PLYMOUTH NOTCH, Vermont When was the last time you heard a member of one political party praise a member of the other party?
Here in this hamlet nestled among the Green Mountains, former Baltimore Democratic Mayor Kurt Schmoke rose to speak well of our 30 th chairperson, Calvin Coolidge, a Republican. The occasion was the annual festivity of Coolidges birthday on July 4, the only president born on the working day we celebrate Americas birth.
Perhaps it takes the death of one and the absence from public office of another( Schmoke is now president of the University of Baltimore) to cool political passions, but the former mayors respect for Coolidges commitment to civil rights for African Americans and full voting rights for women long before both movements got moving was, itself, moving.
Schmoke quoted from a commencement address Coolidge delivered on June 6, 1924 at Howard University, a historically black college founded in 1867. The previous year, 29 black people were lynched in the U.S ., according to Historical Statistics of the United States. In 1924, there would be 16 more.
Coolidge was vehemently opposed to inequality. He said, The nation has need of all that can be contributed to it through the best efforts of all its citizens. The coloured people are systematically proved their devotion to the high ideals of our country. The propaganda of prejudice and hatred which sought to keep the colored humen from supporting the national cause( WWI) completely failed. The black man proved himself the same kind of citizen, moved by the same various kinds of patriotism as the white man.
His phraseology for African Americans may reflect the time, but his ideas did not. And the Howard speech wasnt a one-off. Coolidge made a similar pronouncement in his first State of the Union address on Dec. 6, 1923: Numbered among our population are some 12 million colored people. Under our Constitution, their rights are just as sacred as those of any other citizen. It is both a populace and a private duty to protect those rights.
Coolidge lost every Southern state in the 1924 election, but won all the rest, save Wisconsin, taking 54 percentage of the popular vote and 72 percent of the electoral vote.
It would be 40 years before President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, signed civil right legislation recognise rights that Coolidge( and Thomas Jefferson) believed were endowed to all human beings by their Creator, but Coolidge showed the way.
In his autobiography, Coolidge wrote of an America that is mostly forgotten, but which cries out to be reclaimed: The neighborhood around the Notch was made up of people of exemplary habits. Their speech was clean, and “peoples lives” were above reproach. They had no mortgages on their farms. If any indebtedness were contracted they were promptly paid. Credit was good and there was money in the savings bank.
He learned from his father what he called the practical side of government. He said he, understood that it consisted of restraints which the people had imposed upon themselves in order to promote the common welfare.
About taxes he said he became aware that when taxes were laid, someone had to work to earn the money to pay them. I insured that a public debt was a burden on all the people in their home communities and while it was necessary to meet the needs of a disaster it expensed much in interest and ought to be retired as soon as possible.
Doesnt all of this from Schmokes kind words about the states members of the opposite political party, to Coolidges innate decency and fairness toward all, seem like some other countries?
It wasnt. With notable exceptions, it was largely practiced and expected in an America not that long ago. Todays America is in desperate need of rediscovering what Vermonters then watched as self-evident truths.
Cal Thomas is America’s most widely syndicated op-ed columnist. His latest book is “What Runs: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America“. Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors @tribune. com .
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