March 16, Freedoms Day 2015 – How to celebrate James Madison?

March 16, 2015

Celebrations of James Madison, who was born on March 16, 1751, fall to second tier, a paragraph if we’re lucky in your local newspaper’s “today in history” feature.

March 16 is not a holiday.  It’s not even a Flag Flying Day (though, if you left your flag up for March 15th’s anniversary of Maine’s statehood . . . no one would notice).

Secretary of State James Madison, who won Marb...

Secretary of State James Madison, who won Marbury v. Madison, but lost Judicial review. Photo: Wikipedia

Should we leave James Madison out of our celebrations of history with such vengeance?

Madison left a great legacy.  The question is, how to honor it, and him?

  • Madison is known popularly, especially for elementary school history studies (the few that are done anymore), as the Father of the Constitution.  It’s fitting:  Madison engaged in a great, good conspiracy with George Washington and Alexander Hamilton to get the convention to “amend” the Articles of Confederation and create a better, probably stronger, national government.  But Washington stayed behind the scenes, and pulled very few strings Madison didn’t tell him to pull. Hamilton’s support from New York was weak; while Hamilton played a hugely important role in getting the convention called, and in getting New York to ratify the Constitution with the creation of the Federalist Papers project, the day-to-day operation of the convention and direction of the political forces to make it work, fell to Madison.
  • Madison’s notes on the Philadelphia convention give us the best record of the then-secret proceedings. 

    English: James Madison, fourth president of th...

    Notice the error in this caption:  “James Madison, fourth president of the United States wrote the Constitution at his estate near Orange Virginia, called Montpelier. Pictured here after an extensive renovation.” Photo from Wikipedia.  (James Madison didn’t write the Constitution; it was hammered out in Philadelphia, not Montpelier; the patriot and rake Gouverneur Morris wrote out the final draft.)

  • Madison devised the scheme of getting conventions to ratify the Constitution, instead of colonial/state legislatures.  He had Patrick Henry in mind.  Henry opposed any centralized government for the colonies, to the point that he refused to attend the Philadelphia convention when he was appointed a delegate; by the end of the convention, Henry was off to another term as governor where he hoped to orchestrate the defeat of ratification of the constitution in the Virginia legislature.  Madison circumvented that path, but Henry still threw up every hurdle he could.  (Henry organized the anti-federalist forces in the Virginia Convention, and hoping to kill the Constitution, called it fatally flawed for having no bill of rights; when Madison’s organizing outflanked him, especially with a promised to get a bill of rights in the First Congress, Henry blocked Madison’s election to the U.S. Senate, and organized forces to stop his popular election to the U.S. House.  That failed, ultimately, and Madison pushed the legislative package that became the Bill of Rights).
  • Andrew Hamilton started writing a series of newspaper columns, with John Jay, to urge New York to ratify of the Constitution; but after Jay was beaten nearly to death by an anti-federalist mob, Hamilton invited Madison to step in and help.  Madison ended up writing more than Hamilton and Jay put together, in that collection now known as The Federalist Papers.
  • Madison backed down George Mason, and got the great defender of citizens’ rights to add religious freedom to the Virginia Bill of Rights, in 1776.  Religious freedom and freedom of conscience became a life-long crusade for Madison, perhaps moreso than for Thomas Jefferson.
  • A sort of protege of Thomas Jefferson, Madison pushed much of Jefferson’s democratic and bureaucratic reforms through the Virginia legislature, into law.  Especially, it was Madison who stoppped Patrick Henry’s plan to have Virginia put preachers on the payroll, and instead pass Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom into law in 1786.
  • Madison wrote the best defense of American religious freedom in the Memorial and Remonstrance, a petition to the Virginia legislature to get Jefferson’s bill passed.
  • Madison sponsored and passed more Constitutional Amendments than anyone else in history.  We have 27 amendments to our Constitution.  Madison pushed through the first 10, now known as the Bill of Rights.  In the original package proposed out of Congress were a dozen amendments.  One of those became salient again in the late 20th century, and was finally ratified in 1992 — the 27th Amendment.  Madison is the author of 11 of the 27 amendments, including the first ten and the last one.
  • Yeah, James Madison was the defendant in Marbury v. Madison; he made history even when he didn’t do anything
  • Madison is the only president to face enemy gunfire while president, commanding troops on the frontlines during the British invasion of Washington in 1814.
  • Madison took over the creation of the University of Virginia when Jefferson’s death prevented his following through.
  • Madison’s record as an effective, law-passing legislator is rivaled only by Lyndon Johnson among the 43 people we’ve had as president.  Both were masters at get stuff done.
  • Madison is the ultimate go-to-guy for a partner In his lifetime, to the great benefit of his partners, he collaborated with George Washington to get the convention in Philadelphia; he collaborated with Ben Franklin to get Washington to be president of the Philadelphia convention, without which it could not have succeeded; he collaborated with Hamilton on the Constitution and again on the Federalist papers; he collaborated with Jefferson to secure religious freedom in 1776, 1786, and 1789; Madison collaborated with Jefferson to establish our party political system (perhaps somewhat unintentionally), and to get Jefferson elected president; Madison collaborated with Jefferson and Jay to make the Louisiana Purchase; Madison took James Monroe out of the Patrick Henry camp, and brought Monroe along to be a great federalist democrat, appointing Monroe Secretary of State in Madison’s administration, and then pushing Monroe to succeed him as president.  Also, Madison was a prize student of the great John Witherspoon at what is now Princeton; Witherspoon took Madison, studying for the clergy, and convinced him God had a greater calling for him than merely to a pulpit.

As the ultimate Second Man — when he wasn’t the First Man — Madison’s role in history should not be downplayed, not forgotten.

March 16 is Madison’s birthday (“new style”).

What would be fitting ways to celebrate Madison’s life and accomplishments, on his birthday?  Nothing done so far in the history of the Republic adequately honors this man and his accomplishments, nor begins to acknowledge the great debt every free person owes to his work.

Still, there are encouraging stirrings.

(Dolley Madison?  There are two topics for other, lengthy discussions — one on their marriage, and how they worked together; one on Dolley, a power in her own right.)

Previously, at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

More:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Quote of the moment: Calvin Coolidge, on building America: “Look to service, not selfishness”

March 3, 2015

Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States (elected vice president in 1920, and succeeding to the presidency upon the death of Warren G. Harding).  History.com image

Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States (elected vice president in 1920, and succeeding to the presidency upon the death of Warren G. Harding). History.com image

Referring to progress in the U.S. after World War I, Coolidge said:

With peace has come prosperity. Burdens have been great, but the strength to bear them has been greater. The condition of those who toil is higher, better, more secure than in all the ages past. Out of the darkness of a great conflict has appeared the vision, nearer, clearer than ever before, of a life on earth less and less under the deadening restraint of force, more and more under the vitalizing influence of reason. Moral power has been triumphing over physical power. With peace has come prosperity. Burdens have been great, but the strength to bear them has been greater. The condition of those who toil is higher, better, more secure than in all the ages past. Out of the darkness of a great conflict has appeared the vision of a nearer, clearer than ever before, the  [of] life on earth less and less under the deadening restraint of force, more and more under the vitalizing influence of reason. Moral power has been triumphing over physical power. Education will tend to bring reason and experience of the past into the solution of the problems of the future. We must look to service and not selfishness, for service is the foundation of progress. The greatest lesson that we have to learn is to seek ever the public welfare, to build up, to maintain our American heritage.

Candidate for vice president Calvin Coolidge, “America and the War,” 1920

Digging a little deeper, I discover that the first part of this quote also appeared in Coolidge’s Thanksgiving Proclamation on November 27, 1919, when he was  Governor of Massachusetts.  Knowing a good turn of words when he wrote it (I’m assuming he didn’t have ghost writers then), he used the same words in making phonograph recordings of speeches to be distributed in the election campaign of 1920, before radio was available to carry speeches to voters.  I have made minor corrections in the transcript, from the earlier text and the audio delivery.

According to Talking History, the 78 rpm record and audio version were saved and made available by the Library of Congress.

You may want to listen to Coolidge say the words himself. Mp3  RealPlayer


Presidents Day 2015: Fly your flag today

February 16, 2015

It’s Presidents’ Day on most calendars, though the official U.S. holiday is “Washington’s Birthday.”

You’re already flying your flag today, right?  Let’s recapitulate from last year

Dr. Bumsted reminds us we need to emphasize that the federal holiday is Washington’s Birthday, not a day to honor presidents generically.  See the explanation from the U.S. National Archives.

Presidents Day is February 16, 2015 — fly your U.S. flag today.

National Park Service photo, Lincoln Memorial through flags at Washington Monument

The Lincoln Memorial, seen through flags posted at the Washington Monument, Washington, D.C.; National Park Service Photo via About.com

Oddly enough, some controversy arises from time to time over how to honor President Washington and President Lincoln, and other presidents.  Sometimes the controversy simmers over how to honor great Americans — if Lincoln deserves a day, why not FDR?  Why not Jefferson? — and sometimes the controversy covers more mundane ground — should the federal government give workers a day off?  Should it be on a Monday or Friday to create a three-day weekend to boost tourism?  About.com explains the history of the controversy:

Presidents’ Day is intended (for some) to honor all the American presidents, but most significantly George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. According to the Gregorian or “New Style” calendar that is most commonly used today, George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. But according to the Julian or “Old Style” calendar that was used in England until 1752, his birth date was February 11th. Back in the 1790s, Americans were split – some celebrated his birthday on February 11th and some on February 22nd.

When Abraham Lincoln became president and helped reshape our country, it was believed he, too, should have a special day of recognition. Tricky thing was that Lincoln’s birthday fell on February 12th. Prior to 1968, having two presidential birthdays so close together didn’t seem to bother anyone. February 22nd was observed as a federal public holiday to honor the birthday of George Washington and February 12th was observed as a public holiday to honor Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

In 1968, things changed when the 90th Congress was determined to create a uniform system of federal Monday holidays. They voted to shift three existing holidays (including Washington’s Birthday) to Mondays. The law took effect in 1971, and as a result, Washington’s Birthday holiday was changed to the third Monday in February. But not all Americans were happy with the new law. There was some concern that Washington’s identity would be lost since the third Monday in February would never fall on his actual birthday. There was also an attempt to rename the public holiday “Presidents’ Day”, but the idea didn’t go anywhere since some believed not all presidents deserved a special recognition. [Take THAT you Franklin Pierce and Millard Fillmore fans!]

Even though Congress had created a uniform federal holiday law, there was not a uniform holiday title agreement among the individual states. Some states, like California, Idaho, Tennessee and Texas chose not to retain the federal holiday title and renamed their state holiday “President’s Day.” From that point forward, the term “Presidents’ Day” became a marketing phenomenon, as advertisers sought to capitalize on the opportunity for three-day or week-long sales.

In 1999, bills were introduced in both the U.S. House (HR-1363) and Senate (S-978) to specify that the legal public holiday once referred to as Washington’s Birthday be “officially” called by that name once again. Both bills died in committees.

Today, President’s Day is well accepted and celebrated. Some communities still observe the original holidays of Washington and Lincoln, and many parks actually stage reenactments and pageants in their honor. The National Park Service also features a number of historic sites and memorials to honor the lives of these two presidents, as well as other important leaders.

Fly your flag, read some history, enjoy the day.

More, Resources, and Related Articles:

English: Air Force One, the typical air transp...

President’s airplane, Air Force 1, flying over Mount Rushmore National Monument, in South Dakota – Image via Wikipedia; notice, contrary to Tea Party fears, the bust of Obama is not yet up on Rushmore (and also note there remains no room for another bust).

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  This event occurs every year.


Millard Fillmore, blazing paths as an ex-president

January 15, 2015

Caption from the University of Buffalo: Aurora [New York] town historian Robert Goller delivers the commemorative address indoors at the Margaret L. Wendt Archive and Resource Center in Forest Lawn. Photo: Douglas Levere - See more at: http://www.buffalo.edu/ubreporter/campus/campus-host-page.host.html/content/shared/university/news/ub-reporter-articles/stories/2015/01/fillmore_commemoration.detail.html#/imagegallery/5

Caption from the University of Buffalo: Aurora [New York] town historian Robert Goller delivers the commemorative address indoors at the Margaret L. Wendt Archive and Resource Center in Forest Lawn. Photo: Douglas Levere – See more at: http://www.buffalo.edu/ubreporter/campus/campus-host-page.host.html/content/shared/university/news/ub-reporter-articles/stories/2015/01/fillmore_commemoration.detail.html#/imagegallery/5

I finally found reports of the ceremonies at Millard Fillmore’s gravesite, from January 7, Fillmore’s 215th birth anniversary.  This one comes from the Seneca (New York) Bee:

Historian delivers annual address at Fillmore memorial

by MARY BEST
Reporter

Frigid temperatures didn’t turn away a crowd at the 50th annual Millard Fillmore Commemoration Ceremony at Forest Lawn Cemetery on Jan. 7.

The program, presented by the University at Buffalo and co-hosted by Forest Lawn and the Buffalo Club, was celebrated on Fillmore’s 215th birthday. Robert Goller, Town of Aurora historian, gave the memorial address.

New York Air National Guard Col. Kevin Rogers began the ceremony by laying a wreath at Fillmore’s grave site from President Barack Obama, in keeping with tradition of past presidents. Deputy Mayor of the City of Buffalo Ellen Grant also presented a wreath, later adorned with pins from representatives of Fillmore’s legacy organizations.

Fillmore returned to Buffalo following his loss of the 1852 presidential election. He had a hand in establishing and ensuring the survival of many organizations including the Albright Knox Art Gallery, the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System, the SPCA serving Erie County and the University at Buffalo.

Due to the subzero wind chill, Goller delivered the memorial address from the Margaret L. Wendt Archive and Resource Center after the wreath dedications.

Goller began his address describing Fillmore’s humble beginnings, including the rough journey Fillmore took from Central New York on foot to arrive to his family’s home in Aurora.

“It’s easy to forget that in Millard Fillmore’s day, there wasn’t even a railroad to take the future president halfway across New York State,” Goller said.

The Aurora Historical Society, which runs the Millard Fillmore National Historic Landmark Museum, is also raising funds to commemorate Fillmore’s legacy by commissioning a presidential site to include a statue and a recreation of Fillmore’s law office. Goller also noted Fillmore’s role presiding over the Senate as vice president during a turbulent time in history, which dealt with slavery and secession.

Fillmore’s greatest legacy, however, happened after his time at the White House was over, an often overlooked period of time, according to Goller.

“While Fillmore’s presidency was relatively short, he was probably one of the most effective at using the power of the post-presidency to lend support to important efforts,” Goller said. “The word retirement certainly didn’t describe Millard Fillmore after he left the White House, and we have a much better community today because of it.”

Goller ended by noting the revitalization of Buffalo, most notably the development at the waterfront. He credited Fillmore with igniting the fire when he showed the same passion in the Western New York Community more than a century ago.

“We must not forget that it’s the people, not necessarily the buildings that make the community thrive,” Goller said. “Today we honor one of those people who saw potential in our community and maybe do our best as stewards of our community to continue Millard Fillmore’s legacy of civic pride and community spirit.”

email: @beenews.commbest


New York Air National Guard honored Millard Fillmore, presented President Obama’s wreath at grave

January 7, 2015

I wasn’t there; this is the press release:

107th Airlift Wing Honors Millard Fillmore During Annual Ceremony at Presidents Grave Wednesday, Jan. 7

New York Air National Guard Col. Kevin Rogers places a wreath from President Barack Obama at the gravesite of President Millard Fillmore on Jan. 7, 2015. (Photo by Tech Sgt. Brandy Fowler, 107th AW)

New York Air National Guard Col. Kevin Rogers places a wreath from President Barack Obama at the gravesite of President Millard Fillmore on Jan. 7, 2015. (Photo by Tech Sgt. Brandy Fowler, 107th AW)

BUFFALO, NY (01/07/2015)(readMedia)– New York Air National Guard Col. Kevin Rogers marked the 215th birthday of President Millard Fillmore by laying a wreath from President Barack Obama at the grave of the 13th President on Wednesday, Jan. 7.

The tribute from the 107th Airlift Wing Inspector General, was part of the 50th graveside ceremony marking Fillmore’s birth conducted at Forest Lawn Cemetery by the University of Buffalo.

Fillmore, who was president from 1850 to 1853, was one of the founders of the University of Buffalo. He was also the school’s first Chancellor and instrumental in founding Buffalo’s General Hospital and local libraries and museums.

The University of Buffalo has hosted a graveside ceremony for Fillmore for the past 50 years. The ceremony also encompasses another tradition: the presentation of wreaths form the current president at the gravesites of past presidents on their Birthday.

The 107th Airlift Wing, based at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, traditionally places a wreath on Fillmore’s Grave. The New York National Guard also places wreaths on the graves of President Martin Van Buren in Kinderhook and President Chester Arthur in Albany.

Fillmore was born in 1800 in Moravia New York. He was a lawyer and served in the New York State Assembly. He served in the United States Congress from 1833 to 1835 and again from 1837 to 1845.

Fillmore ran unsuccessfully for governor of New York in 1844 but was defeated. He ran successfully for the position of State Comptroller in 1847 and was the first person to serve in that office as the state’s financial watchdog.

In 1848 Fillmore was nominated to run as vice president with the popular General Zachery Taylor, a hero of the Mexican War. Taylor died suddenly and Fillmore became president. He approved the bills that put in place the Compromise of 1850 designed to allow Texas to enter the Union as a Slave State in exchange for California entering it as a Free State. The measure also banned the sale of slaves in the District of Columbia.

Fillmore, the last member of the Whig Party to serve as president, returned home to Buffalo after losing the election of 1852. During the Civil War Fillmore, a former Major in the New York Militia, commanded a Buffalo home guard regiment called the Union Corps. He died in 1874.

The New York Air National Guard’s 107th Airlift Wing shares Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station with the Air Force Reserve’s 914th Airlift Wing. The unit is currently in the process of transitioning to a mission flying remotely piloted MQ-9 aircraft after previously flying the C-130 transport aircraft and the KC-135 refueling plane.

Members of the 107th Airlift Wing also respond to New York state emergencies and were heavily involved in responding to the lake effect snowstorm which hit Erie County in November.


December 2: Millard Fillmore’s Guano Day!

December 1, 2014

Why December 2?

(You couldn’t make this stuff up if you were Monty Python.)

English: Millard Fillmore White House portrait

Millard Fillmore’s White House portrait, via Wikipedia

President Millard Fillmore, in the State of the Union Address, December 2, 1850

Peruvian guano has become so desirable an article to the agricultural interest of the United States that it is the duty of the Government to employ all the means properly in its power for the purpose of causing that article to be imported into the country at a reasonable price. Nothing will be omitted on my part toward accomplishing this desirable end. I am persuaded that in removing any restraints on this traffic the Peruvian Government will promote its own best interests, while it will afford a proof of a friendly disposition toward this country, which will be duly appreciated.

Did any other U.S. President spend so much time thinking about guano?  Did any president ever mention it in a State of the Union Address?  The curious case of Millard Fillmore, Seer, just grows.

Guano, or bird poop (and its relative, bat poop), contains phosphorus, which is an essential element for life.  Consequently, it turns out to be a key ingredient in effective agricultural fertilizers.  In international competition for supremacy in farming and farm exports, guano became a key resource to fight over, in the 19th century.

It’s almost safe to say the fights were economic; but guano did play a key role in wars in South America (see Andrew Leonard’s article, noted below).

Fillmore figured out that the substance had great importance, coupled that with the rather esoteric knowledge that sea birds tended to deposit guano in great abundance on certain islands, often unoccupied, and ordered the U.S. Navy to claim islands found to contain guano deposits that were not claimed by other nations.

By the American Civil War, the importance of phosphorus to the production of gun powder became an issue for the armies of the North and South.  Millard Fillmore had set the stage for the North to win an important advantage in gun powder production, just one of many that led to the defeat of the South.

It’s one more thing we should thank Millard Fillmore for doing. Our study of history should inform us that it is, indeed, important for politicians to understand the importance of guano.

Fillmore knew his guano.

Take a moment on December 2 to toast Millard Fillmore’s prescience, on Guano Day!

More:  


Calvin Coolidge and Boy Scouts, May 1, 1926

November 30, 2014

From Ghosts of DC:  May 1, 1926. President Coolidge and Boy Scouts on the South Lawn of the White House.

From Ghosts of DC: May 1, 1926. President Coolidge and Boy Scouts on the South Lawn of the White House.

Boy Scouts started visiting presidents at the White House about as soon as Scouting got started in the U.S.

Calvin Coolidge was the first president to have boys of Scout age during his presidency, after Boy Scouting was founded in the U.S. in 1910. At least one of Coolidge’s sons was a Scout.  There may have been meetings in the White House.

This photo comes from Ghosts of DC, and it’s loaded with unidentified ghosts. Standing behind President Coolidge is a man in a uniform — U.S. Marines? — and behind him is Scouting co-founder Dan Beard, the older man with the goatee in the campaign hat.

Who else is in that photo?  Wouldn’t it be great to know?

It was a different era.

Coolidge hosted a meeting of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America in the East Room of the White House on that day.  This photo probably was taken shortly after the meeting.  It’s described as being on the South Lawn of the White House.

Courtesy of the American Presidency Project at the University of California – Santa Barbara, here is the text of Coolidge’s remarks that day:

Members of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America:

The strength and hope of civilization lies in its power to adapt itself to changing circumstances. Development and character are not passive accomplishments. They can be secured only through action. The strengthening of the physical body, the sharpening of the senses, the quickening of the intellect, are all the result of that mighty effort which we call the struggle for existence. Down through the ages it was carried on for the most part in the open, out in the fields, along the streams, and over the surface of the sea. It was there that mankind met the great struggle which has been waged with the forces of nature. We are what that struggle has made us. When the race ceases to be engaged in that great strength-giving effort the race will not be what it is now – it will change to something else. These age-old activities or their equivalent are vital to a continuation of human development. They are invaluable in the growth and training of youth.

Towns and cities and industrial life are very recent and modern acquirements. Such an environment did not contribute to the making of the race, nor was it bred in the lap of present-day luxury. It was born of adversity and nurtured by necessity. Though the environment has greatly changed, human nature has not changed. If the same natural life in the open requiring something of the same struggle, surrounded by the same elements of adversity and necessity, is gradually passing away in the experience of the great mass of the people; if the old struggle with nature no longer goes on; if the usual environment has been very largely changed, it becomes exceedingly necessary that an artificial environment be created to supply the necessary process for a continuation of the development and character of the race. The cinder track must be substituted for the chase.

Art therefore has been brought in to take the place of nature. One of the great efforts in that direction is represented by the Boy Scout movement. It was founded in the United States in 1910. In September of that year the organization was given a great impetus by the visit of the man whom we are delighted to honor this evening, Sir Baden-Powell. This distinguished British general is now known all over the world as the originator of this idea. That it has been introduced into most every civilized country must be to him a constant source of great gratification. The first annual meeting was held in the East Room of the White House in February, 1911, when President Taft made an address, and each of his successors has been pleased to serve as the honorary president of the association. It has been dignified by a Federal character granted by the Congress to the Boy Scouts of America in 1916, and thereby ranks in the popular mind with the only two other organizations which have been similarly honored, the Red Cross and the American Legion.

The Boy Scouts have been fortunate in enlisting the interest of prominent men of our country to serve as the active head of the organization. For the current year that position was held by no less a figure than the late James J. Storrow. His untimely taking off was a sad experience to all of us who knew him. I cherished him personally as a friend. I admired him for the broad public spirit that he always exhibited. Amid all the varied and exacting activities as one of our foremost business men, he yet found time to devote his thought and energy and personal attention to the advancement of this movement. His memory will constantly bring to us all that sentiment which he uttered in the New Year message that he gave to the scouts, in expressing the hope that it might bring “A more vivid realization that it is the spirit and the spiritual sides of life that count.”

The more I have studied this movement, its inception, purposes, organization, and principles, the more I have been impressed. Not only is it based on the fundamental rules of right thinking and acting but it seems to embrace in its code almost every virtue needed in the personal and social life of mankind. It is a wonderful instrument for good. It is an inspiration to you whose duty and privilege it is to widen its horizon and extend its influence. If every boy in the United States between the ages of 12 and 17 could be placed under the wholesome influences of the scout program and should live up to the scout oath and rules, we would hear fewer pessimistic words as to the future of our Nation.

The boy on becoming a scout binds himself on his honor to do his best, as the oath reads:

“1. To do my duty to God and country, and to obey the scout law.
“2. To help other people at all times.
“3. To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

The 12 articles in these scout laws are not prohibitions, but obligations; affirmative rules of conduct. Members must promise to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. How comprehensive this list! What a formula for developing moral and spiritual character! What an opportunity or splendid service in working to strengthen their observance by all scouts and to extend their influence to all boys eligible for membership! It would be a perfect world if everyone exemplified these virtues in daily life.

Acting under these principles, remarkable progress has been made. Since 1910, 3,000,000 boys in the United States have been scouts – one out of every even [sic – eleven? seven?] eligible. Who can estimate the physical, mental, and spiritual force that would have been added to our national life during this period if the other six also had been scouts?

On January 1, 1926, they was an enrollment of nearly 600,000 boys, directed by 165,000 volunteer leaders and divided among 23,000 troops. Such is the field that has been cultivated. The great need now is for more leaders, inspired for service and properly equipped to carry out the program. It is estimated that 1,000,000 additional boys could be enrolled immediately if adequate leadership could be provided. We can not do too much honor to the 500,000 men who in the past 16 years have given freely of their time and energy as scout masters and assistant scout masters. Such service is service to God and to country. The efforts to get more devoted volunteers and to find and train those fitted and willing to make this their life work is worthy of the most complete success.

Because the principles of this movement are affirmative, I believe they are sound. The boy may not be merely passive in his alliance to righteousness. He must be an active force in his home, his church, and his community. Too few people have a clear realization of the real purposes of the Boy Scouts. In the popular mind the program is arranged or play, for recreation, is designed solely to utilize the spare time of the boy in such a way that he may develop physically while engaged in pleasurable pursuits. This is but a hint conception, one almost wholly misleading. The program is a means to an end. Its fundamental object is to use modern environment in character building and training for citizenship.

Character is what a person is; it represents the aggregate of distinctive mental and moral qualities belonging to an individual or a race. Good character means a mental and moral fiber of high order, one which may be woven into the fabric of the community and State, going to make a great nation – great in the broadest meaning of that word.

The organization of the scouts is particularly suitable for a representative democracy such as ours, where our institutions rest on the theory of self-government and public functions are exercised through delegated authority. The boys are taught to practice the basic virtues and principles of right living and to act for themselves in accordance with such virtues and principles. They learn self-direction and self-control.

The organization is not intended to take the place of the home or religion, but to supplement and cooperate with those important factors in our national life. We hear much talk of the decline in the influence of religion, of the loosening of the home ties, of the lack of discipline – all tending to break down reverence and respect for the laws of God and of man. Such thought as I have been able to give to the subject and such observations as have come within my experience have convinced me that there is no substitute for the influences of the home and of religion. These take hold of the innermost nature of the individual and play a very dominant part in the formation of personality and character. This most necessary and most valuable service has to be performed by the parents, or it is not performed at all. It is the root of the family life. Nothing else can ever take its place. Theses duties can be performed by foster parents with partial success, but any attempt on the part of the Government to function in these directions breaks down almost entirely. The Boy Scout movement can never be a success as a substitute but only as an ally of strict parental control and family life under religious influences. Parents can not shift their responsibility. If they fail to exercise proper control, nobody else can do it for them.

The last item in the scout “duodecalogue” is impressive. It declares that a scout shall be reverent. “He is reverent toward God,” the paragraph reads. “He is faithful in his religious duty – respects the convictions of others in matters of custom and religion.” In the past I have declared my conviction that our Government rests upon religion; that religion is the source from which we derive our reverence for truth and justice, for equality and liberty, and for the rights of mankind. So wisely and liberally is the Boy Scout movement designed that the various religious denominations have found it a most helpful agency in arousing and maintaining interest in the work of their various societies. This has helped to emphasize in the minds of youth the importance of teaching our boys to respect the religious opinions and social customs of others.

The scout theory takes the boy at an age when he is apt to get ensnared in the complexities and false values of our latter-day life, and it turns his attention toward the simple, the natural, the genuine. It provides a program for the utilization of his spare time outside his home and school and church duties. While ofttimes recreational, it is in the best sense constructive. It aims to give a useful outlet for the abundant energies of the boy, to have valuable knowledge follow innate curiosity, to develop skill and self-reliance – the power to bring things to pass – by teaching one how to use both the hand and the head. In the city-bred boy is developed love for the country, a realization of what nature means, of its power to heal the wounds and to soothe the frayed nerves incident to modern civilization. He learns that in the woods and on the hillside, on the plain, and by the stream, he has a chance to think upon the eternal verities, to get a clarity of vision – a chance which the confusion and speed of city life too often renders difficult if not impossible of attainment. There is a very real value in implanting this idea in our boys. When they take up the burdens of manhood they may be led to return to the simple life for periods of physical, mental, and spiritual refreshment and reinvigoration.

Scouting very definitely teaches that rewards come only after achievement through personal effort and self-discipline. The boy enters as a tenderfoot. As he develops he becomes a second-class scout and then a first-class scout. Still there is before him the opportunity, in accordance with ability and hard work, to advance and get merit badges for proficiency in some 70 subjects pertaining to the arts, trades, and sciences. It is interesting to learn that in the year 1925, 195,000 merit badges were awarded as compared with 140,000 in 1924. Twenty-one such awards make the boy an “eagle scout,” the highest rank. Not only does one learn to do things, but in many instances he learns what he can do best. He is guided to his life work. Vocational experts will tell you in dollars and cents what this means to society where so often much valuable time and effort is wasted by the young before they have tested, proven, and trained their individual powers.

The boy learns “to be prepared.” This is the motto of the scouts. They are prepared to take their proper place in life, prepared to meet any unusual situation arising in their personal or civic relations. The scout is taught to be courageous and self-sacrificing. Individually he must do one good deed each day. He is made to understand that he is a part of organized society; that he owes an obligation to that society. Among the many activities in which the scouts have rendered public service are those for the protection of birds and wild life generally, for the conservation of natural resources, reforestation, for carrying out the “Safety first” idea. They have taken part in campaigns for church cooperation, in drives against harmful literature, and the promotion of an interest in wholesome, worth-while reading. In many communities they have cooperated with the police and fire departments. In some instances they have studied the machinery of government by temporary and volunteer participation in the city and State administration. During the war they helped in the Liberty-loan campaigns, and more recently they have assisted in “Get out the vote” movements.

All of this is exceedingly practical. It provides a method both for the training of youth and adapting him to modern life. The age-old principle of education through action and character through effort is well exemplified, but in addition the very valuable element has been added of a training for community life. It has been necessary for society to discard some of its old individualistic tendencies and promote a larger liberty and a more abundant life by cooperative effort. This theory has been developed under the principle of the division of labor, but the division of labor fails completely if any one of the divisions ceases to function.

It is well that boys should learn that lesson at an early age. Very soon they will be engaged in carrying on the work of the world. Some will enter the field of transportation, some of banking, some of industry, some of agriculture; some will be in the public service, in the police department, in the fire department, in the Post Office Department, in the health department. The public welfare, success, and prosperity of the Nation will depend upon the proper coordination of all these various efforts and upon each loyally performing the service undertaken. It will no longer do for those who have assumed the obligation to society of carrying on these different functions to say that as a body they are absolutely free and independent and responsible to no one but themselves. The public interest is greater than the interest of any one of these groups, and it is absolutely necessary that this interest be made supreme. But there is just as great a necessity on the part of the public to see that each of these groups is justly treated. Otherwise, government and society will be thrown into chaos. On each one of us rests a moral obligation to do our share of the world’s work. We have no right to refuse.

The training of the Boy Scouts fits them to an early realization of this great principle and adapts them in habits and thoughts and life to its observances. We know too well what fortune overtakes those who attempt to live in opposition to these standards. They become at once rightfully and truly branded as outlaws. However much they may boast of their freedom from all restraints and their disregard of all conventionalities of society, they are immediately the recognized foes of their brethren. Their short existence is lived under greater and greater restrictions, in terror of the law, in flight from arrest, or in imprisonment. Instead of gaining freedom, they become the slaves of their own evil doing, realizing the scriptural assertion that they who sin are the servants of sin and that the wages of sin is death. The Boy Scout movement has been instituted in order that the youth, instead of falling under the domination of habits and actions that lead only to destruction, may come under the discipline of a training that leads to eternal life. They learn that they secure freedom and prosperity by observing the law.

This is but one of the many organizations that are working for good in our country. Some of them have a racial basis, some a denominational basis. All of them in their essence are patriotic and religious. Their steady growth and widening influence go very far to justify our faith in the abiding fitness of things. We can not deny that there are evil forces all about us, but a critical examination of what is going on in the world can not fail to justify the belief that wherever these powers of evil may be located, however great may be their apparent extent, they are not realities, and somewhere there is developing an even greater power of good by which they will be overcome.

We need a greater faith in the strength of right living. We need a greater faith in the power of righteousness. These are the realities which do not pass away. On these everlasting principles rests the movement of the Boy Scouts of America. It is one of the growing institutions by which our country is working out the fulfillment of an eternal promise.



Citation: Calvin Coolidge: “Address Before the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Washington, D.C.,” May 1, 1926. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=395.

Sure it was a different time. But was it that different?


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,668 other followers

%d bloggers like this: