Before St. Patrick’s Day comes to a close, it is useful to consider the contributions of one individual, not native to the Emerald Isle but, despite being a Congregationalist Yankee, did much toward welcoming and assimilating Ireland’s immigrants to a place of respect and honor in one of the most Irish-heavy areas of America, the city of Boston. Rather than enhancing racial or religious bigotry by demanding instant results, Coolidge diffused tensions through mutual respect and patient education. Treating the Irish no differently than anyone else who came here to work hard, live honestly and become citizens, he taught what being American is all about, free of hyphens, committed to liberty, grounded in Christian forbearance and confident enough to hold faith in our founding ideals. In this way, he did more to establish the Irish (and immigrants of all countries) as full-fledged Americans than most recognize. Coolidge would experience an unbroken series of political victories as a result, thanks in part to these “Coolidge Democrats” who understood that for immigration to benefit everyone, the responsibilities of citizenship must be taken just as soberly as its rewards. Character came first and it was that very insistence on standards, despite the career risks for Coolidge personally, that prevailed at the ballot box. Coolidge did not need a herd of consultants to validate the Golden Rule for him. As he would observe later in life: The person who is right makes his own luck. Cal points the way toward the Founder’s vision for an assimilated, prosperous and peaceful people preserved through an incremental, not immediate, process; a pathway to citizenship earned by obedience, not bestowed by political calculation for electoral advantage.
Looking back upon the writings of history one is frequently found to be opening a time capsule of sorts. Carefully crafted writing is a fascinating chest of treasures containing what those who came before us regarded valuable, held worth remembering and provided insight for the future. The writings of Calvin Coolidge are no exception. All too often derided as worthless platitudes, the words he wrote do not merely point backward in time but they serve as markers forward, as signs along the way future generations will travel in order to successfully arrive at a place of fulfillment, proper perspective and real reward.
Looking to March 17th in 1931, he would concentrate on more substantial concepts than the day’s drinking parties, parades and other festivities. Instead, he would reflect upon the spiritual growth of Ireland that made possible the material success which followed. For Mr. Coolidge, the material trappings of happiness, contentment and prosperity were hollow if shorn from the intangibles. It is indisputably true of any nation, that the moral and metaphysical power of its people build its wealth and physical affluence. The spirit always precedes the material. In fact, as he reminded a crowd including several of Irish ancestry at Holy Cross on June 25, 1919, the “mental and spiritual” (as opposed to material things) defend our institutions. Coolidge would elaborate on this priority of the immaterial as the reason behind Ireland’s incredible success around the world, saying,
“The seventeenth day of March will be celebrated all over the world by those who cherish the Emerald Isle as the place of their ancestral origin. Millions of devoted men and women will wear some green emblem in honor of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. If his life is shrouded somewhat in mystery that only makes him the more fascinating. He is the personification of the Christian influence that came into the life of the Irish people. Considering the large contributions that the Irish race has made to the freedom and progress of so many foreign lands it must be a great satisfaction to see Ireland, after a long struggle, at last peaceful and self-governing. The effort and energy that had been expended in generations of political agitation and strife have been turned into constructive purposes. The country is being restored. Education is fostered, industries are coming into existence. The River Shannon has been harnessed to furnish light and power for the whole Irish Free State. The railroad system has been unified. While there still remain economic problems and domestic differences Ireland, no longer a prey to despair, is a land of hope and progress.”
Such is not merely a snapshot of what once was, but it is a pattern that will always work, for nations as for individuals. The power resides in what Coolidge would call “the unseen” not what is “seen.” The spiritual things must come first.