Dedicating the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battle Fields Memorial

Title: Dedicating the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battle Fields Memorial

Date: October 19, 1928

Location: Fredericksburg, VA

Context: Dedicating the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial as the Coolidge presidency draws to a close.

My Fellow Americans:

No one who loves our country and is sufficiently interested to make even a slight examination of our history could visit this locality without feeling that he is close to great characters and great events. From early colonial times down to the present hour men who have lived and wrought in this section of Virginia have cast a mighty influence over the course of the affairs of this Nation. They have been a race who led in carving out this Republic and establishing its institutions, who believed in local self-government and loved liberty.

The famous sons of this Commonwealth furnished the leadership for acquiring the territory which makes up the continental domain of the United States. Washington gave us the thirteen colonies, George Rogers Clark added the Northwest, Lewis and Clarke carried our jurisdiction to the Pacific, Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase, Monroe secured Florida, Sam Houston brought in the State of Texas, Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor won the California region. Your soldiers led the forces in the field and your statesmen directed the negotiations at the council table in bringing together that vast area stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific which comprises our Federal Union. Their wisdom endowed our country with an empire.

But however important those achievements may be, this Nation is something vastly more than an expanse of territory. It has reached the high place which it holds in the world largely because of its institutions of government. Your devotion to their principles dates from your pioneering days. As early as 1676 Nathaniel Bacon was asserting with armed force the spirit of those rights which were to be established by the Revolution. That spirit never faltered in Virginia. It inspired the eloquent voice of Patrick Henry. It led to the decisive action of the Williamsburg Convention in May, 1776, when it unanimously resolved to instruct its delegates to the Continental Congress to declare the United Colonies free and independent States. Accordingly, it was Richard Henry Lee who moved a resolution to that effect, and Thomas Jefferson who embodied that action in the Declaration of Independence.

It was your great soldier, George Washington, who made that declaration effective. In his other capacity, as a statesman, aided by able leaders in other colonies, but especially by Madison, he was the main influence in securing the adoption of the Federal Constitution. To make that Constitution a living, vital system of national government, Virginia contributed John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, who ranks as our greatest magistrate. When our Government had been established and given strength and direction under Washington, the great instrument which insured that it should forever remain dedicated to the voice of the people was again Thomas Jefferson. During the first 60 years of our Republic the presidential office was held for 36 years by Virginians. Among them was Monroe, who added to our own Declaration of Independence the doctrine against any further interference with the independence of the other countries of our western hemisphere.

After remembering all the contributions that were made by Adams and Hamilton and Franklin, and their colonial associates, after giving due credit to all the inspiration and all the armed forces which came from outside the Old Dominion, it will forever remain to your glory that our territory was won, our republican institutions were put into form, and a government resting on the sovereignty of the people was permanently established under the leadership of the sons of Virginia. No other colony put more of itself into the Federal Union or had a greater influence in the early direction of its government.

But the historic interest of this locality is by no means confined to the creation and the formative years of our Republic. When the Nation became involved in the great tragedy which overtook it in 1861, the contending armies of the North and the South for long periods had opposing camps in this region where occurred some of the hardest-fought battles of the war. Near here lie the fields of Fredericksburg, of Chancellorsville, of The Wilderness, and of Spotsylvania Court House, where the heroic sons of the North and South met in mortal combat, each contending for what he thought was right as God gave him the power to see the right.

The first of these engagements occurred in December, 1862, when General Burnside, sending a force across the Rappahannock, made an attack on General Lee’s position, which was well protected and amply supported by artillery. Assault after assault was made by seven divisions, the one after the other, with the greatest gallantry, only to be repulsed with the most disastrous losses. In the following May of 1863 General Hooker, then in command of the Union forces, marching upstream and crossing the Rappahannock and the Rapidan, met with such resistance at Chancellorsville that his losses were over 17,000. General Lee lost about 12,500. But among these was the ablest military leader of all his generals, Stonewall Jackson, who fell through the mistake of his own men. His loss was irreparable. Following this action General Lee led his forces north until he was turned back at Gettysburg. The next battle in this locality took place a year later, in May, 1864. General Grant was now in command of all the armies, with headquarters with General Meade, who led the Army of the Potomac.

Grant sent his army across the Rapidan at two points and the Battle of The Wilderness followed, which checked his advance. After resting a few days, Grant started the Spotsylvania campaign by attempting to turn the right flank of Lee. Three days of desperate fighting took place in which the losses on both sides were very severe, the heaviest being around the struggle for possession of the bloody angle. It was during this battle that Grant sent his famous dispatch to Washington announcing his purpose “to fight it out on this line, if it takes all summer.” With the superior forces at his command, Grant began that campaign in these two battles, which he followed up until less than a year later it was all finally ended at Appomattox.

In these four important engagements Lee always had the smaller force. His being on the defensive and his brilliant leadership each time saved him from defeat. He always inflicted much the larger losses. On these four fields it has been estimated that the total number engaged on both sides was about 700,000. The entire casualties for both armies were close to 100,000 in about 10 days of actual fighting. Those who fell sleep here, near where sleeps the mother of Washington.

Because of their historic interest and their valuable military lessons, the Congress unanimously passed a bill last year, introduced by your distinguished Representative, Mr. Bland, to make a military park and mark and preserve the important points on these battle fields. The unanimous action of the Congress, and the joint participation of the people, both of the North and the South, in carrying into effect the law which it passed is another welcome demonstration in a long line of events, not only that the war is over, but that reconciliation is becoming complete. The Union which this Commonwealth did so much to establish, the Union hallowed by the name of Washington, the Union which Jackson defended with a fervor no less pronounced than that of Lincoln, the Union which took a new place in the world under Wilson, is not accorded a loyalty in any other part of our Republic more devoted and sincere than that which is constantly manifest in the life of the people of Virginia.

As we look over the course of history, as we give it more and more consideration, our confidence in mankind can not but increase. The more we contemplate their actions, the more we learn of their motives, the more we are convinced that on the whole they attempt to do the best that they can under the circumstances in which they find themselves. The progress of the race has been long and hard and toilsome, marked by many mistakes and requiring many sacrifices. It never goes forward but one step at a time. When we set up our Republic on the foundation of liberty under the law, much of the best thought both of the South and the North realized that the structure was incomplete. Almost immediately 10 articles of amendment were added to the Constitution. Certain obscurities still remained, certain powers were still disputed and undefined. The question of universal freedom and of whether the Constitution provided a temporary confederation or a permanent union were sure to arise. Their decision involved a most terrible and appalling sacrifice on the part of the two great contending forces.

The main reason why we can all join in the movement to commemorate the deeds of immortal valor which marked these battle fields is because we all realize that out of a common expiation our common country has been greatly blessed. In these advantages, as it has slowly risen from its prostration, the South has more than amply participated. Since 1900 that progress has been most marked. In the Southern States alone the wealth, the manufactured, the mineral, and the farm products, the banking resources, and the exports are of about the same value to-day that they were in the whole United States in 1900. The yearly production of the farms, the mines, and the mills exceeds $18,000,000,000, while construction contracts run about $1,000,000,000. If it is possible to judge anything of the importance which a people set on spiritual values, or make any estimate of their intellectual attainments by what they are expending in construction of places of worship and in the support of the public schools, some idea of the progress which the South is making is revealed by the fact that their school costs are twice as much as those of the whole country in 1900, while on the new church buildings that cost more than $10,000 they are expending $1,000,000 each week.

This day, however, is not to mark a local or sectional occasion. It is to mark a national occasion. The great deeds which we have recalled as among the glories of this Commonwealth were national deeds. The great questions which were at issue on these battle fields were national questions. Out of the decision to which they were finally brought there has been a common advantage and a common progress which has accrued to the whole Nation. Had the decision been otherwise, we should have all been robbed of a great part of the pride which we all feel to-day in our country. Her achievements of the past years would have been divested of much of their value and her prospects for the future would have been devoid of much of their hope. Instead of one great country enjoying domestic peace and progress, holding a commanding position in the world, we should have been a region of hostile factions, impotent at home and despised abroad. The service which we did for the cause of humanity in 1898, the world crisis in which we successfully performed our part in 1917, would all have been impossible. Long since our common heritage would have been dissipated, our glory would have departed.

The growth which our country has made since 1860 and the benefits it has brought all our inhabitants are unsurpassed. Our population, which was then about 31,500,000, has risen to about 118,000,000. Our wealth of about $16,000,000,000 is now conservatively estimated at $350,000,000,000. Our foreign trade of only about $785,000,000 has now become over $9,000,000,000. Our railroad mileage has increased from about 31,000 to about 249,000, and its revenues have grown from $153,000,000 to $6,250,000,000. Public-school enrollment has risen from about 5,000,000 to about 25,000,000. Our manufactured products have multiplied from less than $2,000,000,000 to nearly $63,000,000,000. In 1870 our farm products were less than $2,500,000,000, while they are now around $13,000,000,000. These figures illustrate our progress.

So great has been our enterprise and industry that with only 7 per cent of the land and 6 per cent of the population of the world, we produce over 50 per cent of the grains and basic raw materials. Many different elements have contributed to this development, but they all rest on the fundamental fact that we are a large country furnishing a large market able to consume the output of mass production. This situation has encouraged the introduction of labor-saving machinery. As the wage earner became properly compensated, as he began to cost more, the incentive was increased to make him more skillful and more productive. One man can now take the seed from as much cotton as would have been done by 28,000 without the cotton gin, and he can make as much yarn as would have been produced by 45,000 women on the handwheels of colonial days.

The operation of machinery requires a supply of power. In 1869 our industries had 1.14 horsepower for each operator, who added to the raw materials furnished him less than $680 of manufactured value in a year. By 1925 these had risen to 4.3 horsepower and $3,200 of value. In the machinery industry this reaches about $5,200, which is about three and one-half times the best that is done in Europe. Mechanical power has been increased until it is equivalent to the work of 3,000,000,000 additional employees in our industries, or more than 350 helpers for each of their wage earners. The scale of labor has constantly improved in importance and compensation.

A most important influence in our national progress has been the expansion and increased efficiency of transportation. Prior to 1860 railroads were in small and detached units built on different gauges and freight charges were rarely less than 2 cents per ton-mile. Beginning in 1869 consolidations were effected, gauges standardized, and uniformity of operation introduced, which have gradually reduced freight charges to about 1 cent per ton-mile. Business has so much increased that passenger traffic is three times and freight six times as large as they were in 1890. There has lately been a remarkable increase in railroad efficiency. In the five years prior to 1927 the average distance traveled by a freight car was increased four-twelfths, while the proportionate consumption of coal was reduced two-twelfths, and one-twelfth more employees moved four-twelfths more of freight. The movement from producer to consumer has increased 40 per cent in rapidity. The periodic car shortages have been entirely eliminated. Goods are handled with so much care that the cost of paying for such damages has been reduced 70 per cent.

Our national expenditures and authorizations for inland waterways have run into hundreds of millions of dollars. Some of this in the Mississippi Valley has already been demonstrated to be commercially profitable. The water-borne traffic on the Great Lakes has reached the enormous total of 116,000,000 tons in a single season. Plans are being made for a deep-channel waterway from the Great Lakes to the sea.

Within the past 10 years one of our most remarkable improvements has been in highway construction, the expense of which has been borne in part by the States and local units of government and in part by the National Treasury. More than 72,000 miles of improved highways have been constructed, with over 222 miles of bridges, at a cost of over $1,439,000,000, of which the Federal Government has paid $633,000,000. On rural highways as a whole over $1,000,000,000 is being expended annually. This movement for good roads, with the general use of the automobile, has greatly decreased the cost of the transporting of our production and given a mobility to our people that has expanded the whole horizon of life and brought beneficial results so great that they can not yet be enumerated.

In our airways commercial aviation already covers many thousand miles each day.

The great strength and soundness of our financial structure was demonstrated by the World War. Prior to that time we had been a debtor nation. During that crisis we not only furnished enormous sums to take up foreign investments here but we provided the funds for our own war expenditures, advanced nearly $10,000,000,000 to foreign governments, and have constantly sent capital abroad until the Federal Treasury and our private investors have credits there amounting to $25,000,000,000. When the currency system of other nations was rapidly crumbling our own remained perfectly stable and secure. The resources of our banks and our National Treasury, the strength of our Federal reserve system were so great that we not only kept our own currency on a gold basis and our own exchange at par but were able to furnish large credits to other nations to stabilize their currency and support their exchange.

These are some of the facts which indicate the progress and prosperity of the United States. While there are still some of our people who have not yet become participators to the extent of their merit in our material resources, and some lines which have fallen behind, we have striven to keep the door of opportunity open to all our inhabitants. It is true that the accumulations that are taking place would lose much of their value unless their benefits were widely distributed among the great mass of our people. We have individuals of great wealth, and shall continue to have so long as men are free and enterprise and ambition exist, but the large fortunes in this country are substantially all invested in different ways of serving the public. Some of the largest have all been transferred to charity.

The millions of our people who are investors in securities, the $27,500,000,000 of deposits in savings institutions, which have more than doubled in nine years, the $7,200,000,000 of assets of building and loan associations, which have more than trebled since 1919, the widespread individual ownership of homesteads, the possession of 23,000,000 motor vehicles, of which 20,000,000 are passenger cars, the general use of the telephone and radio, the constantly increasing rate of wages even when the price of commodities has been declining, and the general standard of living never before experienced by any people in human history all testify that under our free institutions and equality of opportunity the distribution of wealth is solving itself in accordance with natural laws.

These figures, which would be cold and uninteresting in themselves, when we realize that they illustrate the life and development of our country, can not fail to have a deep fascination. But those wonderful records would be of little avail if they were not accompanied by evidences of the moral power of the Nation. Education is on the increase. Our charities are lavish and world-wide. Our missionary efforts reach in every direction. Our actions in behalf of limitation of naval armaments have been of great benefit to all mankind. Our influence in negotiating the recent treaty in behalf of peace is well known. It raises the greatest barrier against war that was ever created by the art of man. In his capacity as a ranking member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, the State Department had the constant counsel and cooperation of your eminent Senator, Mr. Swanson, in these negotiations. Our progress and prosperity at home, our standing and influence abroad, could never have been secured unless they rested on a solid foundation of demonstrated integrity, high character, and abiding faith.

Such are some of the outlines of the mansion in which dwell the people of the United States. It is “a house not made with hands.” Into it have gone the sacrifices and prayers of many generations. While it is by no means complete, it is already the most comfortable habitation which a nation ever enjoyed. Its prevailing atmosphere is marked by progress, peace, and tranquillity. Sectional animosities have disappeared. Industrial conflicts have almost ceased. Her territorial integrity is secure. Her constitutional liberties are protected by the eternal vigilance of her people. Our country is still worthy of those who have made such great sacrifices in its behalf, still determined to improve the opportunities which those sacrifices created, still loyal to the faith of the past, still inspired by the hope of the future.

Citation: Everett Sanders Paper, Library of Congress

The Coolidge Foundation gratefully acknowledges the volunteer efforts of Kevin DeVries who prepared this document for digital publication.

One Response to “Dedicating the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battle Fields Memorial”

  1. Kevin DeVries

    As an aspiring cultural heritage professional and historian, I find Coolidge’s (and/or his speechwriter’s) outlook as he dedicates a new war memorial to be fascinating. All through, he uses history as a guide to understanding the location at which he stands. The practice of locating history spatially as well as chronologically has been a growing passion of mine and it is interesting to see Coolidge working along this same line over 90 years ago.

    On a different front, Coolidge’s remarks on the Civil War offer a glimpse into the practiced impartiality that Civil War scholars, especially those operating before the 1960’s era Civil Rights Movement, often employed. In the speech, he praises the military leaders of both the North and the South. As this issue has become a flashpoint in recent years, it is interesting to see the intentional manner in which Coolidge plays to both sides, offering an opportunity for both to see their chosen side as heroic. He does not offer a satisfying path forward for modern scholars and citizens, but he does offer a position on the issue that is rarely heard today.

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