Fall River, Massachusetts
September 4, 1916
Seemingly trifling events oft carry in their train great consequences. The firing of a gun in the backwoods of Pennsylvania, Macaulay tells us, started the Seven Years’ War which set the world in conflagration, causing men to fight each other on every shore of the seven seas and giving new masters to the most ancient of empires. We see today fifteen nations engaged in the most terrific war in the history of the human race and trace its origin to the bullet of a madman fired in the Balkans. It is true that the flintlock gun at Lexington was not the first, nor yet the last, to fire a “shot heard round the world.” It was not the distance it traveled, but the message it carried which has marked it out above all other human events. It was the character of that message which claimed the attention of him we this day honor, in the far off fortress of the now famous Metz; it was because it roused in the listener a sympathetic response that it was destined to link forever the events of Concord and Lexington and Bunker Hill and Dorchester Heights, in our Commonwealth, with the name of Lafayette.
For there was a new tone in those Massachusetts guns. It was not the old lust of conquest, not the sullen roar of hatred and revenge, but a higher, clearer note of a people asserting their inalienable sovereignty. It is a happy circumstance that one of our native-born, Benjamin Franklin, was instrumental in bringing Lafayette to America; but beyond that it is fitting at this time to give a thought to our Commonwealth because his ideals, his character, his life, were all in sympathy with that great Revolution which was begun within her borders and carried to a successful conclusion by the sacrifice of her treasure and her blood. It was not the able legal argument of James Otis against the British Writs of Assistance, nor the petitions and remonstrances of the Colonists to the British throne, admirable though they were, that aroused the approbation and brought his support to our cause. It was not alone that he agreed with the convictions of the Continental Congress. He saw in the example of Massachusetts a people who would shrink from no sacrifice to defend rights which were beyond price. It was not the Tories, fleeing to Canada, that attracted him. It was the patriots, bearing arms, and he brought them not a pen but a sword.
“Resistance to tyranny is obedience to law,” and “obedience to law is liberty.” Those are the foundations of the Commonwealth. It was these principles in action which appealed to that young captain of dragoons and brought the sword and re sources of the aristocrat to battle for democracy. I love to think of his connection with our history. I love to think of him at the dedication of the Bunker Hill Monument receiving the approbation of the Nation from the lips of Daniel Webster. I love to think of the long line of American citizens of French blood in our Commonwealth today, ready to defend the principles he fought for, “Liberty under the Law,” citizens who, like him, look not with apology, but with respect and approval and admiration on that sentiment inscribed on the white flag of Massachusetts, “Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem ” (With a sword she seeks secure peace under liberty).
Calvin Coolidge, Have Faith in Massachusetts: A Collection of Speeches and Messages, 2nd ed.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1919