Some Thoughts the Relationship among Individual Liberty and Duty, Spirituality, and Government

President Calvin Coolidge had a couple, on the day after the 150th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. He delivered these thoughts and others in a speech in Philadelphia on July 5, 1926, 88 years ago today, now 238 years on.

First, he said this:

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.

He pressed the matter with this (keep in mind that this was an era during which Herb Croly, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson among many others had been, and were, pushing Progressivism):

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 can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, 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.

He closed it out with this:

[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. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like minded as the fathers who created it.

What he said.

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