At about this time in 1927, President Calvin Coolidge speaks at a dedication ceremony for Mount Rushmore. Work would begin on that famous monument soon thereafter.
Mount Rushmore, as you know, has been at the heart of some news headlines lately. What did Coolidge think the importance of the monument was?
“On this towering wall of Rushmore, in the heart of the Black Hills,” Coolidge said, “is to be inscribed a memorial which will represent some of the outstanding features of four of our Presidents.”
He thought it natural that the design would begin with George Washington.
“He represents our independence, our Constitution, our liberty,” Coolidge said. “He formed the highest aspirations that were entertained by any people into the permanent institutions of our Government.”
Next up is Thomas Jefferson, of course. His wisdom, Coolidge said, “insured that the Government which Washington had formed should be entrusted to the administration of the people.” Jefferson also expanded the country through the Louisiana Purchase. “By removing the possibility of any powerful opposition from a neighboring state,” Coolidge noted, “he gave new guaranties to the rule of the people.”
The third figure he discusses is Abraham Lincoln. Coolidge described Lincoln as the next important step, once we’d established our ability to govern ourselves. “[T]he next great task was . . . to extend the principle of freedom to all inhabitants of our land. The master of this supreme accomplishment was Abraham Lincoln. Above all other national figures, he holds the love of his fellow countrymen. The work which Washington and Jefferson began, he extended to its logical conclusions.”
The last figure, of course, is Theodore Roosevelt. “To political freedom,” Coolidge says, “he strove to add economic freedom. By building the Panama Canal he brought into closer relationship the east and the west and realized the vision that inspired Columbus in his search for a new passage to the Orient.”
Mount Rushmore, Coolidge concluded, is “decidedly American in its conception, in its magnitude, in its meaning and altogether worthy of our Country. No one can look upon it understandingly without realizing that it is a picture of hope fulfilled.”
But perhaps you will find Coolidge’s next statements to be among his most interesting. They are worth requoting in full:
“Other people have marveled at the growth and strength of America. They have wondered how a few weak and discordant colonies were able to win their independence from one of the greatest powers of the world. They have been amazed at our genius for self-government. They have been unable to comprehend how the shock of a great Civil War did not destroy our Union. They do not understand the economic progress of our people. It is true that we have had the advantage of great natural resources, but those have not been exclusively ours. Others have been equally fortunate in that direction. The progress of America has been due to the spirit of the people. It is in no small degree due to that spirit that we have been able to produce such great leaders. If coming generations are to maintain a like spirit, it will be because they continue to support the principles which these men represented. It is for that purpose that we erect memorials. We can not hold our admiration for the historic figures which we shall see here without growing stronger in our determination to perpetuate the institutions which their lives revealed and established.”
Amen. Here’s to a greater understanding of the American spirit that our republic might live long and prosper.