The real holiday, at least the occasion of greater worth, is George Washington's birthday this Friday. After all, why a holiday for the Article II branch of government and not for the others? It was the Progressives, manifesting their infatuation with government, who moved America from the veneration of a great founder and statesman to the celebration of mere power. Nevertheless, as we take a day to think back on Presidents past, there is one little known (though that is, thankfully, changing) who offers much for today's defenders of human freedom.
* * *
"America has been the working out of the modern effort to provide a system of government and society which would give to the individual that freedom which his nature requires." President Calvin Coolidge, speaking on July 4, 1924, described some of that working out and reflected that while the rule of law had been essential, "nevertheless some of us can not help thinking how little of it has been dependent on acts of legislation."
Given their institutions, the people themselves have in the past, as they must in the future, to a very large degree worked out their own salvation without the interposition of the Government. It is always possible to regulate and supervise by legislation what has already been created, but while legislation can stimulate and encourage, the real creative ability which builds up and develops the country, and in general makes human existence more tolerable and life more complete, has to be supplied by the genius of the people themselves. The Government can supply no substitute for enterprise.
Coolidge's audience was the National Education Association. He proceeded to describe the benefits of education, including this line that caught my eye.
People ... are finding increased leisure is little more than time wasted in indulgence, unless an opportunity for self development and self expression has been provided in youth by the cultivation of a taste for literature, history, and the fine arts.
Most importantly, however, Coolidge points out, is that "education should be the handmaid of citizenship."
Unless there be some teaching of sound economics in the schools, the voter and taxpayer are in danger of accepting vague theories which lead only to social discontent and public disaster. The body politic has little chance of choosing patriotic officials who can administer its financial affairs with wisdom and safety, unless there is a general diffusion of knowledge and information on elementary economic subjects sufficient to create and adequately to support public opinion. Every one ought to realize that the sole source of national wealth is thrift and industry, and that the sole supply of the public treasury is the toil of the people.
This and many other Coolidge speeches are available at TeachingAmericanHistory.org.
For an account of the absolutely unique way Coolidge became President, read the essay Matt Spalding and I wrote for WeThePeopleHQ.org.