PLYMOUTH - Independence Day is special in Plymouth, the home of
the only President born on the Fourth of July: Calvin
To mark the occasion, a large crowd followed the wreath sent by the
White House every year to Coolidge's grave nearby the Coolidge
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
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
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
"Maj. Gen. Steven Cray, Adjutant General for Vermont,
salutes President Calvin Coolidge after leaving a wreath at his
gravesite on July 4."