Calvin Coolidge on the Declaration of Independence and the end of progress

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An excerpt from President Calvin Coolidge's speech on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence:

A spring will cease to flow if its source be dried up; a tree will wither if its roots be destroyed. 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 source and their roots in the 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 can not continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.

We are too prone to overlook another conclusion. Governments do not make ideals, but ideals make governments. This is both historically and logically true. Of course the government can help to sustain ideals and can create institutions through which they can be the better observed, but their source by their very nature is in the people. The people have to bear their own responsibilities. There is no method by which that burden can be shifted to the government. It is not the enactment, but the observance of laws, that creates the character of a nation.

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning cannot be applied to this great chapter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

MORE:

121 years ago today, Katharine Lee Bates was on a train through Kansas, watching the amber waves of grain, en route to the purple mountain majesty of Pikes Peak. Eleven years earlier on a boat from Coney Island to Manhattan, Samuel Ward wrote down a melody on a friend's starched cuff. Mark Steyn tells the story of the words and tune of "America the Beautiful" and how they came together.

English philosopher Jeremy Bentham didn't think much of the Declaration. He wrote a critique of the document, published as the final chapter of John Lind's Answer to the Declaration of the American Congress.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 4, 2014 2:08 PM.

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