Calvin Coolidge is the only President in American history born on the Fourth of July. It is appropriate that he bears this distinction, since Coolidge—more so than any other President of the 20th century—embodied a dedication to the principles that the Founders fought to establish in the American Revolution. In addition, he lived at a time when these principles came under radical assault, and Coolidge, a fierce critic of Progressivism, offered one of the greatest defense of these principles. He is an intellectual and political forefather of modern American conservatism.
One of the effects of Progressivism was the centralization of power in Washington and expansion of the role of government in Americans’ lives. Coolidge believed that government had a legitimate role to play in securing the equal rights of Americans and ensuring equality of opportunity in the marketplace, but he firmly rejected the notion that the government’s new job would be to take care of its citizens. Self-reliance, rather than government assistance, is always the best means to happiness and prosperity, he believed.
Alas, he was forced to acknowledge that “the present tendency is not in this spirit.” Progressivism had eroded the self-reliance and personal responsibility of the American people:
The individual, instead of working out his own salvation and securing his own freedom by establishing his own economic and moral independence by his own industry and his own self-mastery, tends to throw himself on some vague influence which he denominates society and to hold that in some way responsible for the sufficiency of his support…. This is not local self-government. It is not American. It is not the method which has made this country what it is. We can not maintain the western standard of civilization on that theory. If it is supported at all, it will have to be supported on the principle of individual responsibility.