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'Vermont is a state I love'

09/17/03 12:00AM By Cyndy Bittinger
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(Host) Commentator Cyndy Bittinger recalls some of the most eloquent words ever spoken about Vermont.

(Bittinger) This coming Sunday, September 21, will be the 75th anniversary of Calvin Coolidge's most famous speech, "Vermont Is a State I Love." Events at Bennington and around the state this week will be held in commemoration. Coolidge gave the speech on a trip to Vermont after one of the state's worst disasters, the flood of 1927. He had been president for almost two terms and had decided not to run again. He spoke not a public word as his train toured the hills and valleys of the state - until he reached Bennington.

The town had pulled out all stops. Every man, woman and child held an American flag. Girl scouts offered a basket of gladiolas to the First Lady. The American Legion drum corps, the municipal band and the Howitzer company of the 172nd infantry lined the tracks. The citizens' reception committee led 5,000 people in a loud cheer and the 30th U.S. President held up his hand for silence.

He had seen devastated villages, broken bridges and washed out roads. His words were spontaneous, poetical, unprecedented in his career, and throbbed with childhood memories.

He began, "Vermont is a State I Love. I could not look upon the peaks of Ascutney, Killington, Mansfield, and Equinox without being moved in a way than no other scene could move me." He ended with, "If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont."

Coolidge's biographers often seem surprised by the moving language of "Vermont Is a State I Love" but those who read Calvin Coolidge's Autobiography will be rewarded with other gems about nature, the town meeting, and the classless society of early 20th century Vermont.

Coolidge was 12 when his mother died, and later he wrote of his love for her: "It seemed as though the rich green tints of the foliage and the blossoms of the flowers came for her in the springtime, and in autumn it was for her that the mountain sides were struck with crimson and with gold."

Some historians have dismissed Coolidge's autobiography as unrevealing, but in it he also wrote, "The political mind is the product of men in public life who have been twice spoiled. They have been spoiled with praise and they have been spoiled with abuse. With them nothing is natural, everything is artificial."

He also explained why he did not run again for office. He said, "We draw our Presidents from the people. It is a wholesome thing for them to return to the people. I came from them. I wish to be one of them again."

This is Cyndy Bittinger documenting the legacy of Calvin Coolidge in Plymouth, Vermont.

Related links:

Read the speech online

Events celebrating Calvin Coolidge
VPR's commentary series on Grace Goodhue Coolidge

Cyndy Bittinger is executive director of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.
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