Can the importance of July 4 be overstated? In a particular historical sense, the answer could be yes. In a broad sense of humanity, the answer is most definitely no. July 4 after all, is the day that American colonists declared themselves free from Great Britain and declared for the first time that here in the United States “all men are created equal”—a declaration of aspiration and universal truth. Additionally, July 4, 1826 is the touching and symbolic day both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died; touching as two friends settled in their final rest and symbolic as it was the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
Important as these facts are, and as significant as the truths of the Declaration are to American principles, what more can be said of July 4? Forty-six years later, on July 4, 1872, the 30th President of the United States was born. Calvin Coolidge or “Silent Cal” as he is often remembered was, in fact, born on the Fourth of July—the only president to do so. Though he became president upon the death of Warren G. Harding, Coolidge would prove to be a competent executive in his own right. Amidst the complexities that followed three successive Progressive presidencies and a devastating war that embroiled the globe, the normalcy promised by the Harding presidency appeared to be continued by his successor.
Furthermore, the document that is synonymous with his birthday had a profound influence upon him in light of the Progressive wave of social advance, enlightened administration, and overt democratization. Despite the aspects of government that could and should be changed in the name of true reform, Coolidge practiced restraint in what he saw as targets of Progress. For Coolidge, the principles of the Declaration are unalterable and any attempt to do so would only lead to regression and the impoverishment of human liberty.
Coincidentally, in his “Speech on the Occasion of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence” (and 54 years after his own birth), Silent Cal delivered a fairly lengthy and erudite speech commemorating the document that contracted the separation from the American colonies from Great Britain and declared simple truths of human rights.
Coolidge asserted that greatness and lasting prestige of the revolutionary generation was a result of the new principles espoused by those men. Nevertheless, these principles needed to develop over time and gradually come to the fore. These ideas include the equal creation of men, their natural rights, and the notion that the just powers of government come from the assent of the populace. “About the Declaration,” he claimed, “there is a finality that is exceedingly restful.” But he did not stop there as he continued to argue that
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. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.
Coolidge believed in the finite nature of these principles. Such finality directly moves against the standing and Progressive philosophy of history.
–Dantan Wernecke is a recent graduate of the Ashbrook Scholar Program having majored in history and political science at Ashland University.
Earn graduate credits toward a Master’s
degree for each Live Online Graduate
Course in American History &
Government from Ashbrook Center at
Ashland University. Learn More