TeeJaw Blog

Happy Independence Day!

Posted in Culture, Government and Politics by TeeJaw on Sunday, July 4, 2010, 10: 30 AM

Beyond the fireworks lie the great ideals of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and among those are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These ideals reflect an eternal truth, that “Man everywhere has an unconquerable desire to be the master of his own destiny.”

Those words are from a speech by Calvin Coolidge on July 4, 1926 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Coolidge spoke just a few years after the close of a time in American history that has come to be referred to as “The Progressive Era”, roughly the period from 1900-1917. It was during this phase of our history that so-called “progressives” such as Herbert Croly, first editor of a new magazine called The New Republic, led a movement to distance America from many of its founding principles on the idea they were out of date and in much need of being brought into the modern world. President Woodrow Wilson was a solid progressive believing that the Constitution and The Declaration of Independence were dusty old papers of diminished relevance in modern times. These ideas gave birth to modern liberalism [exact opposite of classical liberalism], especially the concept of a “living constitution”[even though that phrase was not used at the time] meaning a Constitution that could be amended by fiat at the whim of elitist rulers.

We see a similar notion expressed today by Obama and his frustration with what he calls “negative rights,” that is rights of the people that limit what government can do to them. Our postmodern president would prefer a Bill of Rights that said what “Government can do on our behalf” instead of one that limits the power of government. This is again being called progressive and many modern liberals now wish to call themselves “progressives,” in order to avoid the stench their misguided policies and ideas have given to the term “liberal.”

One paragraph of Coolidge’s speech which has been faithfully reproduced by Scott Johnson of Powerlineblog each independence day since 2004, takes direct aim at those so-called progressives of his time who sought to impose their version of “progress” upon America’s founding principles:

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. 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.

Calvin Coolidge is getting new-found respect from the days when he was known as “silent Cal” and accused of being a do-nothing president. H.L. Mencken, upon being informed of Coolidge’s death replied, “How can they tell?”

I believe, and it’s pleasant to know that many agree, Coolidge was actually one of our greatest presidents because he did something that few presidents, especially those who have held the office in my lifetime, have refused been willing to do. He left the American people alone. He left them alone to do what the Declaration of Independence says they were born to do, to enjoy the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on their own terms, in their own way, without a nanny government intruding into every nook and cranny of their lives.

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