reminding us that the spirit was willing but the flesh was strong, but that nevertheless, if we would continue steadfastly to think on these things we would be changed from glory to glory through increasing intellectual and moral power. He was right” — Calvin Coolidge on Charles Edward Garman, The Autobiography, (New York: Cosmopolitan, 1929, p.69).

For further reading

Booraem V, Hendrik. The Provincial: Calvin Coolidge and His World, 1885-1895. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1994.

Fuess, Claude Moore. Amherst: The Story of a New England College. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1935.

Garman, Eliza Miner. Letters, Lectures and Addresses of Charles Edward Garman: A Memorial Volume. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1909.

Waterhouse, John Almon. Calvin Coolidge Meets Charles Edward Garman. Rutland, VT: Academy Books, 1984.