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Calvin Coolidge
Inaugural Address, 1925
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Wednesday, March 4, 1925

My Countrymen:

No one can contemplate current conditions without finding
much that is satisfying and still more that is encouraging. Our
own country is leading the world in the general readjustment
to the results of the great conflict. Many of its burdens will bear
heavily upon us for years, and the secondary and indirect effects
we must expect to experience for some time. But we are beginning
to comprehend more definitely what course should be pursued,
what remedies ought to be applied, what actions should be taken
for our deliverance, and are clearly manifesting a determined will
faithfully and conscientiously to adopt these methods of relief.
Already we have sufficiently rearranged our domestic affairs so
that confidence has returned, business has revived, and we
appear to be entering an era of prosperity which is gradually
reaching into every part of the Nation. Realizing that we can not
live unto ourselves alone, we have contributed of our resources
and our counsel to the relief of the suffering and the settlement
of the disputes among the European nations. Because of what
America is and what America has done, a firmer courage, a higher
hope, inspires the heart of all humanity.

These results have not occurred by mere chance. They have
been secured by a constant and enlightened effort marked by
many sacrifices and extending over many generations. We can
not continue these brilliant successes in the future, unless we
continue to learn from the past. It is necessary to keep the
former experiences of our country both at home and abroad
continually before us, if we are to have any science of government.
If we wish to erect new structures, we must have a definite
knowledge of the old foundations. We must realize that human
nature is about the most constant thing in the universe and that
the essentials of human relationship do not change. We must
frequently take our bearings from these fixed stars of our political
firmament if we expect to hold a true course. If we examine
carefully what we have done, we can determine the more
accurately what we can do.

We stand at the opening of the one hundred and fiftieth year
since our national consciousness first asserted itself by
unmistakable action with an array of force. The old sentiment
of detached and dependent colonies disappeared in the new
sentiment of a united and independent Nation. Men began to
discard the narrow confines of a local charter for the broader
opportunities of a national constitution. Under the eternal urge
of freedom we became an independent Nation. A little less than
fifty years later that freedom and independence were reasserted
in the face of all the world, and guarded, supported, and secured
by the Monroe doctrine. The narrow fringe of States along the
Atlantic seaboard advanced its frontiers across the hills and plains
of an intervening continent until it passed down the golden slope
to the Pacific. We made freedom a birthright. We extended our
domain over distant islands in order to safeguard our own
interests and accepted the consequent obligation to bestow
justice and liberty upon less favored peoples. In the defense
of our own ideals and in the general cause of liberty we entered
the Great War. When victory had been fully secured, we withdrew
to our own shores unrecompensed save in the consciousness of
duty done.

Throughout all these experiences we have enlarged our freedom,
we have strengthened our independence. We have been, and
propose to be, more and more American. We believe that we can
best serve our own country and most successfully discharge our
obligations to humanity by continuing to be openly and candidly,
intensely and scrupulously, American. If we have any heritage, it
has been that. If we have any destiny, we have found it in that
direction.

But if we wish to continue to be distinctively American, we must
continue to make that term comprehensive enough to embrace
the legitimate desires of a civilized and enlightened people
determined in all their relations to pursue a conscientious and
religious life. We can not permit ourselves to be narrowed and
dwarfed by slogans and phrases. It is not the adjective, but the
substantive, which is of real importance. It is not the name of the
action, but the result of the action, which is the chief concern. It
will be well not to be too much disturbed by the thought of either
isolation or entanglement of pacifists and militarists. The physical
configuration of the earth has separated us from all of the Old
World, but the common brotherhood of man, the highest law of
all our being, has united us by inseparable bonds with all humanity.
Our country represents nothing but peaceful intentions toward all
the earth, but it ought not to fail to maintain such a military force
as comports with the dignity and security of a great people. It
ought to be a balanced force, intensely modern, capable of defense
by sea and land, beneath the surface and in the air. But it should
be so conducted that all the world may see in it, not a menace,
but an instrument of security and peace.

This Nation believes thoroughly in an honorable peace under
which the rights of its citizens are to be everywhere protected.
It has never found that the necessary enjoyment of such a peace
could be maintained only by a great and threatening array of arms.
In common with other nations, it is now more determined than
ever to promote peace through friendliness and good will, through
mutual understandings and mutual forbearance. We have never
practiced the policy of competitive armaments. We have recently
committed ourselves by covenants with the other great nations
to a limitation of our sea power. As one result of this, our Navy
ranks larger, in comparison, than it ever did before. Removing
the burden of expense and jealousy, which must always accrue
from a keen rivalry, is one of the most effective methods of
diminishing that unreasonable hysteria and misunderstanding
which are the most potent means of fomenting war. This policy
represents a new departure in the world. It is a thought, an
ideal, which has led to an entirely new line of action. It will not
be easy to maintain. Some never moved from their old positions,
some are constantly slipping back to the old ways of thought
and the old action of seizing a musket and relying on force.
America has taken the lead in this new direction, and that lead
America must continue to hold. If we expect others to rely on
our fairness and justice we must show that we rely on their
fairness and justice.

If we are to judge by past experience, there is much to be
hoped for in international relations from frequent conferences
and consultations. We have before us the beneficial results of
the Washington conference and the various consultations
recently held upon European affairs, some of which were in
response to our suggestions and in some of which we were
active participants. Even the failures can not but be accounted
useful and an immeasurable advance over threatened or actual
warfare. I am strongly in favor of continuation of this policy,
whenever conditions are such that there is even a promise that
practical and favorable results might be secured.

In conformity with the principle that a display of reason rather
than a threat of force should be the determining factor in the
intercourse among nations, we have long advocated the
peaceful settlement of disputes by methods of arbitration and
have negotiated many treaties to secure that result. The same
considerations should lead to our adherence to the Permanent
Court of International Justice. Where great principles are involved,
where great movements are under way which promise much for
the welfare of humanity by reason of the very fact that many other
nations have given such movements their actual support, we ought
not to withhold our own sanction because of any small and
inessential difference, but only upon the ground of the most
important and compelling fundamental reasons. We can not
barter away our independence or our sovereignty, but we ought
to engage in no refinements of logic, no sophistries, and no
subterfuges, to argue away the undoubted duty of this country
by reason of the might of its numbers, the power of its resources,
and its position of leadership in the world, actively and
comprehensively to signify its approval and to bear its full share
of the responsibility of a candid and disinterested attempt at the
establishment of a tribunal for the administration of even-handed
justice between nation and nation. The weight of our enormous
influence must be cast upon the side of a reign not of force but
of law and trial, not by battle but by reason.

We have never any wish to interfere in the political conditions
of any other countries. Especially are we determined not to
become implicated in the political controversies of the Old World.
With a great deal of hesitation, we have responded to appeals
for help to maintain order, protect life and property, and establish
responsible government in some of the small countries of the
Western Hemisphere. Our private citizens have advanced large
sums of money to assist in the necessary financing and relief of
the Old World. We have not failed, nor shall we fail to respond,
whenever necessary to mitigate human suffering and assist in
the rehabilitation of distressed nations. These, too, are
requirements which must be met by reason of our vast powers
and the place we hold in the world.

Some of the best thought of mankind has long been seeking
for a formula for permanent peace. Undoubtedly the clarification
of the principles of international law would be helpful, and the
efforts of scholars to prepare such a work for adoption by the
various nations should have our sympathy and support. Much
may be hoped for from the earnest studies of those who
advocate the outlawing of aggressive war. But all these plans
and preparations, these treaties and covenants, will not of
themselves be adequate. One of the greatest dangers to peace
lies in the economic pressure to which people find themselves
subjected. One of the most practical things to be done in the
world is to seek arrangements under which such pressure may
be removed, so that opportunity may be renewed and hope
may be revived. There must be some assurance that effort and
endeavor will be followed by success and prosperity. In the
making and financing of such adjustments there is not only
an opportunity, but a real duty, for America to respond with
her counsel and her resources. Conditions must be provided
under which people can make a living and work out of their
difficulties. But there is another element, more important than
all, without which there can not be the slightest hope of a
permanent peace. That element lies in the heart of humanity.
Unless the desire for peace be cherished there, unless this
fundamental and only natural source of brotherly love be
cultivated to its highest degree, all artificial efforts will be in
vain. Peace will come when there is realization that only under
a reign of law, based on righteousness and supported by the
religious conviction of the brotherhood of man, can there be
any hope of a complete and satisfying life. Parchment will fail,
the sword will fail, it is only the spiritual nature of man that
can be triumphant.

It seems altogether probable that we can contribute most
to these important objects by maintaining our position of
political detachment and independence. We are not identified
with any Old World interests. This position should be made
more and more clear in our relations with all foreign countries.
We are at peace with all of them. Our program is never to
oppress, but always to assist. But while we do justice to
others, we must require that justice be done to us. With us
a treaty of peace means peace, and a treaty of amity means
amity. We have made great contributions to the settlement
of contentious differences in both Europe and Asia. But there
is a very definite point beyond which we can not go. We can
only help those who help themselves. Mindful of these limitations,
the one great duty that stands out requires us to use our
enormous powers to trim the balance of the world.

While we can look with a great deal of pleasure upon what
we have done abroad, we must remember that our continued
success in that direction depends upon what we do at home.
Since its very outset, it has been found necessary to conduct
our Government by means of political parties. That system
would not have survived from generation to generation if it
had not been fundamentally sound and provided the best
instrumentalities for the most complete expression of the
popular will. It is not necessary to claim that it has always
worked perfectly. It is enough to know that nothing better
has been devised. No one would deny that there should be
full and free expression and an opportunity for independence
of action within the party. There is no salvation in a narrow
and bigoted partisanship. But if there is to be responsible
party government, the party label must be something more
than a mere device for securing office. Unless those who are
elected under the same party designation are willing to assume
sufficient responsibility and exhibit sufficient loyalty and coherence,
so that they can cooperate with each other in the support of the
broad general principles, of the party platform, the election is
merely a mockery, no decision is made at the polls, and there is
no representation of the popular will. Common honesty and
good faith with the people who support a party at the polls
require that party, when it enters office, to assume the control
of that portion of the Government to which it has been elected.
Any other course is bad faith and a violation of the party pledges.

When the country has bestowed its confidence upon a party
by making it a majority in the Congress, it has a right to expect
such unity of action as will make the party majority an effective
instrument of government. This Administration has come into
power with a very clear and definite mandate from the people.
The expression of the popular will in favor of maintaining our
constitutional guarantees was overwhelming and decisive. There
was a manifestation of such faith in the integrity of the courts
that we can consider that issue rejected for some time to come.
Likewise, the policy of public ownership of railroads and certain
electric utilities met with unmistakable defeat. The people
declared that they wanted their rights to have not a political
but a judicial determination, and their independence and freedom
continued and supported by having the ownership and control
of their property, not in the Government, but in their own hands.
As they always do when they have a fair chance, the people
demonstrated that they are sound and are determined to have
a sound government.

When we turn from what was rejected to inquire what was
accepted, the policy that stands out with the greatest clearness
is that of economy in public expenditure with reduction and
reform of taxation. The principle involved in this effort is that of
conservation. The resources of this country are almost beyond
computation. No mind can comprehend them. But the cost of our
combined governments is likewise almost beyond definition. Not
only those who are now making their tax returns, but those who
meet the enhanced cost of existence in their monthly bills, know
by hard experience what this great burden is and what it does.
No matter what others may want, these people want a drastic
economy. They are opposed to waste. They know that
extravagance lengthens the hours and diminishes the rewards
of their labor. I favor the policy of economy, not because I wish
to save money, but because I wish to save people. The men
and women of this country who toil are the ones who bear the
cost of the Government. Every dollar that we carelessly waste
means that their life will be so much the more meager. Every
dollar that we prudently save means that their life will be so
much the more abundant. Economy is idealism in its most
practical form.

If extravagance were not reflected in taxation, and through
taxation both directly and indirectly injuriously affecting the
people, it would not be of so much consequence. The wisest
and soundest method of solving our tax problem is through
economy. Fortunately, of all the great nations this country is
best in a position to adopt that simple remedy. We do not
any longer need wartime revenues. The collection of any taxes
which are not absolutely required, which do not beyond
reasonable doubt contribute to the public welfare, is only a
species of legalized larceny. Under this republic the rewards
of industry belong to those who earn them. The only
constitutional tax is the tax which ministers to public necessity.
The property of the country belongs to the people of the country.
Their title is absolute. They do not support any privileged class;
they do not need to maintain great military forces; they ought
not to be burdened with a great array of public employees.
They are not required to make any contribution to Government
expenditures except that which they voluntarily assess upon
themselves through the action of their own representatives.
Whenever taxes become burdensome a remedy can be applied
by the people; but if they do not act for themselves, no one
can be very successful in acting for them.

The time is arriving when we can have further tax reduction,
when, unless we wish to hamper the people in their right to
earn a living, we must have tax reform. The method of raising
revenue ought not to impede the transaction of business; it
ought to encourage it. I am opposed to extremely high rates,
because they produce little or no revenue, because they are
bad for the country, and, finally, because they are wrong. We
can not finance the country, we can not improve social conditions,
through any system of injustice, even if we attempt to inflict it
upon the rich. Those who suffer the most harm will be the poor.
This country believes in prosperity. It is absurd to suppose that
it is envious of those who are already prosperous. The wise
and correct course to follow in taxation and all other economic
legislation is not to destroy those who have already secured
success but to create conditions under which every one will
have a better chance to be successful. The verdict of the country
has been given on this question. That verdict stands. We shall
do well to heed it.

These questions involve moral issues. We need not concern
ourselves much about the rights of property if we will faithfully
observe the rights of persons. Under our institutions their rights
are supreme. It is not property but the right to hold property,
both great and small, which our Constitution guarantees. All
owners of property are charged with a service. These rights
and duties have been revealed, through the conscience of
society, to have a divine sanction. The very stability of our
society rests upon production and conservation. For individuals
or for governments to waste and squander their resources is
to deny these rights and disregard these obligations. The
result of economic dissipation to a nation is always moral decay.

These policies of better international understandings, greater
economy, and lower taxes have contributed largely to peaceful
and prosperous industrial relations. Under the helpful influences
of restrictive immigration and a protective tariff, employment is
plentiful, the rate of pay is high, and wage earners are in a
state of contentment seldom before seen. Our transportation
systems have been gradually recovering and have been able
to meet all the requirements of the service. Agriculture has
been very slow in reviving, but the price of cereals at last
indicates that the day of its deliverance is at hand.

We are not without our problems, but our most important
problem is not to secure new advantages but to maintain
those which we already possess. Our system of government
made up of three separate and independent departments,
our divided sovereignty composed of Nation and State, the
matchless wisdom that is enshrined in our Constitution, all
these need constant effort and tireless vigilance for their
protection and support.

In a republic the first rule for the guidance of the citizen is
obedience to law. Under a despotism the law may be imposed
upon the subject. He has no voice in its making, no influence
in its administration, it does not represent him. Under a free
government the citizen makes his own laws, chooses his own
administrators, which do represent him. Those who want their
rights respected under the Constitution and the law ought to
set the example themselves of observing the Constitution and
the law. While there may be those of high intelligence who
violate the law at times, the barbarian and the defective
always violate it. Those who disregard the rules of society
are not exhibiting a superior intelligence, are not promoting
freedom and independence, are not following the path of
civilization, but are displaying the traits of ignorance, of
servitude, of savagery, and treading the way that leads
back to the jungle.

The essence of a republic is representative government.
Our Congress represents the people and the States. In all
legislative affairs it is the natural collaborator with the
President. In spite of all the criticism which often falls to its
lot, I do not hesitate to say that there is no more independent
and effective legislative body in the world. It is, and should
be, jealous of its prerogative. I welcome its cooperation, and
expect to share with it not only the responsibility, but the
credit, for our common effort to secure beneficial legislation.

These are some of the principles which America represents.
We have not by any means put them fully into practice, but
we have strongly signified our belief in them. The encouraging
feature of our country is not that it has reached its destination,
but that it has overwhelmingly expressed its determination to
proceed in the right direction. It is true that we could, with
profit, be less sectional and more national in our thought. It
would be well if we could replace much that is only a false
and ignorant prejudice with a true and enlightened pride of
race. But the last election showed that appeals to class and
nationality had little effect. We were all found loyal to a
common citizenship. The fundamental precept of liberty is
toleration. We can not permit any inquisition either within
or without the law or apply any religious test to the holding
of office. The mind of America must be forever free.

It is in such contemplations, my fellow countrymen, which
are not exhaustive but only representative, that I find ample
warrant for satisfaction and encouragement. We should not
let the much that is to do obscure the much which has been
done. The past and present show faith and hope and courage
fully justified. Here stands our country, an example of tranquillity
at home, a patron of tranquillity abroad. Here stands its
Government, aware of its might but obedient to its conscience.
Here it will continue to stand, seeking peace and prosperity,
solicitous for the welfare of the wage earner, promoting
enterprise, developing waterways and natural resources,
attentive to the intuitive counsel of womanhood, encouraging
education, desiring the advancement of religion, supporting
the cause of justice and honor among the nations. America
seeks no earthly empire built on blood and force. No ambition,
no temptation, lures her to thought of foreign dominions. The
legions which she sends forth are armed, not with the sword,
but with the cross. The higher state to which she seeks the
allegiance of all mankind is not of human, but of divine origin.
She cherishes no purpose save to merit the favor of Almighty
God.
 

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