Following Coolidge’s lead to preserve our foundational principles from neglect and misuse, the Calvin Coolidge Institute is performing a vital work in the state of Nevada. They are setting an example for what is desperately needed all across America: to encourage and elect candidates with Cal’s integrity, courage and conviction. In fact, a Coolidge Coalition is forming in our area of Gulf Coast Florida. How about where you live? In studying Coolidge for some time, the more I have learned the more I come to respect and admire what he accomplished through a genuine leadership grounded on moral consistency, political wisdom, and personal resolve. While he would not have wanted any institution to bear his name, he would have taken great satisfaction in those who shoulder the high demands, not merely the blessings, of citizenship and public service. He praised those who kept our institutions true to the ideals of limited government, economic freedom, religious liberty, and individual responsibility. Anchored by the Golden Rule, progress is measured not by cutting ties with the past but by doing what is right not what is expedient, upholding the good of all not favoring the benefit of a few. Hardly outmoded, these ideals are downright indispensable. Party platforms and campaign pledges are not things to be cast aside on victory night, they furnish the direction of leadership and are the substance of a voter’s voice. This is why party cohesion is so crucial to sound government. He also understood that principles mean nothing if not kept practiced and practical, requiring brave and involved citizens prepared to govern their own government. The government, as he often paraphrased President Cleveland, works for the people, not the people for the government. In this way, we grow worthy of America. The Calvin Coolidge Institute deserves every encouragement and support.
On John Ericsson and What It Means to be American
“Friends and Fellow Citizens:
“It is one of the glories of our country that we all have the privilege of being Americans. Some of us were born here of an ancestry that has lived here for generations. Others of us were born abroad and brought here at a tender age, or have come to these shores as a result of mature choice. But when once our feet have touched this soil, when once we have made this land our home, wherever our place of birth, whatever our race, we are all blended in one common country. All artificial distinctions of lineage and rank are cast aside. We all rejoice in the title of Americans. But this is not done by discarding the teachings and beliefs or the character which have contributed to the strength and progress of the peoples from which our various strains derived their origin, but rather from the acceptance of all their good qualities and their adaptation to the requirements of our institutions. None of those who come here are required to leave any good qualities behind, but they are rather required to strengthen and fortify them and supplement them with such additional good qualities as they find among us.
“While it is eminently proper for us to glory in our origin and to cherish with pride the contributions which our race has made to the common progress of humanity, we can not put too much emphasis on the fact that in this country we are all bound together in a common destiny. We must all be united as one people. This principle works both ways. As we do not recognize any inferior races, so we do not recognize any superior races. We all stand on an equality of rights and of opportunity, each deriving just honor from their own worth and accomplishments. It is not, then, for the purpose of setting one people above another that we assemble here to-day to do reverence to the memory of a great son of Sweden, but rather to glory in the name of John Ericsson and his race as a preeminent example of the superb contribution which has been made by many different nationalities to the cause of our country. We honor him most of all because we can truly say he was a great American.
“Great men are the product of a great people. They are the result of many generations of effort, toil, and discipline. They do not stand by themselves; they are more than an individual. They are the incarnation of the spirit of a people. We should fail in our understanding of Ericsson unless we first understand the Swedish people both as they have developed in the land of their origin and as they have matured in the land of their adoption.”
Coolidge proceeded to recount precisely that development of the Swedish people. From the rugged terrain under the Arctic these hardy people have demonstrated “independence, courage and resourcefulness” since ancient time, taking to the seas, defending greater and greater religious freedom and leaving a fixed imprint on the growth and success of America. Establishing a colony here in 1638, they “laid the basis for a religious structure, built the first flour mills, the first ships, the first brickyards, and made the first roads, while they introduced horticulture and scientific forestry into the Delaware region.”
They not only cleared and cultivated the forests and prairies but they built churches and charities, established schools and businesses. Despite being “few in numbers…they supported the Colonial cause and it has been said that King Gustavus III, writing to a friend, declared, ‘If I were not King I would proceed to America and offer my sword on behalf of the brave Colonies.’ “ John Mortenson was among the Signers of the Declaration and John Hanson among those to hold the office of “President of the United States in Congress Assembled.” It would be Sweden to become the “first European power which voluntarily and without solicitation tendered its friendship to the young Republic” in 1783. But also, with the removal in 1843 of restrictions in their native land, the large number of Swedish immigrants began their move to America and greater liberty.
“As these Americans of Swedish blood have increased in numbers and taken up the duties of citizenship, they have been prominent in all ranks of public life.” They have served with equal distinction not only as governors and mayors, generals and admirals but also painters and musicians. Yet, Coolidge took the occasion to name one of many who exemplified that “old Norse spirit, a true American,” Irvine L. Lenroot of Wisconsin. While it is ironic that Senator Lenroot was supposed to be the Vice Presidential choice alongside candidate Harding at the 1920 Republican convention, the rank and file delegates had very different ideas of who was best qualified. Of course, we know their choice fell enthusiastically and spontaneously upon Calvin Coolidge. It is noteworthy that now as President in his own right, Coolidge exacts no political gloating or grandstanding. Instead, Mr. Coolidge recognizes his earliest national rival with respect and selfless praise, making his point of American exceptionalism even stronger.
“…Such is the background and greatness of the Swedish people in the country of their origin and in America that gave to the world John Ericsson. They have been characterized by that courage which is the foundation of industry and thrift, that endurance which is the foundation of military achievement, that devotion to the home which is the foundation of patriotism, and that reverence for religion which is the foundation of moral power. They are representative of the process which has been going on for centuries in many quartered of the globe to develop a strain of pioneers ready to make their contribution to the enlightened civilization of America.” The strength of America is not in its multicultural diversity, the non-essentials that keep us divided, but in its ability to attract and assimilate so many good qualities around a shared identity, a common set of principles, creating a new union of peoples called Americans.
John Ericsson validates that long-proven tradition. “The life of this great man is the classic story of the immigrant,” Coolidge reminds us, “the early struggle with adversity, the home in a new country, the final success.” Ericsson’s focus and fascination with engineering made possible the accomplishment of the Princeton, “which was the first man-of-war equipped with a screw propeller and with machinery below the water line out of reach of shot.” Ericsson did not stop there, however. His next great achievement “steamed into Hampton Roads late after dark on the day of March 8, 1862. It arrived none too soon, for that morning the Confederate ironclad Virginia, reconstructed from the Merrimac, began a work of destruction among the 16 Federal vessels, carrying 298 guns, located at that point.” The Cumberland had been pummeled to submission, the Congress was grounded and aflame, and the Roanoke and Minnesota were “damaged and run ashore.” Europe watched and stood ready to recognize the Confederacy with the next swift victory. Yet, the unprecedented success of the Merrimac would be matched with an equally “new and extraordinary naval innovation” in the Monitor. As Admiral Luce would observe years later, it was the Monitor which “exhibited in a singular manner the old Norse element in the American Navy,” since it was Ericsson “who built her,” Dahlgren “who armed her,” and Worden “who fought her.”
“After a battle lasting four hours in which the Monitor suffered no material damage, except for one shell which hit the observation opening in the pilot house, temporarily blinding Lieutenant Worden, the commanding officer, the Merrimac, later reported to have been badly crippled, withdrew, never to venture out again to meet her conqueror. The old spirit of the Vikings, becoming American, had again triumphed in a victory no less decisive of future events than when it had hovered over the banner of William the Conqueror…That engagement revealed that in the future all wooden navies would be of little avail…The great genius of Ericsson had brought about a new era in naval construction…Great as were these achievements, they are scarcely greater than those which marked the engineering and inventive abilities of this great man, which were to benefit the industry, commerce, and transportation of the country. He was a lover of peace, not war. He was devoted to justice and freedom and was moved by an abiding love of America, of which he had become a citizen in 1848.”
“Ericsson continued his labors in his profession with great diligence, even into his eighty-sixth year, when he passed away at his home in New York City on the 8th of March, 1889, the anniversary of the arrival of Monitor in Hampton Roads. At the request of the Royal United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway, all that was mortal of the great engineer was restored to his native land during the following year.” In debt to what we owed to Sweden for what Admiral Schley called “the gift of Ericsson,” his body was returned to “his native country.” “Crowned with honor” by not only the land in which he was born but also America, “the land of his adoption, he sleeps among the mountains he had loved so well as a boy. But his memory abides here.”
It was this occasion that rejoined both America and Sweden in the dedication of “another memorial to the memory of this illustrious man.” President Coolidge would stand with Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf and Crown Princess Louise “to be present…and join with us in paying tribute to a patriot who belongs to two countries. It is significant that as Ericsson when he was a young soldier had the friendship and favor of the Crown Prince of that day, so his memory has the marked honor of the Crown Prince of to-day.”
“As the ceaseless throng of our citizens of various races shall come and go,” Coolidge concluded, “as they enter and leave our Capital City in the years to come, as they look upon their monument and upon his and recall that though he and they differed in blood and race they were yet bound together by the tie that surpasses race and blood in the communion of a common spirit, and as they pause and contemplate that communion, may they not fail to say in their hearts, ‘Of such is the greatness of America.’ “
On Pan-American Trade
The Twenties were a decade for Pan-American, or otherwise international, conferences. Coolidge took part in no less than eight during his service in Washington. The issues of international commerce, Pan-American relations, the roll back of “dollar diplomacy” and question of tariff policy revision seemed to attract him to a degree not unlike his commitment to government economy. No one can credibly argue that the Coolidge years were isolationist in outlook or activity. He took every opportunity to personally address those gatherings of private individuals who met to discuss a host of topics from standardization, sanitation, journalism, radio, highways, trade, aviation and many more concerns. As Vice President, Coolidge spoke before the Pan-American Conference of Women sponsored by the League of Women Voters in April 1922. As President he would address the First Pan American Congress of Journalists (April 8, 1926), the Third Pan American Commercial Conference (May 3, 1927), the First International Congress of Soil Science (June 13, 1927), the opening day of the International Radiotelegraph Conference (October 4, 1927), the Sixth Pan-American Conference held in Havana, Cuba (January 16, 1928), the Pan-American Conference on Arbitration and Conciliation (December 10, 1928) and the International Civil Aeronautics Conference (December 12, 1928).
When it concerned America’s connection to the sovereign nations to our south, Coolidge was there at every turn. The Fordney-McCumber Tariff signed by President Harding in 1922, sought to return a higher ad valorem rate to the tariff system, where American-made goods were protected for their value to the markets beyond merely their quantity, size, weight or other factors. The vast majority of goods on the market, no less than sixty percent, were completely free of duties. The Tariff protected American manufacturing while keeping rates low for agricultural products and raw goods. An average 14% increase in rates protected manufacturers from inferior-quality goods flooding the markets and thereby harming both the producer, who has to raise prices to meet higher costs against a cheaper, higher quantity of products, and the consumer, who is left spending more money in the end to replace inferior goods with ones that last. The protective rates, working together with both a large decrease in taxes and reduction in Federal spending, fueled the recovery that brought America out of the 1921 depression and continued (thanks to the Coolidge insistence on economy and tax cuts of 1924, 1926 and 1928) to encourage the spread of prosperity throughout all economic tiers through the rest of the decade. Rather than remaining on course, however, the next administration dismantled the delicate balance of tariff policy up for debate at the worst time. It was the discussion to raise rates even higher in 1929, leading to the passage of a new bill, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, that unleashed an average 20% increase on dutiable imports, a 60% tax increase on over 3,000 imported products and resulted in a destructive series of retaliatory tariff increases by our trading partners around the world. Despite the firm opposition of more than 1,000 economists to the looming increases, President Hoover signed the bill into law in June 1930. While initial figures seem to indicate it was working at first, trade had collapsed and depression only deepened as a result by the spring of 1932.
However, all this was in the future. As Coolidge took the podium to address the entrepreneurs and business men and women of North, Central and South America, imports in raw materials stood on mutually advantageous terms. As Coolidge will point out, this gathering was not a meeting of government bureaucrats and political operatives, it was a voluntary conference between private individuals exchanging ideas, seeking to better understand the needs, problems and market solutions of free peoples, sharing in the “civilizing influence of commerce.” It was not a forum of coercion presenting terms that benefited one at the expense of others with the aid of American money, military might or political deals. It was part of a the grander movement that “rests on the principle of mutual helpfulness,” which is free market capitalism as it naturally exists. Markets, free of state control, are not driven by Bentham’s mechanistic view of people as but utilitarian cogs in a system but rather fellow collaborators, willingly helping supply and be supplied with what each individual needs.
Coolidge commended this gathering of minds and talents from across our Hemisphere for its true merit which lay “in the fact that it represents not government but private industry.” After all, governments do not create, people engaged in commercial relationships do. “Governments do not have commercial relations. They can promote and encourage it, but it is distinctly the business of the people themselves. If this desirable activity is to grow and prosper, if it is to provide the different nations with the means of self-realization, of education, progress, and enlightenment, it must in general be the product of private initiative.” Keenly aware of the political discontent to the south coupled with a clearly harmonious relationship then existing between Pan-American suppliers and U.S. manufacturers, Coolidge continued, “Under free governments trade must be free, and to be of permanent value it ought to be independent. Under our standard we do not expect the Government to support trade; we expect trade to support the Government. An emergency or national defense may require some different treatment, but under normal conditions trade should rely on its own resources, and should therefore belong to the province of private enterprise.”
That policy, which lifted America out of depression in 1921 and since 1913 had raised it as the foremost market for Central and South American raw goods, from wood and copper to cane sugar, coffee and food stuffs, was yielding benefits overwhelmingly in favor of our neighbors to the south. If there was any dominant partner, it was South and Central America, who held nearly all of our money in unprocessed materials. The dependence on Europe for a market had decisively changed. Now the United States was buying more in the markets of Central and South America than it was selling. The clear beneficiary was the collection of American Republics south of the Rio Grande. This was not an unsettling or harmful development, in Coolidge’s judgment. It was a definitive good and a proof that markets, allowed freedom within marginal tariff rates on a small portion of goods, are mutually advantageous to all participants. “It is our conclusion that while government should encourage international trade and provide agencies for investigating and reporting conditions, those who are actually engaged in the transaction of business must necessarily make their own contacts and establish their own markets. There is scarcely any nation that is sufficient unto itself. The convenience and necessity of one people inevitably are served by the natural resources, climatic conditions, skill, and creative power of other peoples. This is the sound basis of international trade. This diversity of production makes it possible for one country to exchange its commodities for those of another country to the mutual advantage of both. It is this element that gives stability and permanence to foreign commerce. It contributes to satisfying wants and needs, and so becomes help to all who are engaged in it.”
Coolidge did not merely praise the broad outlines of growth and commercial collaboration between the Americas, he lauded the specific directions it was taking in the development of transportation, improving the speed the travel by ship, rail, road and air. Coolidge complimented the great network of exchange not only for its material improvement but especially for its conveyance of ideas, its sharing of information, education and communication, embodied in the cable and radio, the Pan American postal agreement, the opening of roads and the clearing of new commercial horizons that resulted. In short, this meant a “more abundant life for all concerned,” not only materially but spiritually.
As he closed his remarks to these market pioneers and creative adventurers from across the Western Hemisphere, Coolidge came back to the intangible importance of what this movement meant. “It is this mutual interdependence which justifies the whole Pan American movement. it is an ardent and sincere desire to do good, one to another. Our associates in the Pan American Union all stand on an absolute equality with us. It is the often declared and established policy of this Government to use its resources not to burden them but to assist them; not control them but to cooperate with them. It is the forces of sound thinking, sound government, and sound economics which hold the only hope of real progress, real freedom, and real prosperity for the masses of the people, that need the constantly combined efforts of all the enlightened forces of society. Our first duty is to secure these results at home, but an almost equal obligation requires us to exert our moral influence to assist all peoples of the Pan American Union to provide similar agencies for themselves. Our Pan American Union is creating a new civilization in these Western Republics, representative of all that is best in the history of the Old World. We must all cooperate in its advancement through mutual helpfulness, mutual confidence, and mutual forbearance.”