by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
March 26, 2009
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - They called him "Silent Cal," but Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States - the second one born in Vermont (the 21st president, Chester A. Arthur, was also born here) and the only U.S. president to be born on the Fourth of July - said one of the most beautiful things I've ever read about the state.
"If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the union... it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont," Coolidge said. said in 1928. It's carved in marble on a wall of the Vermont Statehouse.
Coolidge, a Republican, was vice-president when Warren Harding died in California. He was back home in Plymouth when his father woke him up to tell him the news.
"On the night of August 2, 1923, I was awakened by my father coming up the stairs, calling my name," he later wrote. "I noticed that his voice trembled. As the only times I had ever observed that before were when death had visited our family, I knew that something of the gravest nature had occurred."
They had no telephones and no electricity - just like us during an ice storm - so Coolidge learned he was the new president of the United States by telegraph. (Wikipedia, which says "messenger," is wrong. The telegraph machine is still on display in Plymouth.)
So Coolidge got dressed, said a prayer for Harding and the American people, and went to the parlor. There, by kerosene lamp, he was sworn in by his notary public father. Then he went back to bed.
In the morning he returned to Washington, was sworn in again, and began his new job.
Many people have said wonderful and moving things about Vermont, and I've put together a little collection of quotes that I'd like to share with you. And by the way, Clarence Darrow said of Coolidge that he "was the greatest man who ever came out of Plymouth Corner, Vermont." Ouch.
The most famous Vermont quote of all is from Ethan Allen, of course. "The gods of the valley are not the gods of the hills," he said in 1770.
And hasn't that ever been true? We were the first state to outlaw slavery, the first state to offer troops to Pres. Lincoln when the civil war started - leading to the famous quote at the Battle of Gettysburg: "Put the Vermonters in front, and keep the column well closed up." - and the first state to send a socialist to the U.S. Senate - Go, Bernie!
And, by the way, the first postage stamp used in America was made in Brattleboro in 1846.
In fact, there are so many Vermont firsts that I'll save them for another column.
Thomas Chittenden, the first governor of Vermont, declared that Vermont was "the home of freedom and unity." After that, "Freedom and Unity" became the state's official motto.
Bernard DeVoto, a historian, journalist, critic, novelist, social commentator and conservationist from Utah, said that "Vermont is every American's second home." He also asked, "If it is not the most beautiful state in the union, which is?"
Vermont is justly proud of Sen. George Aiken (1892-1984), a Republican from Putney, who served first as governor and then in the U.S. Senate from 1941 to 1975. (Just recently, Sen. Patrick Leahy topped that remarkable service record.)
Aiken was famous for his common sense. During the Vietnam War, he advised both Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon to "declare a victory and get out."
But my favorite quote from him is this one: "If we were to wake up some morning and find that everyone was the same race, creed and color, we would find some other cause for prejudice by noon." How true. Cynical, but true.
Ethan Allen and George Aiken - they would have liked each other, don't you think?
Well, I'll leave you with something to think about. Jerry Greenfield, in describing how he and Ben Cohen scraped together the money to start Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc., said, "One out of every 100 families in Vermont was a part owner of Ben and Jerry's."
Don't you wish you had been one of them? Or maybe you were.
Joyce Marcel is a journalist whose first collection of columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," can be ordered from her website, joycemarcel.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.