Title: Bok Tower Address
Date: February 1, 1929, at 4 o’clock P.M.
Location: Lake Wales, Florida
Context: In this speech, Coolidge dedicates a sanctuary and singing tower at Bok Tower Gardens, Florida.
Our country is giving an increasing amount of attention to art. We have reached a time when our people have more leisure for enjoyment and more means for gratifying their taste. Even during its colonial history it was not without some progress in this direction. Very early it produced painters of historic merit. Some of the architecture of the eighteenth century continues to hold a very high place, but with the exception of a few public buildings these creations were for private use and reached but a few people.
While the United States has been by no means lacking in spiritual vision, and, considering the circumstances of its surroundings, has been remarkable in the devotion of its religious life, yet, being new and undeveloped, it has been necessary for our people first of all to give their attention to the material side of existence. We have been forced to get things done. We have been required to build cities, improve harbors, open mines, cut down forests, lay out great systems of transportation, till the soil, erect factories, open banks, and develop commerce. We have been making a new Nation out of raw materials. What others have done in many centuries we have crowded into the short space of 300 years. It is only in the last generation that the great body of our people have been sufficiently relieved from the pressing necessities of existence so that they could give some thought to the art of living.
It is significant of our institutions and of the spirit of our national life that in the opening up of the new era we have attempted to give to the people at large what in other days had been enjoyed only by a fortunate and privileged few. This effort began with popular education. The free public school, the endowed academy and college, the high school, and the State university were the beginnings of this movement. They have more recently been supplemented by public art galleries, popular concerts for the presentation of the best music, and the opening of innumerable public parks. The useful and the practical is being supplemented by the artistic and the beautiful.
This has been done in no small and niggardly way, but on a vast scale representing an outlay of many hundred millions of dollars.
Many people have given large sums to these purposes, and municipal, State, and national resources have been employed in ever-increasing amounts.
It would be a mistake to suppose that the organization of the material side of existence has been completed. It is more likely that it has only just begun. But it has progressed far enough so that a moderate amount of industry and thrift is all that is needed to relieve the great mass of our people from the pinch of poverty, and when these are supplemented with such training and skill it is possible for almost anyone to acquire, to raise them to a position of comparative affluence. Above this line there are an increasing number of individuals who have sufficient resources to enable them to minister in a most substantial way to the humanitarian and artistic side of life. Some of the largest fortunes which were ever accumulated in the United States have been almost entirely devoted to such charities.
We can not observe this movement without smiling a little at those who but a short time ago expressed so much fear lest our country might come under the control of a few individuals of great wealth. They claimed that the rich were growing richer and the poor were growing poorer. Our experience has demonstrated that the reverse of this would be much nearer the truth. So many of our people have large amounts of property that it has taken on the aspect of being common. The distinction that it once carried is gone. It is also doubtful if there ever was a time when even great wealth gave its possessors so little power as at present. Their money is of very little value in determining political action. Capital is so easily secured for any promising enterprise that it is no longer necessary to be rich to go into business, even on an extensive scale. The possession of money has never been sufficient to gain the social attentions of persons of culture and refinement.
On the other hand, the advantages that are enjoyed by people of moderate means, including the great mass of wage earners, were never so great as they are at present. Not only is their income proportionately greater than ever before, but their whole method of life, their opportunities to secure benefits which but a short time ago were the exclusive possession of the rich, have been tremendously increased. I have already referred to the broadening field of education. Another new element is the wide use of the automobile. Whole families are able to have the beneficial results of travel at an outlay which is so small that it is practically within the reach of everyone. Within the last few years the radio has come to afford entertainment and instruction to a great body of our people. Through these instrumentalities the vision has been extended to embrace the wide circle of our rich scenery, and the hearing has been amplified so that it may listen to the eloquence and music of many distant places. Through the medium of the motion picture all that is attractive and instructive in the art of acting and the presentation of scenery is to be had at a very moderate cost. All of this has greatly enriched the life of those who were recently looked upon as poor.
These grounds which we are dedicating to-day are another extension of this rapidly developing movement. It has been designated as a sanctuary because within it people may temporarily escape from the pressure and affliction of the affairs of life and find that quiet and repose which comes from a closer communion with the beauties of nature. We have not secured the benefits which I have enumerated without being obliged to pay a price. The multiplicity and the swiftness of the events with which we are surrounded exhaust our nervous energy. The constant impact upon us of great throngs of people of itself produces a deadening fatigue. We have a special need for a sanctuary like this to which we can retreat for a time from the daily turmoil and have a place to rest and think under the quieting influence of nature and of nature’s God.
It is not only through action, but through contemplation that people come to understand themselves. Man does not live by bread alone. This thought is expressed in the motto of the sanctuary in the words of John Burroughs: “I come here to find myself. It is so easy to get lost in the world.” We are so thickly crowded with the forest of events that there is not only danger that we can not see the trees, but that we may lose our sense of direction. Under the influence of these beautiful surroundings we can pause unhampered while we find out where we are and whither we are going. Those who come here report the feeling of peace which they have experienced. In the expression of an ancient writer, it is a place to which to invite one’s soul, where one may see in the landscape and foliage, not what man has done, but what God has done.
The main purpose of this sanctuary and tower is to preach the gospel of beauty. Although they have been made possible through the generosity of Mr. Edward W. Bok, he does not wish them to be considered as a memorial or a monument. While it has been his purpose to give some expression here to his own love of the beautiful, in form, in color, and in sound, he has also sought to preserve the quiet majesty of the trees, increase the display of coloring in the flowers, and combine stone and marble in the graceful lines of the tower, all in a setting surrounded by green foliage and reflected in sparkling waters over which the song of the nightingale will mingle with the music of the bells.
As the tourist and the traveler in search of recreation and a change from the more rigorous climate of the North come to this wonderful State of perpetual springtime and summer, they can pause and think how much our country can profit by cultivating an appreciation and understanding of the beautiful in nature and in art as they are here combined. The material prosperity of our Nation will be of little avail unless it is translated into a spiritual prosperity. We need a deeper realization of the value and power of beauty. While few have the means to present such a gorgeous display as will here strike the eye and the ear, it is well to remember that beauty is not dependent upon large areas or great heights. Some of the most appealing and fascinating homes in the world are small. They may represent but little outlay and be the abode of people of moderate means, but if there dwells a fine character within it will shine forth and give to all the surroundings a touch of peace and loveliness which the most spacious palace can not surpass.
Wherever communities are formed there is ample opportunity for this kind of expression. Those who visit here can not escape taking away with them an inspiration for better things. They will be filled with a noble discontent which can not fail to react in some degree against all forms of physical and spiritual ugliness. They will go forth as missionaries of the beautiful because of what they have seen and heard. The streets of distant towns will be cleaner. Lawns will be better kept. A larger number of trees will spread their verdant shade over highways and homes. Public buildings will take on more beautiful lines, making life more graceful and more complete. Certainly, we need to put more emphasis on improvements of such a nature.
The influence of an example like this is always contagious. The noticeable improvement of architecture in this country had its inception in the exhibition of the fine buildings of the World’s Fair at Chicago. The five years following the fair at San Francisco changed the whole face of the State of California. This combination of influences has resulted in the recent enactments of Congress to span the Potomac with a memorial bridge and adorn the avenues of the Capital City with stately public buildings. Already there is a very healthy and beneficial competition in this field among various cities of the United States. Civic centers are being laid out with spacious squares surrounded by public buildings which will reflect the power and dignity of the beautiful in community life.
This sanctuary and tower are not only endowed with a beauty of their own, but they are a representation of the beneficent spirit of the giver. They are another illustration that the men of wealth of the United States are not bent on the accumulation of money merely for its own sake, or that they may use it in selfish and ostentatious display. A most cursory examination of the facts would soon disclose that our country leads the world in its charities and endowments. It would be difficult to recall any line of endeavor capable of ministering to human welfare, not only in our own country but in many places abroad, which is not being helped by the generosity of our people of wealth. Not only that, but the charities of this Nation stand on a plane which is occupied by them alone. They have never been tainted with any effort to hold back the rising tide of a demand for the abolition of privilege and the establishment of equality, but have rather been the result of a sincere philanthropy. They have not come from any class consciousness; certainly, not from any class fear. They represent in all its beauty and purity the love of man and the desire to benefit the human race. We have a strong sense of trusteeship. While giving every credit to the genius of management, and holding strongly to the right of individual possessions, we realize that to a considerable extent, wealth is the creation of the people, and it is fitting, as in this case, that it should be expended for their material, intellectual, and moral development.
While there is much to be said for the statement that there is nothing new in the world, there are yet many things that are new in our country. In the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and England the carillon has been in existence for hundreds of years. It goes back to the fourteenth century. In the Netherlands, which supplied the inspiration for this singing tower, a community that does not have a carillon is not regarded as complete. While in the United States we have always been accustomed to the bells of the churches and later to their use in transportation and industry, yet the carillon has been very little appreciated. Only a few have been built. This singing tower only brings our entire number up to 30. It will take its place, therefore, of giving our people what is to them a comparatively new form of music, as they have the pleasure of listening to its melodious cadence. It contains 61 bells and is the largest and heaviest ever cast in a single order. So intricate is the task of turning them out perfectly tuned and in complete harmony that their construction has taken nearly a year. The people of this locality have already been listening to them, and in the future the beauty of their song will impress itself upon the endless line of coming generations. As they gaze upon the structure which holds them and are moved by their music, it will all blend in one harmonious whole and more and more they will realize the significance of the designation given to such structures by the Dutch of singing tower.
This wonderful work with all its loveliness of form, of color, and of sound is another evidence of the breadth and completeness of the development of the life of our Republic. We should find, if we sought for it, a considerable literature undertaking to prove the necessity of a ruling class for national political well-being and the need of a privileged nobility as the best method of providing for the cultural and artistic life of a people. It is not to be denied that under such a system, when tempered with a wholesome regard for liberty under the law, there has been great progress. But in many respects it is of a narrow and limited nature. The brilliance at the top of the social structure has always been insufficient to furnish light for the great mass of the people. When we erected our institutions on the basic theory of equality, our ability under such conditions to produce the finer things of life was immediately challenged. The correctness of our theory has been more and more demonstrated by the course of events. We have been able to raise up individuals who stand out in history undimmed by any comparisons to which they can be subjected. Our artistic growth has been constant and in its individual examples and its general application is not excelled by any other people. In its main purpose to create a nation and increase intelligence, stability, and character, our Republic has met with unexampled success. It has been thoroughly demonstrated that the principle of equality is sound. Our institutions have endowed our people with insight and vision. The individual has been developed, the Nation has become great. The belief that there is nothing which our people can not do, and no power which our people ought not to have, has been the main source of our progress. Faith in our people stands vindicated beyond further discussion. Into their hands we have entirely intrusted the future destiny of our Nation.
It is a trait of human nature to wish to personify its ideals. This is the chief reason that the kingly office continued to exist after it had served its main purpose of being sufficiently skilled in military leadership so as to increase the order and security of the country. The people found it easier to have their conception of sovereignty embodied in a personality. The monarch reflected the greatness which came from them. It was very seldom that he created it. It was much easier under those circumstances to secure a response when calling on the people to make sacrifices for the national welfare. They felt they were doing it for the king. They could see him in person and bear his expression of approbation. For his glorification not only were men willing to take up arms, but they found in him an inspiration for their art. Their music, their literature, their sculpture, and their painting dealt with royal subjects. Even Shakespeare gave royal titles to a number of his productions.
In the course of long human experience actions of this nature are not accidental. If they did not serve some useful purpose in the development of the race, either they would not have occurred at all or would have been of a transitory nature. They persisted because they gave the people a better conception of the abstract idea of national unity and national sovereignty. Even when our own Constitution was adopted this idea was so firmly intrenched that it was with great difficulty and hesitation that the people of that period were able to cast aside the idea of a personal sovereignty. That they did so stamped their action as extremely revolutionary. But finally our Nation and our States have planted themselves squarely and securely on the theory that all the powers of government emanate from the people. They stand as our sovereign. They are our national monarch. That act was a recognition of their own inalienable nobility.
Gradually, for complete revolutions do not occur in a day, we have transferred our allegiance to the people. It is for them that our songs are made, our books are published, our pictures are painted, our public squares are adorned, our park systems are developed, and the art of the stage and the screen is created. While these things are done by individuals, this movement is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” It is no accident that this superb creation, which we are dedicating to-day, is the conception of a man whose only heritage was that of good breeding, an American by adoption, not by birth, who has felt the pinch of poverty, who has experienced the thrill of hard manual labor, and who has triumphed over many difficulties. Edward W. Bok is making this contribution in recognition of his loyalty to his sovereign, the people. It is another demonstration that when they are given the opportunity the people have the innate power to provide themselves with the wealth, the culture, the art, and the refinements that support an enlightened civilization.
Now, therefore, in a spirit of thankfulness for the success of our institutions, which is here attested, and appreciation of the munificent generosity, which is here exhibited, in my capacity as President of the United States, I hereby dedicate this Mountain Lake Sanctuary and its Singing Tower and present them for visitation to the American people.