A Puritan in Babylon: The Story of Calvin Coolidge

By William Allen White | Go to book overview

PREFACE

Calvin Coolidge was fifty years trudging from his birthplace in Vermont to a place in Boston from which he started on his way to fame. Those fifty years in that part of the world known as Christendom--the West, from the early seventies of the last century ts the mid years of the second decade in the new century were years of tremendous stress and change. It was for the most part peaceful change, social and economic and so, of course, political change. The story of this book will tell of those changes in America. But to understand the changes in the United States we must glance for a moment at Europe and at the British Empire. In the western world the changes which were transforming America were matched with similar changes more or less synchronous in our so-called civilized neighbors.

The explosion that followed the puff of smoke in the little town of Sarajevo in the Province of Bosnia in Austria-Hungary, in June, 1914, released social forces that had been gathering for fifty years in the world between the Ural Mountains on the east and Shanghai on the west.

The half century before the Great War saw the rise of the middle class. But also the times witnessed the slow decadence of the individual. As industry and politics were democratized, corporate capital, impersonal, anonymous but vested with power, took charge of the various estates of mankind in what by quaint courtesy we were calling in that half century, the Christian world.

In politics the great leaders had begun to pass from the scene-- Cavour, Garibaldi, Bismarck, Gladstone and Disraeli. The generals who led great armies were gone. The day of large, loosely articulated national units in continental Europe was waning. Germany had formed under Bismarck. The Austrian Empire had coalesced under liberal policies of respect for racial minorities. Russia had become nationally conscious. The three emperors of Russia, Austria and Germany were trying futilely to make a pact. But the nationalism of small countries was growing. The dreams of power in the hearts of soldiers who would be world conquerors and kings of kings were fading. Patriotism confined in narrow bounds was holding the loyalties of the people rather than kings and empire.

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