Thursday, July 29, 2010

Calvin Coolidge on the Declaration of Independence, Part Deux

Part One is here. Coolidge was the American president from 1923-1928. As presidents go, people sort of liked him. He retired from office gracefully, and "Silent Cal" has his picture next to "taciturn" in the dictionary: old joke, according to which U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and his wife allegedly visited a poultry farm. During the tour, Mrs. Coolidge inquired of the farmer how his farm managed to produce so many fertile eggs with such a small number of roosters. The farmer proudly explained that his roosters performed their duty dozens of times each day.

"Tell that to Mr. Coolidge," pointedly replied the First Lady.

The President, overhearing the remark, asked the farmer, "Does each rooster service the same hen each time?"

"No," replied the farmer, "there are many hens for each rooster."

"Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge," replied the President.

Cal was cool.

On July 5, 1926, on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Coolidge continued:

"Ours is a government of the people. It represents their will. Its officers may sometimes go astray, but that is not a reason for criticizing the principles of our institutions. The real heart of the American Government depends upon the heart of the people. It is from that source that we must look for all genuine reform. It is to that cause that we must ascribe all our results.

It was in the contemplation of these truths that the fathers made their declaration and adopted their Constitution.


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 my opinion very little of just criticism can attach to the theories and principles of our institutions. There is far more danger of harm than there is hope of good in any radical changes. We do need a better understanding and comprehension of them and a better knowledge of the foundations of government in general. Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand their conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought.


They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.

No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshipped."

[Next up: Woodrow Wilson on the Declaration.]


Mark D. said...

Part of a long train of Republican presidents who praised the Declaration of Independence. The GOP even put the Declaration into their party platform in 1856, if memory serves.

Lindsey Shuman said...

This is so stupid. Who cares what Calvin Coolidge thought of the founding. It has nothing to do with the blog. If I were still running things, this would have been deleted.

King of Ireland said...


Why do we study history? I would say to learn from the past to understand the present and plan for the future. If so then modern thoughts on our founding are relevant to this blog.

Why so hostile? Again, I have no idea what happened to make you leave and have nothing against you. But periodical comments to attack Tom many months apart is not accomplishing anything. Attacking me, who has done nothing to you, is not either.

King of Ireland said...

" We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them"

If this is true we are in real trouble as we attempt to throw it all out in the name of progress.

T. Greer said...
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T. Greer said...

If it makes the poster feel a bit more chipper, this reader enjoys posts like these. If you must, Lindsey, see this as a post on the histiography of the Deceleration - in many ways Coolidge has provided an eloquent summary of what his generation thought of the Deceleration. It is not less proper to give a full hearing to their views than it is to devote space to the newest and hottest arguments concerning the founding days.

Brad Hart said...
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Cheers, T. Yes, more chipper. It ain't easy being me. Although I make it look that way. ;-)