Coolidge dedicating the Jewish Community Center, Washington, D. C., May 3, 1925

 CC cornerstone Jewish Community Center 5-3-25

“The Jewish faith is predominantly the faith of liberty. From the beginnings of the conflict between the colonies and the mother country, they were overwhelmingly on the side of the rising revolution. You will recognize them when I read the names of some among the merchants who unhesitatingly signed the non-importation resolution of 1765: Isaac Moses, Benjamin Levy, Samson Levy, David Franks, Joseph Jacobs, Hayman Levy, Jr., Matthias Bush, Michael Gratz, Bernard Gratz, Isaac Franks, Moses Mordecai, Benjamin Jacobs, Samuel Lyon and Manuel Mordecai Noah.

“Not only did the colonial Jews join early and enthusiastically in the non-intercourse program, but when the time came for raising and sustaining an army, they were ready to serve wherever they could be most useful. There is a romance in the story of Haym Solomon, Polish Jew financier of the Revolution…Major Benjamin Nones has been referred to as the Jewish Lafayette…Captain De La Motta, and Captain Jacob De Leon…It is interesting to know that at the time of the Revolution there was a larger Jewish element in the southern colonies than would have been found there at much later periods; and these Jews of the Carolinas and Georgia were ardent supporters of the Revolution. One corps of infantry raised in Charleston, South Carolina, was composed preponderantly of Jews, and they gave a splendid account of themselves in the fighting of that section.

“It is easy to understand why a people with the historic background of the Jews should thus overwhelmingly and unhesitatingly have allied themselves with the cause of freedom. From earliest colonial times, America has been a new land of promise to this long-persecuted race…

“Our country has done much for the Jews who have come here to accept its citizenship and assume their share of its responsibilities in the world. But I think the greatest thing it has done for them has been to receive them and treat them precisely as it has received and treated all others who have come to it. If our experiment in free institutions has proved anything, it is that the greatest privilege that can be conferred upon people in the mass is to free them from the demoralizing influence of privilege enjoyed by the few. This is proved by the experience here, not alone of the Jews, but of all the other racial and national elements that have entered into the making of this Nation. We have found that when men and women are left free to find the places for which they are best fitted, some few of them will indeed attain less exalted stations than under a regime of privilege; but the vast multitude will rise to a higher level, to wider horizons, to worthier attainments.”

On Arizona

AZ Stone Memorial 4-15-24

Tomorrow, April 15, will mark the ninetieth anniversary of the dedication by President Calvin Coolidge of Arizona’s distinctive state stone into the internal walls of the Washington Monument in 1924. Despite being the last of the 48 to join what Coolidge called the “family” of states, the President knew Arizona would not be the last. In his vision of the future, Arizona, like all of America’s states, carried boundless potential and would reach into vast horizons of great achievement.

“It was a fine conception, this, of placing a stone for every State in the Monument to Washington. Who among us will venture to guess how many more times this ceremony will be performed?” He would venture that guess, “…I think we may almost say the assurance, that before many more years our successors will gather here again and once more survey the wonder of American development, as they dedicate the stone of the 49th State. After that, the story of the States will be written by the finger of destiny on the scroll of a long future. It is not for us to know what that story may be. I hope it can be of duty done to the world, but without aggrandizement, without imperialism…”

“I have thought of today’s ceremony as a sort of home gathering of the States, in honor of the coming of age of the youngest member of the family. It is Arizona’s day, and to Arizona we bring our congratulations, our tributes, our affection and our good wishes for her future…It is to this Arizona of tomorrow, to this greater Southwest which the not distant future will know, as we cannot yet fully conceive it, that we today extend the hand of welcome. We dedicated its stone in this national Monument…yet it is only one of the 48 imperial communities which make up our Nation, in which the people hold the proud distinction of being at once citizens and sovereigns.”

Coolidge identified the significance of this dedication not merely as another occasion to deliver a speech or appeal to mundane platitudes but as an opportunity to consider the importance of each state in our political system, celebrating the principle of local self-governance and the strength each state contributes to the soundness of the whole structure. Coolidge reminds us that an all-encompassing, all-consuming National Government is not an indicator of health and well-being, but rather stems from the failure of that most crucial pillar of local governance. If the people, through their States, abdicate the responsibility to manage their own affairs and make their own decisions, they become suppliant supplicants to Washington, and hasten the collapse of the entire structure.

“This occasion has its important and impressive symbolism. Just as this stone and its associates when joined together make a new and altogether different structure than is represented by each standing alone, so the joining of the States makes a new and different political structure.” Just as each stone had to retain its solidity to sustain the Monument, “so in our Nation each State must remain intact, or the political edifice falls.”

Composed of three petrified logs from the Chalcedony Forest in Holbrook, Arizona, the 2 x 4 foot stone rests oat the 320-foot level of the interior wall in the Washington Monument.

Composed of three petrified logs from the Chalcedony Forest in Holbrook, Arizona, the 2 x 4-foot stone rests at the 320-foot level of the interior wall in the Washington Monument.

As Coolidge stood beside Arizona’s striking contribution to the Monument honoring Washington, he understood that “two policies must always be supported. First, local self-government had to continue persisting not simply as a slogan or motto but “in harmony with the needs of each State. This means that in general the States should not surrender, but retain their sovereignty, and keep control of their own government.” The one-size-fits-all “democracy” enforced from a given Federal agency, office or bureau destroys this powerful role each State possesses. If the States lose control of their own sphere of obligations, it only enables the National Government to assert itself with even more inept and reckless results. Still, Coolidge understood that our system did not succeed with a rejection of all government for libertarianism. As he continues, what he would outline next was as equally indispensable for the future of America’s States as the first policy. Second, local sentiments must be a reflection of a “nation-wide public opinion. Each State must shape its course to conform to the generally accepted sanctions of society and to the needs of the Nation. It must protect the health and provide for the education of its own citizens. The policy is already well recognized in the association of the States for the promotion and adoption of uniform laws.” If the States deviated too far from the moral aims and cultural norms of the country as a whole, it would lead to the disregard and impotence of law everywhere. Even more dangerous, it would furnish another excuse for Washington to assume control in order to bring “security” to the situation: asserting jurisdiction over property it did not lawfully possess, over rights no more permitted to grant than to take away, and over details it could not competently understand.

While there would three other states (North Dakota, 1926; New Mexico, 1927; and Idaho, 1928) to join the "family" of State stones during the 1920s, President Coolidge would return only once to dedicate the 47th state, New Mexico's contribution, on December 2, 1927. Here is a small snapshot of that occasion.

While there would three other states (North Dakota, 1926; New Mexico, 1927; and Idaho, 1928) to join the “family” of State stones during the 1920s, President Coolidge would return only once more to dedicate the 47th state, New Mexico’s contribution, on December 2, 1927. Here is a small snapshot of that occasion.

President Coolidge then drove the point home, “Throughout our whole Nation there is an irresistible urge for the maintenance of the highest possible standards of government and society. Unless this sentiment is heeded and observed by appropriate state action, there is always grave danger of encroachment upon the states by the National Government. But it must always be realized that such encroachment is a hazardous undertaking, and should be adopted only as a last resort. The true course to be followed is the maintenance of the integrity of each state by local laws and social customs, which will place it in comparative harmony with all the others. By such a method, which can only be the result of great effort, constantly exerted, it will be possible to maintain an ‘Indestructible Union of Indestructible States.’ The maintenance of this position rises in importance above the hope of any other benefits, which constant changes would be likely to secure. The Nation can be inviolate only as it insists that Arizona be inviolate.”

We will do well to reflect on this ninetieth anniversary of a great dedication to Arizona and the Monument to our first President. But that is not all. Tomorrow also affords us the occasion to reflect on our responsibilities, the continuous duty we bear to zealously preserve self-government, vigilant States and a limited Washington.

On American Journalism

9b - Coolidge, cornerstone laying ceremony National Press Club 4-8-1926

The logo of the National Press Club features the owl, a symbol of wisdom and vigilance alongside the oil lamp, underscoring the burn of midnight oil to faithfully report truth.

The logo of the National Press Club features the owl, a symbol of wisdom and vigilance, sitting alongside the oil lamp, underscoring the burn of midnight oil to faithfully report truth.

It was on this day, April 8, in 1926 that President Coolidge would dedicate the cornerstone of the new National Press Club building, which was to span the entire distance of what had been known as “Newspaper Row” from the series of news offices and print shops that once identified 14th and F Streets NW in Washington. Completed in December 1927 and dedicated anew by the President in 1928, the fourteen-story structure became the largest private office building in the entire Washington area at that time. But it all started with this remarkable cornerstone dedication. A sizable copper box was prepared to mark the occasion and was to be placed into the cornerstone Coolidge would set on this day. The box remained in the Press Club President’s vault for several more months until financial backing was confirmed to begin construction. Filled with an impressive array of objects, this time capsule included:

Uncirculated 1, 5, and 10 cent silver pieces as well as newly minted $10 and $20 gold coins donated by Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon.

A copy of each Washington daily paper from April 8, 1926.

Photographs of old “Newspaper Row,” the Ebbitt Hotel demolished to make room for the Press Club site, President Harding (the only President to also be a former newspaper editor) casting his ballot at the annual Club elections, and other memories captured by photography.

A story from the National Intelligencer recounting the formation of the first Press Club in Washington, 1867.

Another story about “Newspaper Row” with an invitation to the cornerstone dedication.

Minutes from the first meeting of the National Press Club held on March 18, 1908, Club yearbooks from 1914 and 1924, and a full membership roster from 1926.

A specially-bound and embossed Congressional Directory from the first session of the 69th Congress, produced by George H. Carter, Public Printer.

A program from the First Pan-American Congress of Journalists held in Washington, and addressed by President Coolidge that same day.

And finally, a copy of the speech delivered by President Coolidge to dedicate the cornerstone.

President Coolidge reviews plans for the National Press Club Building, September 15, 1925.

President Coolidge reviews plans for the National Press Club Building, September 15, 1925.

Make no mistake, he had something very important to say. For Calvin Coolidge, the highlight of the observance was not that he was present but something far more fundamental. The stone being dedicated was not the only one honored that day. “The press” itself, Coolidge reminded his audience, “is one of the corner stones of liberty.” After all, a central principle of our country “guarantees a full and complete freedom in the publication and distribution of the truth. The right to have a fair and complete discussion of all problems is a necessary attribute of a free people. Without it the diffusion of such knowledge as is necessary to intelligent action in both private and public affairs would be impossible. Under American institutions a corner stone which is dedicated to the press is likewise dedicated to the Republic.”

Coolidge looked out beyond the platform where he stood to a press whose strength and influence rested in its independence. The press was not entirely free from accountability, however. On the contrary, the public press is charged with very high responsibilities. He would elaborate exactly what he meant, “It is my firm conviction that the press of this country,” being so robust, independent and influential, “should seek not to cater to a supposed low and degraded public opinion, but rather create a noble and inspired public opinion.” Instead of working against what is clean and wholesome, the purpose and might of public morality, it should be harmonizing efforts with it. Rather than championing ignorance and misinformation, the press is obligated to remind people that progress continues by revealing “the development of a Divine power” at work in contemporary history. This does not omit criticism toward current events, instead it directs it to constructive ends. As Coolidge pointed out, it “is to be remembered that criticism pursued merely for the sake of criticism is a barren operation, leaving no lasting results. True journalism must go far beyond this into the field of constructive effort. It is only in that direction that there will be found anything that is of lasting public benefit.”

President Coolidge would fill out, as on a canvas, the detailed responsibilities true journalists exercise in this country. First, “liberty is derived from law.” What established and continues to preserve the freedom of the press is not the mere courtesy accorded tradition nor the conditional privilege granted by those in power, it is guaranteed in our Constitution. “If that provision were struck out from our fundamental law, the press would not remain free for an hour. As an obligation, coupled with the very greatest self-interest, the press ought always to stand as a supporter of the Constitution and as the firmest advocate of a reign of law. On that principle there should be no weakness and no wavering. It should advocate resolutely, and at all times, the observance and the enforcement of the law.”

Second, “This is all one country.” There is a proper place for pride for one’s local region. It is even justifiable and helpful but it cannot take precedence to the fact that we are one, united people. “No part of our Nation is so perfect that it can look with any disdain on the imperfections of any other part, and, conversely, all of our different areas each have sufficient advantages to commend them to respect. It is enough to know that all can say, ‘This is a part of America,’ and ‘We are Americans.’ Under our institutions all are equal.”

Third, “Americans are all privileged.” For the same reasons that logic does not sustain pitting one section of the country against another, it is equally “untenable” attempting “to array class against class. Correctly speaking, we have no sections and we have no classes. The same unity that applies to our territory applies with even more force to our population.” The press shirks one of its greatest responsibilities when it abandons this fact to see people strictly through the lens of those artificial and non-essential differences in humanity. Coolidge sides with the progressive thought of the Founders, not the reactionary prejudices of those who place Americans in the midst of some perpetual struggle between fixed classes. “When we wisely decided not to create those artificial barriers which are represented by orders of nobility, but to let true worth create for all our inhabitants a universal class, we recognized one of the great truths of human existence which can not be too often emphasized.”

Page_064_Photo_sm CC dedicating cornerstone Natl Press Club

The press, just like the rest of us, is to meet these challenges in human relations not by defaulting to the easy path with least resistance but by exercising the “principle of toleration.” This does not mean a double standard along partisan lines, condoning “[r]ace hatred, class feeling, religious persecution, however these may be exhibited, whether under a form of law or through the force of public opinion, or even in defiance of law.” As Coolidge would remark on another occasion, tolerance is not an assent toward evil. Tolerance “means the adoption of a broad and generous spirit under which each may work out his own destiny in accordance with his own merits.” It is the acts of intolerance – racial hatred, class prejudice, and religious persecution – that “dwarf and destroy those who permit themselves to come under the domination of these motives. Toleration is not a passive quality. It does not mean simply receiving the benefits of the tolerance of others. It is distinctly an active quality which means bestowing upon others and thereby receiving ourselves the benefits of our own tolerance.”

Where does the press fit in all of this? Coolidge answers, “No one can criticize journalistic efforts directed to the promotion of particular interests, but all that can be done without raising bitter antagonisms against other interests…Rank partisanship very quickly falls into a distortion or a complete misstatement of the facts, accompanied by arguments which lead to illogical and unsound conclusions.” Even a cursory look at history would remind us that “there has been sufficient good in both our political parties, especially when they have been in power, to require a large amount of printer’s ink in its portrayal.” While the situation in Coolidge’s time was hardly free of gross incivility and brutal partisanship, it was easier for some to “find fault with what was being done” than to “suggest what ought to be done.” Just as, in our day, it is easier to run against those in power (even if you are the ones in power) than it is to hold fast to principled solutions, taking a position that serves all Americans, not merely one party or petitioner. “It is very difficult to reconcile a narrow and bitter partisanship with real patriotism.”

President Coolidge then ventured into the great responsibilities the American press continues to carry in the field of foreign relations. Coolidge knew that most of our information of the world comes not through direct experience but in reliance upon honest reporting by the America’s journalists. To complain that the press in this country represented America “as having the best of institutions” is absurd and needless. Our institutions are what is best for us while what other countries decide to adopt is up to them. We need neither apologize for or jettison a defense of what America is and what America has done in our news coverage around the world. Racial hatreds, class resentment and religious bigotry are not only incompatible with domestic journalism, they are also inconsistent with how we treat the rest of the world. We have to appeal to higher principles than base human nature, a prejudice that had manifested itself throughout the First World War against anything German. “International friendship and good will…can not be promoted by misrepresentation and caricature of foreign people. The cultivation also of such an attitude of mind on the part of our people is an exhibition of hostility. It is sowing the seeds of war…No basis for harmony, tranquility, honorable dealing, and peace has ever been better expressed than that which is contained in the golden rule.”

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Of course, Coolidge knew, there were limits to even the best of good intentions. They had to be reinforced and enacted by “proper instruments and institutions.” This is why participating in the World Court while abstaining from the League of Nations was an important and reconcilable distinction. “It is useless to love liberty unless we establish laws. It is futile to cherish justice unless we provide courts.” By insisting on reservations that safeguarded America’s sovereign rights, the universal sanctity of what is just and fair, apart from any nation’s political affairs, was advanced without embroiling the country in a countless array of foreign commitments and vague obligations. By refusing to become involved in the politics of other nations — “because they are none of our affair” — America set the scope of its participation, lending “a great influence in establishing the principle of a reign of international law” based in reason not mere military expenditures. Coolidge also knew that before a limitation of weaponry could proceed, there must first be “an intellectual and moral disarmament.” The West, thanks to President Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Prime Minister Thatcher, accomplished this through his direct conversations with Gorbachev, insisting on ending the MAD stalemate and encouraging the expansion of glasnost. This is where the press comes in. “To create a better understanding in this direction we are almost entirely dependent on our editors and publishers. The good they can do in promoting better understanding by supporting faith and good will and peace can not be estimated.”

Coolidge could summarize without hyperbole, that “[n]o other journalists ever had a like opportunity” to perform so large a service for humanity as the American press. “In financial resources, in absolute independence, in the reaction of an enlightened public opinion to right and truth and justice, the position which they occupy in this country stands unrivaled in all history.” However, American journalism could not overlook the most important side of all in what they do, Coolidge concluded. “No enterprise can obtain a success which is worth anything unless it appeals to the spiritual nature of mankind. No matter how secular the efforts may be of a publication, it will fail of the largest attainments, will not meet the highest requirements, will not secure the widest influence unless it is moved by a reverence for religion. Our country is a reverent country and our people are a reverent people. Our institutions must rest on that foundation. The press must minister to that spirit. Their great work must go on like all other great works, in reliance upon a divine purpose. If the corner stone which we are laying to-day is to endure, it must represent these principles. ‘Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.’ “