Coolidge on Giving Thanks

In our increasingly secular age, as we watch grown men play a boys’ game, as a certain parade sponsored by Macy’s commercializes our streets, and as we look forward to shaking off our tryptophan-induced slumber to wait in line for Black Friday, it is worth remembering, as Calvin Coolidge did, that “the things of the spirit come first.” Thanksgiving, Coolidge noted, was a “holy day” for those who were its first celebrants.

Coolidge was perhaps the 20th century’s most religious president. He saw the hand of Providence involved in America’s destiny and in her day-to-day affairs. He often warmly quoted the Bible in his speeches. He attended church regularly though he never joined a Washington church, worrying that his duties as president might make it difficult to set a good example. “I am inclined to think now that this was the counsel of darkness,” he regretted in his Autobiography. Most of all, he believed, as did his mentor, Charles Garman of Amherst College, that the Golden Rule revealed a new politics, where men would serve one another in the example of Christ. Ours was a missionary nation, dedicated to the truth and its universal spread. The Pilgrims were the first but they were by no means the last to see its application to America’s public life.

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