Miller Center

Inaugural Address (March 4, 1925)

Calvin Coolidge

My Countrymen: 

No one can contemplate current conditions without finding much thatis satisfying and still more that is encouraging. Our own country is leadingthe 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 secondaryand indirect effects we must expect to experience for some time. But weare beginning to comprehend more definitely what course should be pursued,what remedies ought to be applied, what actions should be taken for ourdeliverance, and are clearly manifesting a determined will faithfully andconscientiously to adopt these methods of relief. Already we have sufficientlyrearranged our domestic affairs so that confidence has returned, businesshas revived, and we appear to be entering an era of prosperity which isgradually reaching into every part of the Nation. Realizing that we cannot live unto ourselves alone, we have contributed of our resources andour counsel to the relief of the suffering and the settlement of the disputesamong the European nations. Because of what America is and what Americahas done, a firmer courage, a higher hope, inspires the heart of all humanity. 

These results have not occurred by mere chance. They have been securedby a constant and enlightened effort marked by many sacrifices and extendingover many generations. We can not continue these brilliant successes inthe future, unless we continue to learn from the past. It is necessaryto keep the former experiences of our country both at home and abroad continuallybefore us, if we are to have any science of government. If we wish to erectnew structures, we must have a definite knowledge of the old foundations.We must realize that human nature is about the most constant thing in theuniverse and that the essentials of human relationship do not change. Wemust frequently take our bearings from these fixed stars of our politicalfirmament if we expect to hold a true course. If we examine carefully whatwe 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 ournational consciousness first asserted itself by unmistakable action withan array of force. The old sentiment of detached and dependent coloniesdisappeared in the new sentiment of a united and independent Nation. Menbegan to discard the narrow confines of a local charter for the broaderopportunities of a national constitution. Under the eternal urge of freedomwe became an independent Nation. A little less than 50 years later thatfreedom and independence were reasserted in the face of all the world,and guarded, supported, and secured by the Monroe doctrine. The narrowfringe of States along the Atlantic seaboard advanced its frontiers acrossthe hills and plains of an intervening continent until it passed down thegolden slope to the Pacific. We made freedom a birthright. We extendedour domain over distant islands in order to safeguard our own interestsand accepted the consequent obligation to bestow justice and liberty uponless favored peoples. In the defense of our own ideals and in the generalcause of liberty we entered the Great War. When victory had been fullysecured, we withdrew to our own shores unrecompensed save in the consciousnessof duty done. 

Throughout all these experiences we have enlarged our freedom, we havestrengthened our independence. We have been, and propose to be, more andmore American. We believe that we can best serve our own country and mostsuccessfully discharge our obligations to humanity by continuing to beopenly and candidly, in tensely and scrupulously, American. If we haveany heritage, it has been that. If we have any destiny, we have found itin that direction. 

But if we wish to continue to be distinctively American, we must continueto make that term comprehensive enough to embrace the legitimate desiresof a civilized and enlightened people determined in all their relationsto pursue a conscientious and religious life. We can not permit ourselvesto 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 ofthe action, but the result of the action, which is the chief concern. Itwill be well not to be too much disturbed by the thought of either isolationor entanglement of pacifists and militarists. The physical configurationof the earth has separated us from all of the Old World, but the commonbrotherhood of man, the highest law of all our being, has united us byinseparable bonds with all humanity. Our country represents nothing butpeaceful intentions toward all the earth, but it ought not to fail to maintainsuch a military force as comports with the dignity and security of a greatpeople. It ought to be a balanced force, intensely modem, capable of defenseby sea and land, beneath the surface and in the air. But it should be soconducted that all the world may see in it, not a menace, but an instrumentof security and peace. 

This Nation believes thoroughly in an honorable peace under which therights of its citizens are to be everywhere protected. It has never foundthat the necessary enjoyment of such a peace could be maintained only bya great and threatening array of arms. In common with other nations, itis now more determined than ever to promote peace through friendlinessand good will, through mutual understandings and mutual forbearance. Wehave never practiced the policy of competitive armaments. We have recentlycommitted ourselves by covenants with the other great nations to a limitationof 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, whichmust always accrue from a keen rivalry, is one of the most effective methodsof diminishing that unreasonable hysteria and misunderstanding which arethe most potent means of fomenting war. This policy represents a new departurein the world. It is a thought, an ideal, which has led to an entirely newline of action. It will not be easy to maintain. Some never moved fromtheir old positions, some are constantly slipping back to the old waysof 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 Americamust continue to hold. If we expect others to rely on our fairness andjustice 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 forin international relations from frequent conferences and consultations.We have before us the beneficial results of the Washington conference andthe various consultations recently held upon European affairs, some ofwhich were in response to our suggestions and in some of which we wereactive participants. Even the failures can not but be accounted usefuland an immeasurable advance over threatened or actual warfare. I am stronglyin favor of continuation of this policy, whenever conditions are such thatthere is even a promise that practical and favorable results might be secured. 

In conformity with the principle that a display of reason rather thana threat of force should be the determining factor in the intercourse amongnations, we have long advocated the peaceful settlement of disputes bymethods of arbitration and have negotiated many treaties to secure thatresult. The same considerations should lead to our adherence to the PermanentCourt of International Justice. Where great principles are involved, wheregreat movements are under way which promise much for the welfare of humanityby reason of the very fact that many other nations have given such movementstheir actual support, we ought not to withhold our own sanction becauseof any small and inessential difference, but only upon the ground of themost important and compelling fundamental reasons. We can not barter awayour independence or our sovereignty, but we ought to engage in no refinementsof logic, no sophistries, and no subterfuges, to argue away the undoubtedduty of this country by reason of the might of its numbers, the power ofits resources, and its position of leadership in the world, actively andcomprehensively to signify its approval and to bear its full share of theresponsibility of a candid and disinterested attempt at the establishmentof a tribunal for the administration of even-handed justice between nationand nation. The weight of our enormous influence must be cast upon theside of a reign not of force but of law and trial, not by battle but byreason. 

We have never any wish to interfere in the political conditions of anyother countries. Especially are we determined not to become implicatedin 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 andproperty, and establish responsible government in some of the small countriesof the Western Hemisphere. Our private citizens have advanced large sumsof 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 tomitigate human suffering and assist in the rehabilitation of distressednations. These, too, are requirements which must be met by reason of ourvast powers and the place we hold in the world. 

Some of the best thought of mankind has long been seeking for a formulafor permanent peace. Undoubtedly the clarification of the principles ofinternational law would be helpful, and the efforts of scholars to preparesuch a work for adoption by the various nations should have our sympathyand support. Much may be hoped for from the earnest studies of those whoadvocate the outlawing of aggressive war. But all these plans and preparations,these treaties and covenants, will not of themselves be adequate. One ofthe greatest dangers to peace lies in the economic pressure to which peoplefind themselves subjected. One of the most practical things to be donein 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 mustbe some assurance that effort and endeavor will be followed by successand prosperity. In the making and financing of such adjustments there isnot only an opportunity, but a real duty, for America to respond with hercounsel and her resources. Conditions must be provided under which peoplecan make a living and work out of their difficulties. But there is anotherelement, more important than all, without which there can not be the slightesthope of a permanent peace. That element lies in the heart of humanity.Unless the desire for peace be cherished there, unless this fundamentaland only natural source of brotherly love be cultivated to its highestdegree, all artificial efforts will be in vain. Peace will come when thereis realization that only under a reign of law, based on righteousness andsupported by the religious conviction of the brotherhood of man, can therebe any hope of a complete and satisfying life. Parchment will fail, thesword 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 importantobjects by maintaining our position of political detachment and independence.We are not identified with any Old World interests. This position shouldbe 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, butalways to assist. But while we do justice to others, we must require thatjustice be done to us. With us a treaty of peace means peace, and a treatyof amity means amity. We have made great contributions to the settlementof contentious differences in both Europe and Asia. But there is a verydefinite point beyond which we can not go. We can only help those who helpthemselves. Mindful of these limitations, the one great duty that standsout 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 doneabroad, we must remember that our continued success in that direction dependsupon what we do at home. Since its very outset, it has been found necessaryto conduct our Government by means of political parties. That system wouldnot have survived from generation to generation if it had not been fundamentallysound and provided the best instrumentalities for the most complete expressionof the popular will. It is not necessary to claim that it has always workedperfectly. It is enough to know that nothing better has been devised. Noone would deny that there should be full and free expression and an opportunityfor independence of action within the party. There is no salvation in anarrow and bigoted partisanship. But if there is to be responsible partygovernment, the party label must be something more than a mere device forsecuring office. Unless those who are elected under the same party designationare willing to assume sufficient responsibility and exhibit sufficientloyalty and coherence, so that they can cooperate with each other in thesupport of the broad general principles, of the party platform, the electionis merely a mockery, no decision is made at the polls, and there is norepresentation of the popular will. Common honesty and good faith withthe people who support a party at the polls require that party, when itenters office, to assume the control of that portion of the Governmentto which it has been elected. Any other course is bad faith and a violationof the party pledges. 

When the country has bestowed its confidence upon a party by makingit a majority in the Congress, it has a right to expect such unity of actionas will make the party majority an effective instrument of government.This Administration has come into power with a very clear and definitemandate from the people. The expression of the popular will in favor ofmaintaining our constitutional guarantees was overwhelming and decisive.There was a manifestation of such faith in the integrity of the courtsthat we can consider that issue rejected for some time to come. Likewise,the policy of public ownership of railroads and certain electric utilitiesmet with unmistakable defeat. The people declared that they wanted theirrights to have not a political but a judicial determination, and theirindependence and freedom continued and supported by having the ownershipand control of their property, not in the Government, but in their ownhands. As they always do when they have a fair chance, the people demonstratedthat they are sound and are determined to have a sound government. 

When we turn from what was rejected to inquire what was accepted, thepolicy that stands out with the greatest clearness is that of economy inpublic expenditure with reduction and reform of taxation. The principleinvolved in this effort is that of conservation. The resources of thiscountry are almost beyond computation. No mind can comprehend them. Butthe cost of our combined governments is likewise almost beyond definition.Not only those who are now making their tax returns, but those who meetthe enhanced cost of existence in their monthly bills, know by hard experiencewhat 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 knowthat extravagance lengthens the hours and diminishes the rewards of theirlabor. 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 whotoil are the ones who bear the cost of the Government. Every dollar thatwe 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 muchthe more abundant. Economy is idealism in its most practical form. 

If extravagance were not reflected in taxation, and through taxationboth directly and indirectly injuriously affecting the people, it wouldnot be of so much consequence. The wisest and soundest method of solvingour tax problem is through economy. Fortunately, of all the great nationsthis country is best in a position to adopt that simple remedy. We do notany longer need wartime revenues. The collection of any taxes which arenot absolutely required, which do not beyond reasonable doubt contributeto the public welfare, is only a species of legalized larceny. Under thisrepublic the rewards of industry belong to those who earn them. The onlyconstitutional tax is the tax which ministers to public necessity. Theproperty of the country belongs to the people of the country. Their titleis absolute. They do not support any privileged class; they do not needto maintain great military forces; they ought not to be burdened with agreat array of public employees. They are not required to make any contributionto Government expenditures except that which they voluntarily assess uponthemselves through the action of their own representatives. Whenever taxesbecome burdensome a remedy can be applied by the people; but if they donot 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, unlesswe wish to hamper the people in their right to earn a living, we must havetax reform. The method of raising revenue ought not to impede the transactionof 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 thecountry, 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 mostharm will be the poor. This country believes in prosperity. It is absurdto suppose that it is envious of those who are already prosperous. Thewise and correct course to follow in taxation and all other economic legislationis not to destroy those who have already secured success but to createconditions under which every one will have a better chance to be successful.The verdict of the country has been given on this question. That verdictstands. We shall do well to heed it. 

These questions involve moral issues. We need not concern ourselvesmuch about the rights of property if we will faithfully observe the rightsof persons. Under our institutions their rights are supreme. It is notproperty but the right to hold property, both great and small, which ourConstitution 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 uponproduction and conservation. For individuals or for governments to wasteand squander their resources is to deny these rights and disregard theseobligations. The result of economic dissipation to a nation is always moraldecay. 

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

We are not without our problems, but our most important problem is notto 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 wisdomthat is enshrined in our Constitution, all these need constant effort andtireless vigilance for their protection and support. 

In a republic the first rule for the guidance of the citizen is obedienceto law. Under a despotism the law may be imposed upon the subject. He hasno voice in its making, no influence in its administration, it does notrepresent him. Under a free government the citizen makes his own laws,chooses his own administrators, which do represent him. Those who wanttheir rights respected under the Constitution and the law ought to setthe example themselves of observing the Constitution and the law. Whilethere may be those of high intelligence who violate the law at times, thebarbarian and the defective always violate it. Those who disregard therules of society are not exhibiting a superior intelligence, are not promotingfreedom and independence, are not following the path of civilization, butare displaying the traits of ignorance, of servitude, of savagery, andtreading the way that leads back to the jungle. 

The essence of a republic is representative government. Our Congressrepresents the people and the States. In all legislative affairs it isthe natural collaborator with the President. In spite of all the criticismwhich often falls to its lot, I do not hesitate to say that there is nomore independent and effective legislative body in the world. It is, andshould be, jealous of its prerogative. I welcome its cooperation, and expectto share with it not only the responsibility, but the credit, for our commoneffort to secure beneficial legislation. 

These are some of the principles which America represents. We have notby any means put them fully into practice, but we have strongly signifiedour belief in them. The encouraging feature of our country is not thatit has reached its destination, but that it has overwhelmingly expressedits determination to proceed in the right direction. It is true that wecould, 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 ignorantprejudice with a true and enlightened pride of race. But the last electionshowed that appeals to class and nationality had little effect. We wereall found loyal to a common citizenship. The fundamental precept of libertyis toleration. We can not permit any inquisition either within or withoutthe law or apply any religious test to the holding of office. The mindof America must be forever free. 

It is in such contemplations, my fellow countrymen, which are not exhaustivebut only representative, that I find ample warrant for satisfaction andencouragement. We should not let the much that is to do obscure the muchwhich has been done. The past and present show faith and hope and couragefully justified. Here stands our country, an example of tranquillity athome, a patron of tranquillity abroad. Here stands its Government, awareof 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, attentiveto the intuitive counsel of womanhood, encouraging education, desiringthe advancement of religion, supporting the cause of justice and honoramong 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 withthe cross. The higher state to which she seeks the allegiance of all mankindis not of human, but of divine origin. She cherishes no purpose save tomerit the favor of Almighty God.