Address at the Annual Convention of the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C.
Members of the Convention:
The annual convention of the American Red Cross is an occasion for reemphasizing the fact that the world is not yet perfect, and rededicating ourselves to continuing sacrifices for its redemption. Such a conception in its entirety is not simple but very complex. It is not narrow and restricted, but very broad and comprehensive. It brings into consideration the whole field of human relationship. The main purpose of this organization is charity, but charity is not something that can exist of self, apart from all else. It is very complete demonstration of the fact that we live in world that is interrelated and interdependent. Charity depends not only on a benevolent spirit but upon the material resources by means of which such sentiment can manifest self.
It is the realization of this principle that helps to sanctify the realm of business. The people of this country are engaged in their various daily occupations in order that they may meet their wide and comprehensive obligations. No doubt their first thought is to be self-supporting and independent, maintaining themselves and their families in comfort, supplying the needs of their declining years, and passing on to posterity the means of a broader existence and a more comprehensive life. It is with this in view that they have given heed to the scriptural injunction to be diligent in business, and under the inspiration of this motive America has become rich and prosperous. But our obligation does not end there. Although there is no doubt that we have surpassed every other people in that direction we have not yet attained, and perhaps it is not possible for finite beings to attain, to a complete economic justice. The limitations of humanity and the results of unforeseen and unforeseeable contingencies constantly leave some of our people, oftentimes without any fault on their part, in a condition of want and distress which they are enable of themselves to alleviate. Nothing is clearer than the requirement which is laid on society to use its resources for the relief and restoration of such conditions. The success and completeness with which these obligations are discharged measure the moral rank of a people.
In a country as extended and diversified as our own which recognizes its obligation not only to itself but to humanity at large, such charity can not be left to the chance impulse of the occasion. It requires trained skill and thorough organization for its effective operation. It is to meet this broad purpose that the American Red Cross has been organized and maintained.
More and more each year it has become a symbol and expression of the divine sympathy which exists in every human being. It takes the heart beats of humanity and transforms them into concrete acts for the alleviation of misery and suffering. Begun as an agency of mercy to relieve those stricken in battle, it soon developed into a service to heal the scars of those broken in body and spirit by such combats. This work is still vitally necessary. We can only hope that some day there will be found a way to prevent these appalling conflicts between nations, which bring such a harvest of physically maimed and mentally wrecked, with the resultant destruction of man power and material resources.
But to-day there is much more in our Red Cross. Wonderful advances have been made in developing and organizing its peace-time activities. One of the purposes written into its charter, granted by Congress in 1905, is: "* * * to continue and carry on a system of national and international relief in time of peace, and to apply the same in mitigating the sufferings caused by pestilence, famine, fire, floods, and other great national calamities, and " - I desire to lay particular stress on this - " to devise and carry on measures for preventing the same."
This a broad grant for service! In recent years we have come to realize more fully the great value of prevention. As this idea progresses and is carried out with increasing success, need for alleviation, for healing, and reconstruction inevitably will be lessened. This incalculable benefit to humanity is the goal to set for ourselves!
Never in the history of mankind have benevolence and beneficence been applied so widely and effectively. Modern business methods and the results of scientific research have been adopted and put into operation. A sympathetic disposition, a desire to be helpful - these may be the marks of a find nature, but they can not be of maximum benefit to others without an organization such as the Red Cross. Not only has our work been developed to a high degree of efficiency, but in and by that development has been set an example of virtues worthy of emulation by individuals, groups, and nations.
One of our best-known services is that of disaster relief. It was first brought into large use under powers of the 1905 charter when the great emergency arose in San Francisco the following year. This agency has been perfected until now the supervision of relief in times of calamity, without any question, and with the utmost confidence and by common consent, it placed in the hands of the Red Cross. Preparedness and promptness are among its cardinal principles. Its forces and resources are organized so there may be no delay in securing immediate action when catastrophe strikes with sudden and destructive hand. Relief quickly given is doubly beneficial. We have recently had an example of its swiftness and efficiency in the emergency caused by the Florida storm. The relief agencies were put in motion upon receipt of the first news. Within 24 hours of the issuance of my appeal for financial assistance subscriptions amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars were reported to national headquarters in Washington. That was only the beginning.
The public has come to realize the superlative ability of this organization to cope with such situations. There is faith that all contributions will be wisely, economically, and honestly spent for the benefit of the sufferers - none being used for purposes of administration. Another virtue of this society is that it "follows through." Once having entered a devastated area, the Red Cross does not leave until there has been complete rehabilitation. It does not withdraw after the acute physical ills have been alleviated. Help is continued until every person affected has been restored to full powers of efficiency and the community has been reconstructed. Such work took a full year after the tri-State tornado in the mid-west in March, 1925; and a total of $3,000,000 was expended.
Aid is given freely, necessity being the only requirement, and in such a way that the benefactor does not feel himself an object of charity. He does not lose his self-respect. Rather is he inspired by a fine example to a better and more efficient life, that he in turn may render service to others.
While the Red Cross comes strikingly before the public eye at times of great emergency, reported extensively in the newspapers, it is in the less well-known and unspectacular services where constant and most important benefits are rendered. Not only are our active soldiers and sailors ministered to, but encouragement and assistance are being given to our war veterans, wherever they may be. In the broad field of prevention, destined to play an increasingly valuable role in the progress of civilization, already an excellent start has been made. Among the services now being supported by the Red Cross are: Home hygiene and care of the sick, public health and nursing, nutrition, first aid, and life-saving. It is not intended that local committees shall be superseded in their privilege and duty to carry on health preservation and social service work. But we undertake to start such activities wherever needed and to arouse public sentiment to the necessity of maintenance by the local authorities.
One of the most promising of the recent developments is the Junior Red Cross, organized among the young of high-school age. The aim is to inspire in the youth the fine spirit of service and self-sacrifice which is so characteristic of the senior organization. These junior groups are kept in touch with similar groups in foreign lands, and evidences of good will are frequently exchanged. Who can doubt that this spirit of friendliness fostered among the young people of the different nations will bring a harvest of better international understanding and of mutual respect in the years to come? Among the choicest treasures of my bookshelves are thousands upon thousands of bound personal letters written by the school children of Japan expressing the gratitude of that exceedingly courteous nation for the millions of relief which was afforded them by the American Red Cross at the time of the devastating earthquake and flood which overwhelmed Tokyo and the surrounding territory in 1923. Out of the spirit of those who gave and the gratitude of those who received a better understanding and more enduring ties of friendship have certainly been wrought.
Suffering and sorrow are universal. Sympathy and a desire to help those in distress are characteristics not confined to any one nation. Already the American Red Cross has established a comprehensive sphere of influence throughout these United States. It as more than 3,000,000 senior and over 5,500,000 junior members. There are 3,537 chapters, nearly 500 in excess of the total number of counties in our States. We are cooperating with other countries through the Pan American Red Cross and through the League of Red Cross Societies, composed of 54 independent national organizations. We have time and again given freely in aid of stricken communities in foreign lands.
All of this represents a tremendous organizing ability, embracing vast resources, and including an enormous number of people. There was never any other like charity in the world. It represents idealism applied in a sensible, practical, sound way to the real problems of relief.
What the Red Cross is doing is only one example of the innumerable results of American idealism. While there is no more moving spectacle than that of the poor, out of their meager substance, extending relief to their fellow beings in time of distress, such relief would be entirely inadequate to meet the needs of modern society. To extend medical aid, to give the necessary food, clothing, and shelter to the victims of disaster in the crowded areas of the world, either in war or peace, require great outlays of money and large aggregates of personal service. This can only be furnished from the resources of wealth and prosperity. The fact that these charities are supplied not only for the Red Cross but in innumerable other directions is one of the most complete demonstrations that our people in their effort to accumulate property are moved by a righteous purpose. Their success has not been turned to greed, avarice, or selfishness, but has been productive of generosity, benevolence, and charity.
In this country we have no permanent class requiring charity. We have been remarkably free from the havoc of war, with its accompanying results of the maimed and the dependent, but even only under the hazards of peace 115,000,000 people can not exist without temporary emergencies constantly arising which need charitable relief. When we consider the rest of the world the requirements are endless and stupendous
While America has been and is surpassingly great in its charities, it looks upon those ministrations to our inhabitants as temporary and accidental. The normal state of the American people, the standard toward which all efforts are bent for attainment, usually with success, is that of a self-supporting, self-governing, independent people. That represents to us a condition of health and soundness which it is exceedingly desirable to maintain. After all the ideal charity is to place in the hands of the people the means of satisfying their own requirements through their own efforts.
It is for these reasons that it is necessary to rely so largely upon the economic condition of the country to minister to the idealism of the country. We may be moved ever so strongly with benevolent impulses; but if we are without means to afford relief, such sentiments are of little practical value. Even where generosity and wealth both exist we can not say that even these are sufficient. After all, human nature does not want permanent charity but permanent independence through the opportunity to work out its own destiny. It is at this point that the economic well-being and prosperity of a nation passes over into the ideal. Great wealth belonging to a few is not a condition that we seek in this country, but rather a system of production and distribution where the great mass of people shall be contributors to the process and shall share in the rewards. Under this system, toward which we are constantly advancing in America, prosperity and idealism merge, and the cause of economics serves the cause of humanity. The higher idealism, the true philanthropy, is not that which comes to the rescue after the catastrophe, but rather that which through obedience to sound economic laws creates a prosperity among the people that anticipates and prevents the need of charity.
Calvin Coolidge, Address at the Annual Convention of the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/267365