Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Calvin Coolidge

The good folks at The Corner have had a brief and useful conversation on Calvin Coolidge (scroll down a bit, the comments are scattered). Among the many useful things mentioned are the late Tom Silver’s wonderful little book, Coolidge and the Historians and Robert Sobel’s Coolidge: An American Enigma. You should also note Robert H. Ferrell’s The Presidency of Calvin Coolidge. That Coolidge is a much maligned and underestimated man you already know. He was the last president to write his own speeches, he translated Dante, he was a non-progressive thinker. See this great speech of his on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Fourth of July. I can’t resist two paragraphs (but do read the whole thing, please). Note the truth, the cadence:

"About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

In the development of its institutions America can fairly claim that it has remained true to the principles which were declared 150 years ago. In all the essentials we have achieved an equality which was never possessed by any other people. Even in the less important matter of material possessions we have secured a wider and wider distribution of wealth. The rights of the individual are held sacred and protected by constitutional guaranties, which even the Government itself is bound not to violate. If there is any one thing among us that is established beyond question, it is self-government--the right of the people to rule. If there is any failure in respect to any of these principles, it is because there is a failure on the part of individuals to observe them. We hold that the duly authorized expression of the will of the people has a divine sanction. But even in that we come back to the theory of John Wise that ’Democracy is Christ’s government.’ The ultimate sanction of law rests on the righteous authority of the Almighty."    

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