Title: Essex County Club
Date: September 14, 1918
Location: Lynnfield, MA
Context: This speech was delivered at Essex County Club about a month before the ceasefire and the armistice declaration that ended the First World War
(Original document available here)
We meet here to-day as the inheritors of those principles which preserved our Nation and extended its constitutional guaranties to all its citizens. We come not as partisans but as patriots. We come to pledge anew our faith in all that America means and to declare our firm determination to defend her within and without from every foe. Above that we come to pay our tribute of wonder and admiration at the great achievements of our Nation and at the glory which they are shedding around her.
The past four years has shown the world the existence of a conspiracy against mankind of a vastness and a wickedness that could only be believed when seen in operation and confessed by its participants. This conspiracy was promoted by the German military despotism. It probably was encouraged by the results of three wars – one against Denmark which robbed her of territory, one against Austria which robbed her of territory, and one against France which robbed her of territory and a cash indemnity of a billion dollars. These seemingly easy successes encouraged their perpetrators to plan for the pillage and enslavement of the earth.
To accomplish this, the German despotism began at home. By a systematic training the whole German people were perverted. A false idea of their own greatness was added to their contempt and hate of other nations, who, they were taught, were bent on their destruction. The military class were exalted and all else degraded. Thus was laid the foundation for the atrocities which have marked their conduct of the war.
The vastness of the conquest planned has recently been revealed by August Thyssen, one of the greatest steel men of the empire. He tells of a calling together, in the years before the war, of the industrial and banking interests of the Nation, when a plan of war was laid before them, and their support secured by the promise of spoils. France, India, Canada, Australia were to be given over to German satraps. His share was 30,000 acres in Australia, with $750, 000 provided by the Government for its development. This was the promise made by the Kaiser. Here was the motive of the war.
How it was provoked is told by Prince Lichnowski, the Ambassador of Germany to London. He shows how he had reached agreements for a treaty which would show the good will of Great Britain. Berlin refused to sign it unless it should be kept secret. He shows how Germany used Austria to attack Serbia; how mediations were refused; when Austria was about to withdraw, Germany sent an ultimatum to Russia one day and the next day declared war.
This diplomat sums up the whole case when he says: “I had to support in London a policy the heresy of which I recognized. That brought down vengeance on me because it was a sin against the Holy Ghost.” What an indictment of Germany from her own confession! A plan to use the revelations of science for the sack and slavery of the earth; the degradation, perversion, corruption of a whole people, and by those who should have been the wardens of their righteousness, done for the temporal glory of a military caste, and all in the name of divine right.
Much of this was not known in America when we declared war. It is with great difficulty we realize it now. We had seen Germany going from infamy to infamy. We did know of the violated treaty of Belgium, of the piracy, the murder of women and children, the destruction of the property and lives of our neutral citizens, and finally the plain declaration of the German Imperial Government that it would wantonly and purposely destroy the property and lives of any American citizen who exercised his undoubted legal right to sail certain portions of the sea. This attempt to declare law for America by an edict from Potsdam we resisted by the sword. We see at last not only the hideous wickedness which perpetrated the war, we see that it is a world war, that Germany struck not only at Belgium, she struck at us, she struck at our whole system of civilization. A wicked purpose, which a vain attempt to realize has involved its authors in more and more wickedness. We hear that even among the civil population of Germany crime is rampant.
Looking now at this condition of Germany and her Allies, it is time to inquire what America and her Allies have to offer as a remedy, and what effect the application of such remedy has had upon ourselves. We have drawn the sword, but is it only to “Be blood for blood, for treason treachery?” Are we seeking merely to match infamy with infamy, merely to pillage and destroy those who threatened to pillage and destroy us? No; we have taken more than the sword, lest we perish by the sword; we have summoned the moral power of the Nation; we have recognized that evil is only to be overcome by good. We have marshalled the righteousness of America to overwhelm the wickedness of Germany. A new spirit has come over the nation the like of which was never seen before. We can see it not only in the new purity of camp life, in the heroism of our soldiers as they fight in the faith and for the faith of the fathers, but we see it in the healing influences which a righteous purpose has had upon the evils which beset us.
We entered the war a people of many nationalities. We are united now; every one is first an American. We were beset with jealousies, and envy, and class prejudice. Service in the camp has taught each soldier to respect the other, whatever his source, and a mutual sympathy at home has brought all into a common citizenship. The service flag is a great leveller.
Our industrial life has been purified of prejudice. No one is complaining no that any concern is too large, too strong. All see that the great organizations of capital in industry are our salvation. Labor has taken on a new dignity and nobility. When the idle see the necessity of work, when we begin to recognize industry as essential, the working man begins to have paid him the honor which he is due.
Invention, chemistry, medicine, surgery, have been stimulated and improved. Even our agriculture has taken on more economical methods and increased production.
The call for man power has given a new idea of the importance of the of the individual, so that there has been brought to the humblest the knowledge that he was not only important but his importance was realized. And with this has come the discovery of new powers, not only in the slouch whom military drill has transformed into a man, but to labor that has found a new joy, satisfaction and efficiency in its work. The entire activities of the Nation are tuned up.
The spirit of charity has ben aroused. Hundreds of millions have been provided by voluntary gifts for the Red Cross, Knights of Columbus, Hebrew Charities, and Christian Associations. The people are turning to their places of worship with a new religious fervor. Everywhere selfishness is giving way to service, idleness to industry, wastefulness to thrift.
The war is being won. It is being overwhelmingly won. A righteous purpose has not only strengthened our arms abroad but exalted the Nation at home.
The great work before us is to keep this new spirit in the right path. The opportunity for a military training, the beneficial results of its discipline, must be continued for the youth of our country. The sacrifice necessary for national defence must hereafter never be neglected. The virtues of war must be carried into peace. But this must not be done at the expense of the freedom of the individual. It must be the expression of self-government and not the despotism of a German military cast or a Russian Bolshevik state. We are in this war to preserve the institutions that have made us great. The war has revealed to us their true greatness. All argument about the efficiency of despotism and the incompetence of republics was answered at the Marne and will be hereafter answered at the Rhine. We are not going to overcome the Kaiser by becoming like him, nor aid Russia by becoming like her.
We see now that Prussian despotism was the natural ally of the Russian Bolshevik and the I.W.W. here. Both exist to pervert and enslave the people; both seek to break down the national spirit of the world for their own wicked ends. Both are doomed to failure. By taking our place in the world, America is to become more American, as by doing his duty the individual develops his own manhood. We see now that when the individual fails, whether it be from a despotism or the dead level of a socialistic state, all has failed.
A new vision has come to the Nation, a vision that must never be obscured. It is for us to heed it, to follow it. It is a revelation, but a revelation not of our weakness but of our strength, not of new principles, but of the power that lies in the application of old doctrines. May that vision never fade, may America inspired by a great purpose ever be able to say, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Calvin Coolidge, Have Faith in Massachusetts: A Collection of Speeches and Messages, 2nd ed.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1919
The Coolidge Foundation gratefully acknowledges the volunteer efforts of Genevieve Batman, who prepared this document for digital publication.