Calvin Coolidge on the Declaration of Independence
On July 4th, Americans celebrate our Declaration of Independence. But we often give little thought to the uniqueness and importance of our country’s founding.
To revisit those issues, we might turn to Calvin Coolidge — the only president born on the 4th of July. He honored the Declaration’s commitment to life and the liberty to pursue one’s happiness, provided others’ equally inalienable rights are not violated, more than any of his successors. He also produced remarkable results without sacrificing our freedoms — substantially cutting tax rates, tax rolls and federal debt, while real economic growth averaged 7%, with 0.4% inflation and 3.3% unemployment, during his presidency.
In particular, Silent Cal’s speech commemorating Independence Day’s 150th anniversary merits reconsideration. Consider this condensed version:
We meet to celebrate the birthday of America … a service so great, which a few inspired men here rendered to humanity … the preeminent support of free government throughout the world.
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States … those two great charters of freedom and justice remain firm and unshaken.
A new spirit had arisen on this side of the Atlantic more advanced and more developed in its regard for the rights of the individual.
The American Revolution represented the informed and mature convictions of … independent, liberty-loving, God-fearing people who knew their rights, and possessed the courage to dare to maintain them.
The Declaration of Independence was the result of the seasoned and deliberate thought of the dominant portion of the people of the Colonies … in no sense a radical movement but … resistance to illegal usurpations … to maintain their constitutional rights which from time immemorial had been guaranteed to them under the law of the land.
The Declaration of Independence … had a much broader and deeper significance than a mere secession of territory and the establishment of a new nation … because it was proposed to establish a nation on new principles.
Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed.
That our Declaration of Independence containing these immortal truths was the political action of a duly authorized and constituted representative public body in its sovereign capacity, supported by the force of general opinion … makes it the most important civil document in the world … a new nation was born which was to be founded upon those principles … an incomparable event in the history of government.
All men are created equal … they are endowed with inalienable rights … governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. … No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions.
America … has remained true to the principles which were declared 150 years ago. …The rights of the individual are held sacred and protected by constitutional guaranties, which even the Government itself is bound not to violate.
The fathers made their declaration and adopted their Constitution … to establish a free government, which must not be permitted to degenerate into the unrestrained authority of a mere majority or the unbridled weight of a mere influential few. … These are our guaranties of liberty.
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.
The Declaration of Independence … is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things…Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first … to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us. … We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed.
Calvin Coolidge articulated America’s founding principles, where they came from and the dangers of moving away from them. As we celebrate another Independence Day, that understanding deserves rediscovering, because it is a far cry from the spirit animating many in America today.