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Remembering Coolidge in his own words on July 4th holiday

PLYMOUTH - Independence Day is special in Plymouth, the home of the only President born on the Fourth of July: Calvin Coolidge.
To mark the occasion, a large crowd followed the wreath sent by the White House every year to Coolidge's grave nearby the Coolidge Historic Site.

To Plymouth residents Jon and Wendy Clinch, that ceremony is part of what makes Vermont special.

"We came to this event two years ago," said Wendy Clinch. "We love Vermont and history, and a tradition like this is one reason."
Tom Warner, a vacationer from St. Louis, said he'd learned about the Coolidge event recently and was thrilled to attend. "I enjoy history, and especially presidential history," he said.

In years past, the brief and solemn ceremony was followed by a speech or two from visiting dignitaries. This year, however, was special: The Foundation gathered several of Coolidge's great-grandchildren to read excerpts from a speech Coolidge gave as President before the American Legion in 1925, titled "Toleration and Liberalism."

Diane Kemble, the education director for the Coolidge Foundation, said they first decided to have family members read from Coolidge's writings last year.  This year's text, she said, was selected because the Ku Klux Klan, at the time was at the height of its power as a white supremacy group. Their specialty was terrorizing racial and religious minorities.

"Coolidge didn't attack the Klan directly," Kemble said. "He spoke to different groups to get the message across more effectively. Coolidge addressed synagogues, Catholic groups, and historically black colleges like Howard University in Washington, D.C," she said.

Besides that, Kemble continued, the nation was still reeling from the consequences of World War I. Once America entered the conflict, hostilities ceased within a year.

"You reaffirmed the position of this Nation in the estimation of mankind," Coolidge told the Legionnaires. "You saved civilization from a gigantic reverse. Nobody says now that Americans cannot fight. Our people were influenced by many motives to undertake to carry on this gigantic conflict, but we went in and came out singularly free from those questionable causes and results, which have often characterized other wars. We were not moved by the age-old antagonisms of racial jealousies and hatreds. We were not seeking to gratify the ambitions of any reigning dynasty. We were not inspired by trade and commercial rivalries. We harbored no imperialistic designs. We feared no other country. We coveted no territory. But the time came when we were compelled to defend our own property and protect the rights and lives of our own citizens. We believed, moreover, that those institutions which we cherish with a supreme affection, and which lie at the foundation of our whole scheme of human relationship, the right of freedom, of equality, of self-government, were all in jeopardy."

War, Coolidge said, naturally bred intolerance. Therefore, he said, once the war is over, tolerance among people must return.

"Whatever tends to standardize the community, to establish fixed and rigid modes of thought, tends to fossilize society," Coolidge said. "If we all believed the same thing and thought the same thoughts and applied the same valuations to all the occurrences about us, we should reach a state of equilibrium closely akin to an intellectual and spiritual paralysis. It is the ferment of ideas, the clash of disagreeing judgments, the privilege of the individual to develop his own thoughts and shape his own character that makes progress possible. It is not possible to learn much from those who uniformly agree with us. But many useful things are learned from those who disagree with us; and even when we can gain nothing our differences are likely to do us no harm."

The full text of Coolidge's speech can be found at the Coolidge Foundation's website, www.calvin-coolidge.org/toleration-and-liberalism.html.

 

Photo submitted

"Maj. Gen. Steven Cray, Adjutant General for Vermont, salutes President Calvin Coolidge after leaving a wreath at his gravesite on July 4."