Title: Speech at Tremont Temple
Date: November 2, 1918
Location: Boston, MA
Context: At the end of the war, Coolidge praises the honor, integrity and bravery of the soldiers fighting for the country in the last weeks of fighting, how it ties to the Commonwealth and the Nation.
To the greatest task man ever undertook our Commonwealth has applied itself, will continue to apply itself with no laggard hand. One hundred and ninety thousand of her sons already in the field, hundreds of millions of her treasure contributed to the cause, her entire citizenship moved with a single purpose, all these show a determination unalterable, to prosecute the war to a victory so conclusive, to a destruction of all enemy forces so decisive, that those impious pretentious which have threatened the earth for many years will never be renewed. There can be no discussion about it, there can be no negotiation about it. The country is united in the conviction that the only terms are unconditional surrender.
This determination has arisen from no sudden impulse or selfish motive. It was forced upon us by the plan and policy of Germany and her methods of waging war upon others. The main features of it all have long been revealed while each day brings to light more of the details. We have seen the studied effort to make perverts of sixty millions of German people. We know of the corrupting of the business interests of the Empire to secure their support. We know that war had been decreed before the pretext on which it was declared had happened. We know Austria was and is the creature of Germany. We have beheld the violation of innocent Belgium, the hideous outrages on soldier and civilian, the piracy, the murder of our own neutral citizens, and finally there came the notice, which as an insult to America has been exceeded only by the recent suggestion that we negotiate a peace with its authors, the notice claiming dominion over our citizens and authority to exclude our ships from the sea. The great pretender to the throne of the earth thought the time had come to assert that we were his subjects. Two millions of our men already in France, and each day ten thousand more are hastening to pay their respects to him at his court in Berlin in person. He has our answer.
It would be a mistake to suppose we have already won the war. It is not won yet, but we have reached the place where we know how to win it, and if we continue our exertions we shall win it fully, completely, grandly, as becomes a great people contending for the cause of righteousness.
We entered the war late and without previous military preparation. The more clearly we discern the beginning and the progress of the struggle, the more we must admire the great spirit of those nations by whose side we fight. The more we know of the terrible price they paid, the matchless sacrifices they magnificently endured; the French. the Italians. the British. the Belgians, the Serbians, the Poles, and the misgoverned, misguided people of Russia, the bravery of their soldiers in the field, the unflinching devotion of their people at home, and remember that in no small sense they were doing this for us, that we have been the direct beneficiaries of peoples who have given their all, the less disposition we have to think too much of our own importance. But all this should not cause us to withhold the praise that is due our own Army and Navy, or to overlook the fact that our people have met every call that patriotism has made. The soldiers and sailors who fight under the Stars and Stripes are the most magnificent body of men that ever took up arms for defense of a great cause. Man for man they surpass any other troops on earth.
We must not forget these things. We must not neglect to record them for the information of generations to come. The names and records of boards and commissions, relief societies, of all who have engaged in financing the cause of government and charity, and other patriotic work, should be preserved in the Library of the Commonwealth, and with these, our military achievements. These will show how American soldiers met and defeated the Prussian Guard. They will show also that in all the war no single accomplishment, on a like scale, excelled the battle of St. Mihiel, carried out by American troops, with our own Massachusetts boys among them, and that the first regiment to be decorated as a regiment for conspicuous service and gallantry in our Army in France was the 104th, formerly of the old Massachusetts National Guard. Such is our record and it cannot be forgotten.
In reaching the great decision to enter the war, in preparing the answer which speaks with so much authority, in the only language that despotism can understand, America has arisen to a new life. We have taken a new place among the nations. The Revolution made us a nation; the Spanish War made us a world power, the present war has given us recognition as a world power. We shall not again be considered provincial. Whether we desired it or not this position has come to us with its duties and its responsibilities.
This new position should not be misunderstood. It does not mean any diminution of our national spirit. It rather means that it should be intensified. The most outstanding feature of the war has been the assertion of the national spirit. Each nationality is contending for the right to have its own government and, in that, is meeting with the sanction of the free peoples of the earth. We are discussing a league of nations. Such a league, if formed, is not for the purpose, must not be for the purpose, of diminishing the spirit or influence of our Nation, but to make that spirit and influence more real and more effective. Believing in our Nation thoroughly and unreservedly, confident that the evidence of the past and present justifies that belief, it is our one desire to make America more American. There is no greater service that we can render the oppressed of the earth than to maintain inviolate the freedom of our own citizens.
Under our National Government the States are the sheet anchors of our institutions. On them falls the task of administering local affairs and of supporting the National Government in peace and war. The success with which Massachusetts has met her local problems, the efficiency with which she has placed her resources of men and materials at the disposal of the Nation, has been unsurpassed. The efficient organization of the Commonwealth, which has proved itself in time of stress, must be maintained undiminished. On the States will largely fall the task of putting into effect the lessons of the war that are to make America more truly American.
One of our first duties is military training. The opportunity hereafter for the youth of the Nation to receive instruction in the science of national defense should be universal. The great problem which our present experience has brought is the development of man power. This includes many questions, but especially public health and mental equipment. Sanitation and education will require more attention in the future.
America has been performing a great service for humanity. In that service we have arisen to a new glory. The people of the nation without distinction have been per forming a great service for America. In it they have realized a new citizenship. Prussianism fails. Americanism succeeds. Education is to teach men not what to think but how to think. Government will take on new activities, but it is not more to control the people, the people are more to control the Government.
We have come to the realization of a new brotherhood among nations and among men. It came through the performance of a common duty. A brotherhood that existed unseen has been recognized at last by those called to the camp and trenches and those working for their victory at home. This spirit must not be misunderstood. It is not a gospel of ease but of work, not of dependence but of independence, not of an easy tolerance of wrong but a stern insistence on right, not the privilege of receiving but the duty of giving.
“Man proposes but God disposes.” When Germany lit up her long toasted day with the lurid glare of war, she thought the end of freedom for the peoples of the earth had come. She thought that the power of her sword was hereafter to reign supreme over a world in slavery, and that the divine right of a king was to be established forever. We have seen the drama drawing to its close. It has shown the victory of justice and of freedom and established the divine rights of the people. Through it is shining a new revelation of the true brotherhood of man. As we see the purpose Germany sought and the result she will secure, the words of Holy Writ come back to us:
“The wrath of man shall praise Him.”
Calvin Coolidge, Have Faith in Massachusetts: A Collection of Speeches and Messages, 2nd ed.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1919