The Price of Freedom

by Calvin Coolidge. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1924. 8vo. viii+420 pp. $2.50.
IT will be difficult for this book to be judged on its merits at the present time. Wide reading it will receive, of course; but it will suffer from the extremes of praise and of condemnation that always run riot during a presidential campaign.
As a first stop in rendering a dispassionate criticism of The Price of Freedom, it is necessary to note what the volume omits as well as what it contains. It consists, with two exceptions, of addresses delivered by Mr. Coolidge in the period between his election to the Vice-Presidency, and his becoming President. These were spoken before groups of people fairly representative of the different phases of American life. The subject matter is carefully adapted to the occasion. It consists for the most part of discussions of questions of government and citizenship from the point of view of the moral and political thinker. How restricted it is in range may be seen from the subjects which are touched upon, if at all, but lightly: foreign relations, the Monroe Doctrine, labor questions, coöperation, imperialism. prohibition. problems of business and of city and country life, industrial democracy (the condensed and confused statements on this subject could hardly have edified the industrialists gathered at the Babson Institute.)
This limitation of subject matter may be due to a sense of official responsibility, or to some other cause. Perhaps the best guess is that if Mr. Coolidge chose topics indicated by such titles as ‘The Power of the Moral Law,’ ‘Our Heritage from Hamilton,’ ‘The Purpose of America,’ ‘The Meaning of Democracy,’ ‘The Instruments of Progress,’ it was because in this field his interests have lain for years, and his convictions are strong: he could therefore handle the material effectively. In other words, we have here the output of a public man who, avoiding current issues and partisan method, seeks to give expression in permanent form to what he conceives to be lasting principles.
These addresses reveal the author as a devoted student of our history, particularly of the Colonial period, well versed in the political theory underlying the Constitution, an ardent disciple of Hamilton, and an interpreter of later history in these terms. His faith in the work of the ‘founding fathers’ is firm; he believes that their principles and precepts are sufficient for the problems of to-day; he distrusts ‘vague experiments.’ Greatest of all is his faith in freedom, the price of which is ‘high endeavor,’ his equivalent of Roosevelt’s ‘strenuous life’ — the two phrases admirably distinguish the two men. Again and again he affirms the doctrine that civic righteousness can be won only through sacrifice; it is a law that altereth not. His earnestness, far from antagonizing, is persuasive; its purity and elevation, aided by a style uniquely terse and simple, banish all suggestion of the commonplace. For the new voter the book should prove a valuable manual.
To Coolidge, the man of action, there is in these pages little clue. The single exception is a veto message to the Massachusetts Legislature. To understand this aspect of the man the reader must look outside the covers of The Price of Freedom; he must take the evidence of such sentences as these addressed to the Republican State Convention meeting a few weeks after the beginning of the Boston Police Strike. ‘The Government of Massachusetts is not seeking to resist lawful action or sound policy of organized labor. It has time and again passed laws for the protection and encouragement of trade unions. It has done so under my administration and upon my recommendation to a greater extent than in any previous year. In that policy it will continue. It is seeking to prevent a condition which would at once destroy all labor unions and all else that is the foundation of civilization by maintaining the authority of the law. When that goes all goes.’ Further evidence the reader will find in Coolidge’s recent veto messages. He will then have an answer to the question whether the author is the kind of man to make good his professions of devotion to the principles of our government by his acts as its Chief Executive.