Silent Cal on the Fourth of July

July 4th, 2013

Today, we celebrate the Fourth of July with barbecues, parades, marching bands, and fireworks. But in earlier times, the day was also marked by specially prepared orations that commemorated our founding principles. A wonderful example of this at once celebratory and reflective genre can be found in the present selection, a speech that President Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933) delivered in 1926 in honor of the Declaration’s sesquicentennial.

President Coolidge affirms the enduring veracity of human equality, inalienable rights, and the consent of the governed—“those old theories and principles which time and the unerring logic of events have demonstrated to be sound.” By locating our abstract creed in its historical, cultural, and religious contexts, he argues against the idea that the American Republic was founded on thought alone, and insists on the continuing importance of our religious heritage. What specifically are his arguments, and what is his evidence? Do you find them convincing? Do they affect your understanding of the Fourth of July and the ways it should be celebrated?

Read the speech here and Leon R. Kass’ commentary here.

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