Title: Appeal to Women to Vote to Protect the Nation
Date: April 14, 1924
Location: Washington, D.C.
Context: Speech by Coolidge on the importance of exercising one’s right to vote, specifically as women with the newly-founded right to do so
Defines the Organization’s Name
You have come to Washington for the yearly replenishment of the patriotism which the capital of our country suggests. The womanhood of the land had always made large contributions to that sentiment. You are the descendants of those fathers and mothers of the Republic to whom was revealed the promise of the great place which America was to hold in the world. You are the inheritors of their genius, their daring, and their initiative, which in seeking out new ways and untried paths laid the foundation for all that our country has come to mean. They were at once the defenders of the true faith, and the pioneers of progress. Our duty is ever to maintain their faith and cherish their spirit of progress.
I greet you as the Daughters of the American Revolution. But it occurs to me that you are entitled to have a broader definition given to the proud name of your illustrious organization. The Daughters of the American Revolution, yes. But you are more, you are Daughters of the Revolution-of all the revolutions that have meant the broadening of understanding, the expanding of intelligence, the strengthening of the mighty purpose to make this a better world for all the people to inhabit and possess.
You are each “the heir of all the ages,” the daughter of every revolution that has aimed to broaden the rights and secure the liberties of the human race. For two thousand years or more the lovers of liberty everywhere have done honor to that Roman matron who was the mother of the Gracchi, because she put motherhood above the richest jewels; and two thousand years hence the children of liberty everywhere will still be doing honor to the generations of American women, the mothers, wives, sisters and daughters of those American men who, in every hour of supreme peril, have stood together ready to make the necessary sacrifice to save civilization from overwhelming catastrophe.
But the women of America are more than the daughters of the mothers of the revolutions that through the centuries of the past have marked the advance of humanity. For you women, who are gathered here tonight are also the representatives of another revolution, of your very own and in your own time. I mean of course, that tremendous upheaval in political institutions which within a few years has brought to women well-nigh everywhere the privilege and the duty of full partnership in the public affairs of the world.
We have not yet been able to frame a very definite judgment of the changes that will be wrought in our public life, or our private life, because of this remarkable development. It has come so suddenly upon the world, chiefly within this first quarter of the 20th century, that we have not had time to appraise its full meaning. The institutions of democracy have suddenly extended themselves to regions where only a few years ago we could hardly imagine them taking strong and permanent hold.
The meaning of the American Revolution is now clear to us in its double aspect. On the one hand it was conservative. It had as its purpose the preservation of the ancient rights of English freemen, which were not new even when they were set out in the Great Charter of the day of King John. On the other hand, it represented an extension of the right of the people to govern themselves. For the first time there was put into practice the principle of “governments * * * deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
That principle, there declared and established, has been expanding in its influence from that day to this. Shortly after, France experienced its effect in that revolution which so completely destroyed the foundation of the old regime that it was never again firmly and fully reestablished. Not long after, this was followed by the British Reform Bill of 1832.
A Challenge to Self-Government
The wide and rapid strides which have marked the progress of this principle through all intervening history are too well known and apparent to need statement or comment. The right of the people to rule has become more and more broadly extended, more and more widely recognized. In its latest extension it has included the enfranchisement of women.
All of this has been the result of the spirit of the times. It has been accompanied by one of the most terrible convulsions that the human race has ever experienced. The face of the earth has been changed. The institutions of popular government everywhere have been put to a supreme test. In it all there is a challenge to those who believe that self-government is strong enough to prevent disorder, wise enough to provide freedom, righteous enough to establish justice and humane enough to show mercy. It is a challenge that we cannot ignore. We must meet it and answer it, and by our readiness to make sacrifices demonstrate our faith. It is not enough to be Daughters of the American Revolution. It will not do merely to rely on the Constitution and the laws of the land. Institutions, whether adopted long ago or of recent origin, are of themselves entirely insufficient.
All of these are of no avail without the constant support of an enlightened public conscience. But still more is needed. Our only salvation lies also in the ever present vigilance and determined action of the people themselves. The heroic thought and action of the Revolution must forever be supplemented by the heroic thought and action of today.
Along with the great expansion of free institutions, which has carried them to all parts of the world in a startlingly brief historic period, there has gone a broadening of the principle of self-government. The ballot in the earlier forms of democracy, was the privileged possession of a limited class. It was not looked upon as a right, but rather as the reward of some kind of high achievement, perhaps material, perhaps intellectual.
But lately we have come upon times in which the vote is esteemed not as a privilege or a special endowment bestowed only for cause shown, but more in the nature of an inherent right withheld only for cause shown. This new conception makes it no longer a privilege, no longer even a right which may be exercised or omitted as its possessor shall prefer.
It becomes an obligation of citizenship, to be exercised with the highest measure of intelligence, thoughtfulness and consideration for the public concern. The fundamental question of keeping America truly American is whether the obligation of citizenship is fully observed.
Every voter ought not merely to vote, but to vote under the inspiration of a high purpose to serve the nation. It has been calculated that in most elections only about half of those entitled to vote actually exercise their franchise. What is worse, a considerable part of those who neglect to vote do it because of a curious assumption of superiority to this elementary duty of the citizen. They presume to be rather too good, too exclusive, to soil their hands with the work of politics. Such an attitude cannot too vigorously be condemned.
Popular government is facing one of the difficult phases of the perpetual trial to which it always has been and always will be subjected. It needs the support of every element of patriotism, intelligence and capacity that can be summoned.
Sees Safety in Our Own System
I suppose that even among the Daughters of the American Revolution there are some women who sincerely feel that it is unbecoming of their sex to take an active part in politics. It is a little difficult to comprehend how such an attitude could be maintained by any women eligible to such a society as this, and sufficiently interested in the society to participate in its work. It is not exactly in harmony with a devotion to the memory of Molly Pitcher.
Nevertheless, there are such, and to them I want especially to direct an appeal for a different attitude toward the obligations of the voter. I am much less concerned for what party, what policies, and what candidates you vote, than that you shall vote, and that your vote shall represent conviction. When an enlightened electorate acts, I have no fear of the result.
Here in America we are living under a form of democratic-republican institution, which I profoundly believe to be the best that has yet been thoroughly tested. I say this because our system has gone so far in carefully separating the different departments of the Government.
In the beginnings of the evolution of government all power was lodged in a single head of the State. The sovereign was at once the legislative authority, the executive power, and the judicial discretion. The man in whom were assembled all these functions and prerogatives might well say, “I am the State.” But let me remind you that about the same time also was uttered the grim prophecy, “After me, the deluge!” and that prophecy was realized in a deluge of blood.
In the early development of popular institutions the legislative and executive authorities were divided. The power of the purse was gradually and at last effectively assumed by the representatives of the people. It was a long advance. But not until the founders of our Republic had made a further distribution and differentiation of functions, was popular government assured the opportunity to prove its case.
When the judicial function was set apart and made the third independent but coordinating factor in the form of Government, the scheme of a perfected democratic-republicanism was for the first time presented to the world. That was the great contribution made by the founding fathers in our Constitution.
By virtue of it the people were at least assured equality against the tyranny of any despotic executive and the tyranny of any despotic legislature. Neither of them, nor both of them together, might thereafter impose a lawless will upon a defenseless people.
To the preservation, the guardianship, and the gradual perfection of this system the American people may well be summoned. From its earliest establishment our government has been an example to other peoples, wherever they might be, seeking the way of enlightened freedom. The Constitution of 1789 has ever since been the inspiration and guide for builders of popular institutions. It is for us to direct the process of our public life that our institutions shall continue worthy of the admiration and imitation of other communities and the sure defense of our own liberties. In this we shall render our greatest service to humanity.
We shall succeed if we keep always before us the high purpose which presided at the beginning of our Government.
“This Current Troubled Period”
We shall need at all times, and we need particularly in this current troubled period, to keep clearly in our thought the conception of our system as the most nearly perfect mode of guaranteeing the essentials of freedom. Under it we have enjoyed liberty without license. Under it we have been saved from the excess of partisanship or of sectionalism. Under it we have grown in strength and wealth and moral authority. But we have never seen, and it is unlikely that we ever shall see, the time when we can safely relax our vigilance and risk our institutions to run themselves under the hand of an active, even though well-intentioned, minority.
Abraham Lincoln said that no man is good enough to govern any other man. So that we might add that no minority is good enough to be trusted with the government of a majority. And, still-further, we shall be wise if we maintain also that no majority can be trusted to be wise enough and good enough at all times to exercise unlimited control over a minority.
We need the restraints of a written Constitution. To prevent the possibility of such things happening, we must require all citizens who are entitled to do so, to take their full part in public affairs. We must be sure that they are educated, trained and equipped to do their part well. We must not permit the mechanisms of government, the multiplicity of constitutional and statutory provisions to become so complex as to get beyond control by an aroused and informed electorate.
We must provide ample facilities of education, and this will require constant expansion and liberalization. We must aim to impress upon each citizen the individual duty to be a sincere student of public problems, in order that they may rightly render which their citizenship exacts. But, after all, good citizenship is neither intricate nor involved. It is simple and direct. It is every-day commonsense and justice.
It is my privilege to make an appeal to the womanhood of America which no former President could have made in similar circumstances. Four years ago today we did not know that the nationwide enfranchisement of woman would be accomplished in time to enable all of them to vote at the Presidential election. But today we know precisely what is ahead of us. The determination of national policy that will be made in next November will turn quite as much upon the attitude of the women as upon the judgments of the men. So I come to you women, who, I know, will pardon me if I prefer to address you as representatives of the daughters of all the revolutions, rather than as merely the Daughters of the American Revolution, to say that your country wants not only your votes, but your influence, in all coming elections. By this I do not mean to appeal in behalf of any party. I appeal in behalf of our common country.
It is not enough to say that you did not seek the ballot. Your heroic sires did not seek the Revolution. But it came, and they met it by heroic action. Surely the womanhood of the nation who go down into the Valley of the Shadow of Death for their sons and daughters cannot long neglect to participate in elections that they and their children may continue to have the advantages of a Government that is clean and wise and sound.
As it was the initiation of America which made manhood suffrage a modern ideal for the world, so we want now the initiation of America to make citizen suffrage a demonstrated success for the world.
I have absolute confidence that if American womanhood will exercise the right of franchise, after fair, considerate and mature deliberation, voting for what is right as their best judgment shows them the right, the right will mightily prevail.
Surely the womanhood of our country, who have lavished upon the sons and daughters of the land such a wealth of affection, who watch over them in every crisis, from the cradle to the grave, with immeasurable devotion, will not hesitate to make sufficient sacrifice to preserve for themselves and those they love “the last best hope of the world” – American institutions.
Citation: Special to The New York Times. “COOLIDGE APPEALS TO WOMEN TO VOTE TO PROTECT NATION: WARNS AGAINST DEPARTING “IN THIS TROUBLED PERIOD” FROM OUR SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT. MINORITY RULE DEPLORED PRESIDENT EMPHASIZES SAFETY OF SEPARATE EXECUTIVE, LEGISLATIVE AND JUDICIARY. STAY-AT-HOMES ARE SCORED CITIZENS WHO HOLD ALOOF FROM POLITICS ARE CONDEMNED IN ADDRESS BEFORE D.A.R. COOLIDGE APPEALS TO WOMEN TO VOTE.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Apr 15, 1924, https://search.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/coolidge-appeals-women-vote-protect-nation/docview/103397849/se-2?accountid=170107.
The Coolidge Foundation gratefully acknowledges the volunteer efforts of Frank Harder, who prepared this document for digital publication.