Coolidge on tolerance

As I have stated in a previous post, Coolidge was an unequivocal foe of the Ku Klux Klan. Here is a little more background on the 1925 Klan parade in Washington, D.C. and Coolidge’s reaction to it.

In the mid-20s, the Klan was active in many regions of the country, fairly recently also in New England. In the summer of 1925 the Klan announced it was planning a grand parade in the capital and that they wanted the president to review it. Coolidge was able to get out of this invitation, as he was spending the summer in Swampscott. At the same time, pressure to speak out clearly against the Klan mounted.

Coolidge did so, using the occasion of his October 6 speech in Omaha before the American Legion Convention. He denounced the Klan, he asked his audience to think before going off on an anti-foreigner binge, and he warned of racial and religious disorder. He noted,

“But among some of the varying racial, religious and social groups of our people, there have been manifestations of an intolerance of opinion, a narrowness of outlook, a fixity of judgment, against which we may well be warned. (…) Whether one traces his Americanism back three centuries to the Mayflower or three years to the steerage is not half so important as whether his Americanism of today is real and genuine. No matter by what various crafts we came here, we are all now in the same boat.”

Noting the tendency among some Americans to feel superior, the president cautioned:

“We can make little contribution to the welfare of humanity on the theory that we are a superior people and all others are an inferior people. We do not need to be too loud in the assertion of our righteousness. It is true that we live under most favorable circumstances. But before we come to the final and irrevocable decision that we are better than everybody else we need to consider what we might do if we had their provocations and their difficulties.”

Ultimately, Coolidge was an idealist when it came to humanity. Speaking to Congress in 1925, he said,

“Bigotry is another name for slavery. It reduces to serfdom not only those against whom it is directed, but also those who seek to apply it. An enlarged freedom can be secured by the application of the Golden Rule.”

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