Posted by: 2thdocbob | 25 May 2015

Memorial Day Thoughts, or Calvin Coolidge Speaks

Arlington-Wreath-at-unknownIn the last year, I have become an admirer of Calvin Coolidge, our 30th President. History has not been very kind to Coolidge, but he was a man of wisdom and good judgment. Many of his statements are far-reaching and even prophetic.

On Memorial Day in 1923, Coolidge spoke on the Destiny of America. I have excerpted some key thoughts from this speech to share with you. My comments are italicized. Visit the reference below if you wish to read the speech in its entirety.


“Patriotism is easy to understand in America. It means looking out for yourself by looking out for your country. In no other nation on earth does this principle have such complete application. It comes most naturally from the fundamental doctrine of our land that the people are supreme.” What a great definition of patriotism!

He continues by stating that “there are two fundamental motives which inspire human action. The first … is that of righteousness. There is that in mankind, stronger than all else, which requires them to do right. … The next motive is that of gain.” What are your motives?

“It is no wonder that the people are attached to America when we consider what it has done and what it represents. …

“If there be a destiny, it is of no avail for us unless we work with it. The ways of Providence will be of no advantage to us unless we proceed in the same direction. If we perceive a destiny in America, if we believe that Providence has been the guide, our own success, our own salvation require that we should act and serve in harmony and obedience.”

That is powerful. Ezra Taft Benson and other prophets have made similar comments.

“Throughout all the centuries this land remained unknown to civilization. Just at a time when Christianity was at last firmly established, when there was a general advance in learning, when there was a great spiritual awakening, America began to be revealed to the European world. When this new age began, with its new aspirations and its new needs, its new hopes, and its new desires, the shores of our country rose through the mist, disclosing a new hemisphere in which, untrammeled by Old World conventions, new ideals might establish for mankind a new experience and a new life.

“Settlers came here from mixed motives, some for pillage and adventure, some for trade and refuge, but those who have set their imperishable mark upon our institutions came from far higher motives. Generally defined, they were seeking a broader freedom. They were intent upon establishing a Christian commonwealth in accordance with the principle of self-government.

“They were an inspired body of men. It has been said that God sifted the nations that He might send choice grain into the wilderness. They had a genius for organized society on the foundation of piety, righteousness, liberty, and obedience to law. They brought with them the accumulated wisdom and experience of the ages wherever it contributed to the civilizing power of these great agencies.”

This is more than just Manifest Destiny. This has been understood by Latter-day Saints from the beginning. The Founding Fathers were among the greatest men on earth; not just then but now.

“Freedom of action is complete, within moral bounds, under the law which the people themselves have prescribed. The individual is supported in his right to follow his own choice, live his own life, and reap the rewards of his own effort.” Limited government leads to individual agency. Is this a forgotten concept?

Reagan at Arlington

“Such is America, such is the government and civilization which have grown up around the church, the town meeting, and the schoolhouse. It is not perfect, but it surpasses the accomplishments of any other people. Such is the state of society which has been created in this country, which has brought it from the untrodden wilderness of 300 years ago to its present state of development. Who can fail to see in it the hand of destiny? Who can doubt that it has been guided by a Divine Providence? What has it not given to its people in material advantages, educational opportunity, and religious consolation? Our country has not failed, our country has been a success. You are here because you believe in it, because you believe that it is right, and because you know that it has paid. You are determined to defend it, to support it, and, if need be, to fight for it. You know that America is worth fighting for.

“But if our republic is to be maintained and improved it will be through the efforts and character of the individual. It will be, first of all, because of the influences which exist in the home, for it is the ideals which prevail in the homelife which make up the strength of the nation. The homely virtues must continue to be cultivated. The real dignity, the real nobility of work must be cherished. It is only through industry that there is any hope for individual development. The viciousness of waste and the value of thrift must continue to be learned and understood. Civilization rests on conservation. To these there must be added religion, education, and obedience to law. These are the foundation of all character in the individual and all hope in the nation. . . .”

We believe that this nation was founded and blessed by the hand of divine providence. And he understood the contribution of the home and of hard work to our society. These concepts have been ignored lately, and it is to our detriment.

“Our country has resources sufficient to provide in abundance for everybody. But it cannot confer a disproportionate share upon anybody. There is work here to keep amply employed every dollar of capital and every hand of honest toil, but there is no place for profiteering, either in high prices or in low, by the organized greed of money or of men. The most pressing requirement of the present day is that we should learn this lesson and be content with a fair share, whether it be the returns from invested capital or the rewards of toil. On that foundation there is a guarantee of continued prosperity, of stable economic conditions, of harmonious social relationships, and of sound and enduring government. … Everything we want cannot be had at once. It must be earned by toilsome labor.”

Greed is another vice that is at the root of our nation’s problems right now. Coolidge understood that; why don’t we?

“Our country does not want war, it wants peace. It has not decreed this memorial season as an honor to war, with its terrible waste and attendant train of suffering and hardship which reaches onward into the years of peace. Yet war is not the worst of evils, and these days have been set apart to do honor to all those, now gone, who made the cause of America their supreme choice. Some fell with the word of Patrick Henry, ‘Give me liberty, or give me death,’ almost ringing in their ears. Some heard that word across the intervening generations and were still obedient to its call. It is to the spirit of those men, exhibited in all our wars, to the spirit that places the devotion to freedom and truth above the devotion to life, that the nation pays its ever enduring mark of reverence and respect.

“It is not that principle that leads to conflict but to tranquility. It is not that principle which is the cause of war but the only foundation for an enduring peace.”

How grateful I am for those who have answered the call to serve. I have a noble brother-in-law who has done so at great sacrifice. As far as I know, he is my only relative who has seen active combat. I have a noble son who serves as well. His motivation was a little different, but that does not change the fact that he is serving our nation.


And finally, the most powerful statements: some that should be ringing in our ears.

“There can be no peace with the forces of evil. Peace comes only through the establishment of the supremacy of the forces of good. That way lies only through sacrifice. It was that the people of our country might live in a knowledge of the truth that these, our countrymen, are dead. ‘Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.’

“This spirit is not dead, it is the most vital thing in America. It did not flow from any act of government. It is the spirit of the people themselves. It justifies faith in them and faith in their institutions. … Calm, peaceful, puissant, it remains, conscious of its authority, ‘slow to anger, plenteous in mercy,’ seeking not to injure but to serve, the safeguard of the republic, still the guarantee of a broader freedom, the supreme moral power of the world. It is in that spirit that we place our trust. It is to that spirit again, with this returning year, we solemnly pledge the devotion of all that we have and are.”[1]


Happy Memorial Day to all! May we not only remember those who sacrificed their all for our freedom, but also remember why they made that sacrifice. And may we honor their sacrifices through the choices we make as we live our lives.

[1] Coolidge, C. The Destiny of America. 1923.

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