In describing the "mysterious factor of difference" which has "wrought such a strangely different result here in our country," as opposed to the "fate of Europe... [which is] to be always a battleground," President Calvin Coolidge concluded in his speech, titled The Genius of America, delivered October 16, 1924, to a delegation of foreign-born citizens, that "[i]t was not a single factor but the united workings of at least three forces, that brought about the wide difference." President Coolidge went on to characterize a culture of tolerance unique to the United States, which had demonstrated "peace, harmony and cooperation" in helping "to rid [the countries of the Old World] of the bad traditions, the ancient animosities, the long established hostilities":
"Among these I should place, first, the broadly tolerant attitude that has been characteristic of this country. I use the word in its most inclusive sense, to cover tolerance of religious opinion, tolerance in politics, tolerance in social relationships; in general, the liberal attitude of every citizen toward his fellows. It is this factor which has preserved to all of us that equality of opportunity which enables every American to become the architect of whatever fortune he deserves."
Upon reading President Coolidge's speech, one learns of a number of important American themes, not least of which is the theme of opportunity for those of initiative. However, for the purposes of this particular writing, we shall focus on the importance of the term "tolerance" in the American purview, the particular sort of which, presently taken wildly out of context, inspired so many visitors and immigrants to the shores of the New World.
As President Coolidge described in his speech, it has been a "universal tolerance" which has largely distinguished the United States from the Old World, in particular a "universal tolerance" and "liberal attitude" toward religious opinion, politics, social relationships, and his fellow citizens. By this liberal attitude, of course, President Coolidge meant little more than an attitude of "universal tolerance" whereby one's fellow citizen was unmolested and spared the persecution of the Old World, left generally to "become the architect of [his life and] whatever fortune he deserves."
The reader of the modern age, however, would be quick to translate this "tolerance" into a twisted and expedient form of "acceptance" or "endorsement," but this would amount to a gross misinterpretation of the term, and a betrayal of the "natural and correct attitude of mind for each" American. As described by President Coolidge:
"It is the natural and correct attitude of mind for each of us to have regard for our own race and the place of our own origin. There is abundant room here for the preservation and development of the many divergent virtues that are characteristic of the different races which have made America their home. They ought to cling to all these virtues and cultivate them tenaciously. It is my own belief that in this land of freedom new arrivals should especially keep up their devotion to religion."
In his speech, President Coolidge goes to great lengths to characterize the American form of "tolerance" which had distinguished, and arguably continues to distinguish, the United States from the Old World. Far from "endorsing" or broadly "accepting" divergent values, views or virtues, President Coolidge celebrates a particular willingness to tolerate those divergences. Indeed, he bolsters this position with his belief that Americans "ought to cling to all these virtues and cultivate them tenaciously." Take notice of the fact that President Coolidge neither lightly suggests nor even strongly recommends that Americans cling to their virtues; on the contrary, he commands that they "ought" to cling to them and cultivate them "tenaciously".
This command from President Coolidge is one which critically clarifies the meaning of "tolerance" in his speech, one which surely transcends time in the way that it catalogues the sentiments and objectives of its time, and just as importantly the various lessons it affords Americans today: Americans who desperately need to appreciate the value and meaning of "tolerance," who need to be reminded of the value and purpose of their "views" and "virtues'', and who need to remember how to develop and protect them along with their continued tolerance of others.
After all, whether in the confusion, some newfound hope or identity, or in their zeal for some new and progressive cause, many have hastily abandoned their values in favor of life without any. President Coolidge spoke prophetically on this very trend: "Disregarding the need of the individual for a religious life, I feel that there is a more urgent necessity, based on the requirements of good citizenship and the maintenance of our institutions, for devotion to religion in America than anywhere else in the world. One of the greatest dangers that beset those coming to this country, especially those of the younger generation, is that they will fall away from the religion of their fathers, and never become attached to any other faith."
In their abandonment of religious conviction, whether in faith or principle, America degrades the institutions which stand to stave off internal destruction. As Henry Grady Weaver so eloquently articulated in his 1947 work The Mainspring of Human Progress, "Our habit of self-criticism, which is so largely responsible for our progress, makes us particularly vulnerable to distorted propaganda which exaggerates our deficiencies and holds out false promises of a short cut to the millennium."
"Thus it is that some of our most patriotic, high-minded, and well-meaning citizens succumb to the overtures of those who would make them the innocent tools of subversion. The fact that we are a progressive and open-minded people, always on the alert for new ideas, makes us susceptible to old ideas when they are attractively camouflaged and presented as something new. Being a hospitable, tolerant, and fair-minded people, we are inclined to consider both sides of every question."
Weaver then cautions the reader:
"That’s all right up to a point, but when it comes to the eternal verities of moral truth, there are no two sides to the question. Right is right, and wrong is wrong; and any concession to the pagan viewpoint — whether in the name of expediency or open-mindedness — paves the way for the destruction of all moral values."
It is in this way that the agents of destruction bore from within; it is by the grace of the politically indifferent and their widespread "tolerance" of toxic notions among them that their liberty, along with their principles and their heritage, are compromised. Whether an earnest endeavor in faith or toward truth, ideally with one inspiring a strong conviction in the other, it is important to never compromise on the important values, lessons and truths they produce.
While politicians, from time immemorial, have long exploited the decency and respectability of the people, the case is little different for the peoples of the United States who've championed tolerance and who've thereby been swindled into gradually sacrificing their own convictions and values at the altar of allowable opinion and political correctness. The time has long since passed that Americans "ought to cling to [their] virtues and cultivate them tenaciously." They must first reclaim them.
As President Coolidge concluded in his speech, the best method for promoting this action, for maintaining all of our high ideals, for helping other lands and other peoples, is by giving undivided allegiance to America, maintaining its institutions, and, by leaving it internally harmonious, making it eternally powerful, as an example to the rest of the world, in promoting a reign of justice and mercy throughout the earth.