Coolidge on the 4th

"It was not because it was proposed to establish a new nation, but because it was proposed to establish a nation on new principles, that July 4, 1776, has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history."

Those words were spoken by President Calvin Coolidge on July 5, 1926 at a speech delivered in Philadelphia commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  It was especially fitting that Coolidge — the only president born on the 4th of July — deliver this tribute to the Declaration.

In his speech, Coolidge spoke passionately of the principles in the Declaration, the special inheritance bequeathed to us by Thomas Jefferson, whose legacy is now being threatened by the progressive mob.

Coolidge laid out the fundamental principles of the American founding: equality, liberty, inalienable rights, and popular sovereignty:

Great ideas do not burst upon the world unannounced. They are reached by a gradual development over a length of time usually proportionate to their importance. This is especially true of the principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence. Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed.

Coolidge stressed the religious underpinnings of the Declaration.  Noting that the Founders were well versed in Scripture, Coolidge observed that the Declaration is a product of "spiritual insight":

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 live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things," Coolidge added. "These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first.

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful," Coolidge observed. "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."

Then he added a statement that is moving as well as prescient:

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.

This is Coolidge's warning: destroy the Declaration and the principles of America's founding, and you will not go forward to a utopia; you will head backward to tyranny and barbarism.

Happy 4th of July.

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