The Coolidge Prophecy: “Disorder approaching chaos within 24 hours”

Calvin Coolidge Prophecy

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Some 90 years ago, President Calvin Coolidge gave a chilling caution about the growing power of federal government. Addressing the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia on May 15, 1926; Coolidge called upon the the alumni and graduates of Thomas Jefferson’s alma matre, for the sake of the republic’s future.Here is an excerpt of that message.

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  Each generation has its problems. The days of the Revolution had theirs, and we have ours. They were making an advance in the art of government which, while it has been broadened in its application, has not changed and does not seem likely to change from the fundamental principles which they established. We are making our advance and our contribution to the betterment of the economic condition and the broader realization of the humanities in the life of the world. They were mostly bent on seeing what they could put into the Government; we are mostly bent on seeing what we can get out of it. They broke the power of Parliament because its actions did not represent, were not benefiting the American public. They established institutions guaranteed under a reign of law where liberty and justice and the public welfare would be supreme. Amid all the contentions of the present day nothing is more important to secure the continuation of what they wrought than a constant and vigilant resistance to the domination of selfish and private interests in the affairs of government in order that liberty and justice may still be secure and the public welfare may still be supreme.

 “But if the authority of the States were struck down disorder approaching chaos would be upon us within 24 hours. No method of procedure has ever been devised by which liberty could be divorced from local self-government.”


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  While we ought to glory in the Union and remember that it is the source from which the States derive their chief title to fame, we must also recognize that the national administration is not and can not be adjusted to the needs of local government. It is too far away to be informed of local needs, too inaccessible to be responsive to local conditions. The States should not be induced by coercion or by favor to surrender the management of their won affairs. The Federal Government ought to resist the tendency to be loaded up with duties which the States should perform. It does not follow that because something ought to be done the National Government ought to do it. But, on the other hand, when the great body of public opinion of the Nation requires action the States ought to understand that unless they are responsive to such sentiment the national authority will be compelled to intervene. The doctrine of State rights is not a privilege to continue in wrongdoing but a privilege to be free from interference in well-doing. This Nation is bent on progress. It has determined on the policy of meting out justice between man and man. It has decided to extend the blessing of an enlightened humanity. Unless the States meet these requirements, the National Government reluctantly will be crowded into the position of enlarging its own authority at their expense. I want to see the policy adopted by the States of discharging their public functions so faithfully that instead of an extension on the part of the Federal Government there can be a contraction.

These principles of independence, of the integrity of the Union, and of local self-government have not diminished in their importance since they were so clearly recognized and faithfully declared in the Virginia convention of 150 years ago. We may wonder at their need of constant restatement, reiteration, and defense. But the fact is that the principles of government have the same need to be fortified, reinforced, and supported that characterize the principles of religion. After enumerating many of the spiritual ideals, the Scriptures enjoin us to “think on these things.” If we are to maintain the ideals of government, it is likewise necessary that we “think on these things.” It is for this purpose that educational institutions exist and important anniversaries are observed.


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 If the Federal Government should go out of existence, the common run of people would not detect the difference in the affairs of their daily life for a considerable length of time. But if the authority of the States were struck down disorder approaching chaos would be upon us within 24 hours. No method of procedure has ever been devised by which liberty could be divorced from local self-government. No plan of centralization has ever been adopted which did not result in bureaucracy, tyranny, inflexibility, reaction, and decline. Of all forms of government, those administered by bureaus are about the least satisfactory to an enlightened and progressive people. Being irresponsible they become autocratic, and being autocratic they resist all development. Unless bureaucracy is constantly resisted it breaks down representative government and overwhelms democracy. It is the one element in our institutions that sets up the pretense of having authority over everybody and being responsible to nobody.

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“If the Federal Government should go out of existence, the common run of people would not detect the difference in the affairs of their daily life for a considerable length of time.”

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