From President Calvin Coolidge’s 1926 4th of July Speech:
Whatever else we may say of it, the Declaration of Independence was profoundly American.
In its main features, the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man — these are not elements which we can see and touch.
They are ideals.
They have their roots in religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We cannot continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.
Governments do not make ideals, but ideals make governments.
And here is an abridged, modernized (and shorter) version of the speech.
Coolidge again (Memorial Day 1924):
When each citizen submits himself to the authority of law he does not thereby decrease his independence or freedom, but, rather, increases it. By recognizing that he is a part of a larger body which is banded together for a common purpose he becomes more than an individual–he rises to a new dignity of citizenship. Instead of finding himself restricted and confined by rendering obedience to public law, he finds himself protected and defended and in the exercise of increased and increasing rights.
It is true that as civilization becomes more complex it is necessary to surrender more and more of the of freedom of action and live more and more according to the rules of public regulation, but it is also true that the rewards and privileges which come to a member of organized society increase in a still greater proportion… We need a more definite realization that all of our country must stand or fall together, and that it is the duty of the government to promote the welfare of each part, and the duty of the citizen to remember that he must be first of all an American.
From the forward to the 2006 reprinting of President Calvin Coolidge’s autobiography:
When he [Coolidge] assumed the presidency following the 1923 death of President Harding, Calvin Coolidge rapidly won public approval for his integrity, plain speaking and lack of pretense….He became extremely popular, even though he was in style and temperament the antithesis of the conventional view of the “Roaring Twenties.”
…He repeatedly exhorted the American people to respect public service, to exercise civic responsibility, to value education and character and to reject materialism and prejudice…He was convinced that government, especially the federal government, should first encourage citizens to solve problems at the state and local level.”
My kind of president and man.
And here is Coolidge, commenting on the press and the importance of the President choosing words carefully:
I have often said that there was no cause for feeling disturbed at being misrepresented in the press. It would be only when they began to say things detrimental to me which were true that I should feel alarm.
Perhaps one of the reasons I have been a target for so little abuse is because I have tried to refrain from abusing other people.
The words of the President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately.
It would be exceedingly easy to set the country all by the ears and foment hatreds and jealousies, which, by destroying faith and confidence, would help nobody and harm everybody. The end would be the destruction of all progress.
While every one knows that evils exist, there is yet sufficient good in the people to supply material for most of the comment that needs to be made.
The only way I know to drive out evil from the country is by the constructive method of filling it with good. The country is better off tranquilly considering its blessings and merits, and earnestly striving to secure more of them, than it would be in nursing hostile bitterness about its deficiencies.
Wouldn’t this mindset be helpful today! And wouldn’t a return to it be a sign of real progress?