Note: America’s Three Greatest Presidents (Washington, Lincoln, and Reagan) appears at the bottom of this post. We submit that it should be the Four Greatest, with Coolidge included!
AmSpec Feature by R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.
He was, in Amity Shlaes’ words, “the great refrainer.” (Read)
Progressives of large intellect, such as Woodrow Wilson, and of more modest equipage, like Barack Obama, endeavor to Gigantic Projects. Even when the world does not much care for Gigantic Projects, the progressive conjurers nonetheless proceed with them, and inevitably things go haywire, absolutely haywire: appallingly mismanaged bureaucracies, hoards of government contractors, hucksters with a glint in their eye, and, of course, too many budget overruns to count. Unintended consequences proliferate: street crime breaks out, labor unrest begins. As the poet Yeats observed, “Things fall apart.” To us, history’s bystanders (and taxpayers), the spectacle is bewildering, even frightening. Is it happening again, in this time of Obama, after all the years of prosperity and peace that the Old Cowboy auspicated?
By 1920, Warren Gamaliel Harding—today a figure of fun, but back then about to be his era’s much-beloved 29th president—sensed the looming costs of Wilson’s Gigantic Projects. So did Calvin Coolidge, Harding’s running mate, and others, for instance, Thomas Riley Marshall, Wilson’s vice president. There were the budget deficits from the Great War, the bureaucracies created to fight it, and various boondoggles that by comparison make Solyndra look like a smashing success. President Wilson was off roaming the land desperately pushing for his great treaty, while Harding, Coolidge, and other mere mortals sought to end the president’s “experiments,”or as Harding saw them, “change for the sake of change.” There was revolution in Russia, anarchic turbulence across Europe, and here at home, serious labor unrest tempting the fates. Nineteen-twenty was a time like our time, an Era of Foreboding.
IN HER SPLENDID NEW BOOK, Coolidge(Harper, $35), Amity Shlaes captures those days and subtly addresses our own. The book is written as the biography of a much-maligned president who happened to have been a success in his most important public policy undertakings, and it should be read as a textbook for solving the grave problems now facing America. Coolidge was given to understatement—at times, to no statement at all. His laconic style, I suspect, charmed the sturdy voters of his time, even as garrulity seems to charm the frivolous voters of ours. Silent Cal also stood for budget cutting, tax reduction, civility, consensus, and the efficacy of limited government. He was, in Shlaes’ words, “the great refrainer.” President Coolidge was the precise opposite of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and—even worse—the arrested adolescences of our era ofEntertainment Tonight wunderkinds: the Clintons, Al Gore, and Jean-François Kerry.
Refraining has a venerable place in the history of political thought. In the 15th century, the Renaissance statesman and political philosopher, suave Francesco Guicciardini, enjoined others:
If you attempt certain things at the right time, they are easy to accomplish—in fact, they almost get done by themselves. If you undertake them before the time is right, not only will they fail, but they will often become impossible to accomplish even when the time would have been right. Therefore, do not rush things madly, do not precipitate them; wait for them to mature, wait for the right season.
Typically, Cal was more succinct. “Never go out to meet trouble,” he advised. “If you will just sit still, nine times out of 10 someone will intercept it before it reaches you.” He was stupendously successful at politics, never losing a contest between his 1898 race for city council and winning the presidency in his own right in 1924 with 54 percent of the vote over a Democrat, John W. Davis, and a certifiable Progressive, the sainted Robert M. La Follette. He usually won by impressive margins. As I say, there was something about his chemistry that was irresistible to the electorate, even at times to the New York Times. I submit that there is no one quite like Cal in all of American history. That is his political record. Naturally, progressives obliterated it.
For eight decades he and his belief in limited government have been the target of contempt from progressives (or as they once were called, Liberals). More recently President Ronald Reagan, an audacious champion of the Coolidge way, was attacked as a simpleton and a failure—his bellicosity, his arrogance, hisdeficits. Even as Reagan revived an anemic economy and won the Cold War—something Cal never had the opportunity to attempt—he was dismissed by the progressives. Yet Cal did make a stab at foreign policy based on America’s emerging role as a great power: the Kellogg-Briand Pact. With it he snookered the wily French diplomat Aristide Briand and advanced the concept of the rule of law without undermining the sovereignty of the United States.
How devoted to delegitimizing the 30th president have the progressives been? Well, they have been hard at it for a long time, as even I can attest, bringing in young Bill Kristol as my co-witness. In the 1970s we two attended a lecture by the venerable constitutional scholar Professor Alpheus T. Mason. There we sat and listened to Professor Mason assume the role of stand-up comic, theatrically retailing some of Cal’s most famous lines: “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.” Harrumph, harrumph! “Inflation is repudiation.”Harrumph, again. “The business of America is business.” On and on Alph went. When he was finished, students laughed, and I raised a tremulous hand. “Professor,” said I, “I noticed an apparent thread of continuity in all Coolidge’s statements.” “What is that?” asked the comic genius. “Every one was true.” Applause. In his political career, as in Professor Mason’s skit, most of the things Coolidge believed were true. His presidency came out a success despite his critics’ labors.
Yet Mason was only following the progressives’ script written years earlier, and by the 1970s it was getting pretty tiresome. The real question is whether Cal was right when he challenged all the progressive “experimentations” first trotted out by Wilson and then by Herbert Hoover and triumphantly by Roosevelt and his New Dealers.
SHLAES HAS BEEN a one-person demolition team to these legendary presidents. In her 2007 book, The Forgotten Man, she exposed the falsehoods of claims that New Dealers ended the Depression. Now she swings her wrecking ball hard at their grim caricature of Woeful Cal, and with lesser violence at their caricature of Good Time Warren Harding. Sure, Harding’s Ohio Gang was a cadre of White House revelers, but White House revelers are not unheard of even in our day. Recall the Clintons’ Arkansas Gang. If Joe Biden runs for the presidency in 2016, as he is threatening to do, we shall see Harding’s like again.
That said, at the outset of his administration, before Harding got down to parties and poker and golf, he oversaw the passage of the Budget and Accounting Act, which allowed economies to be made in the federal government. Because of its passage, he, and later Cal, could for the first time present a unified budget and have a staff to do what was necessary: cut.
Cal spent much of his time in Washington cutting budgets. He was ardent to continue what Harding had begun. He wanted the budget pared down to $3 billion a year, and he came very close. Cal did it despite years of Big Spending pressures from the Democratic minority, and even from those Republicans infected by a kind of Big Government influenza, progressivism. There were the Gigantic Projects, such as the hydroelectric construction at Muscle Shoals, and the noble gestures, such as the veterans’ pensions. Cal red-penciled them all. That was one aspect of his plan for the federal government.
The other was tax cuts. Cal came slowly to his tax-cutting zeal. In fact, in his early political years, even he was bewitched by progressivism. Yet by the time he got to Washington, he was susceptible to the economic thought of a man who will go down in history as a pioneering mind of modern conservatism: Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon.
Mellon advocated tax cuts for everyone, especially tax cuts at the margin. Cal was fetched. Mellon called his way of thinking“scientific taxation.” He had it all figured out years before our own Art Laffer. Today we call it supply-side economics. Whatever the name, it revives the economy even as it is dismissed by the elites of Coolidge’s day or by elites today. These elites’insulation from sound economic policy is as much a part of their mental makeup as superstition is a part of the mental makeup of a Yanomami Indian preferring life in the Brazilian rain forests to a cool flat in downtown Rio. The elites are frankly primitive.
Coolidge and Mellon cut the top income tax rate to 25 percent, three percentage points lower than President Reagan’s historic 1986 level. As they cut, revenue climbed. Mellon, first with Harding and then with Coolidge, oversaw the revenue acts of 1921, 1924, 1926, and 1928—all representing robust revenue growth despite tax reduction. In fact, the GDP grew by 25 percent during these years. Through all the budget cuts and tax reduction, the critics—the progressives in the forefront—squalled about income inequality between the rich and the rest of America. So obsessed with the rich, or in Obama’s world “the top 1 percent,” are the elites that to discomfit the wealthy they would keep us all out-at-the-elbows and bowed by taxes. Under Coolidge and Mellon, practically everyone was better off.
The number of unemployed, which stood at 5.7 million in July 1921, had dropped to 1.8 million by the time Cal departed Washington. Manufacturing had climbed by a third. Iron and steel production had doubled. Main Street got richer. The stock market jumped too—though it developed a bubble that Shlaes, in her earlier book, has argued should have been handled differently by Hoover and then Roosevelt. The Depression was Hoover’s and Roosevelt’s, not Cal’s. Moreover, with his combination of economies in government and tax cuts, Coolidge had reduced the national debt from $28 billion to $18 billion. He actually outdid Reagan. After the drear of Jimmy Carter, the Old Cowboy cut taxes and with Paul Volcker slew inflation. He put the economy on a growth curve for years to come, but he did not balance the budget and cut the size of the federal government. Only Cal did that.
IF AMERICA IS EVER going to get out of its current economic decline, it is going to have to grow its way out. Coolidge and Mellon are showing the way.
One disconcerting image, however, lurks through Shlaes’otherwise very reassuring book. It is the literary figure Sinclair Lewis and his powerful friend H.L. Mencken. They and such cohorts as Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, and many more had a profound influence on the 1920s, the 1930s, and beyond. Could they have had a deeper influence on America than Calvin Coolidge? When, in 1930, Lewis became the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Cal dismissed Lewis and his satire of middle America, saying, “The world waits in our ante room for our advice and assistance. The name Mr. Lewis gives us is unimportant. The records of our deeds will surpass all books.” I am not so sure.
Lewis’ mockery of America’s stratum of sober (incidentally, Lewis died an alcoholic), hard-working, God-fearing citizens was shared by many writers at the time. These notions live on into our time, though without equal literary talent and with an infantile quality. In the 1920s, with hilarity and in prolonged satires, Lewis, Mencken, and their allies gave fizz to that otherwise boring point of view of progressives. Their literary cadres gave formidable artistic support to the visionaries of Gigantic Projects. Their point of view endures in the much less gifted critics of America today. Modern America is much more tolerant, diverse, cosmopolitan; yet still the mindless voices of the 1920s can be heard, now telling us to eat berries and nuts, drive cars powered by wind, get a good education at some cow college.
Well, Mencken lived on into the 1930s and smartened up. Faced with the arrival of Roosevelt, he wrote in 1933, “Should the day ever dawn when Jefferson’s warnings are heeded at last, and we reduce government to its simplest terms, it may very well be that Cal’s bones, now resting inconspicuously in the Vermont granite, will come to be revered as those of a man who really did the nation some service.” That day has come, Menck.
Coolidge’s ideals still resonate, as reflected by Carson’s much-loved recent speech. (Related: For Ed Driscoll’s recent interview with Amity Shlaes, the author of Coolidge, click here.)
by Rick Richman
In Coolidge, her elegant and engrossing biography of the 30th president, Amity Shlaes writes that perhaps the deepest reason for Coolidge’s recent obscurity is that he “spoke a different economic language from ours”:
He did not say “money supply”; he said “credit.” … He did not say “private sector”; he said “commerce.” He did not say “savings”; he said “thrift” or “economy.” … Coolidge at the end of his life spoke anxiously about the “importance of the obvious.” Perseverance, property rights, contract, civility to one’s opponents, silence, smaller government, trust, certainty, restraint, respect for faith, federalism, economy, and thrift: these Coolidge ideals intrigue us today as well.
Coolidge spoke in concise language about character, culture, and religion, all of which he considered we needed more than bigger government:
We do not need more intellectual power, we need more moral power. We do not need more knowledge, we need more character. We do not need more government, we need more culture. We do not need more law, we need more religion. We do not need more the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are not seen.
Back in 1924, when the first biography of Coolidge appeared, it was prominently reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. The reviewer thought the author’s claim that Coolidge’s speech to the Massachusetts Senate as its president had been quoted as often as any in American history other than Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was an exaggeration; but that “if the speech has not been quoted as often as [the author] thinks it has, it deserves to be.” Parts of that speech, he wrote, “ought to be in every American citizen’s Bible.” He singled out this paragraph:
Do the day’s work. If it be to protect the rights of the weak, whoever objects, do it. If it be to help a powerful corporation better to serve the people, whatever the opposition, do that. Expect to be called a standpatter, but don’t be a standpatter. Expect to be called a demagogue, but don’t be a demagogue. Don’t hesitate to be as revolutionary as science. Don’t hesitate to be as reactionary as the multiplication table. Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.
Fast forward nearly a century, to the February 17, 2013 review of Coolidge in the New York Times Book Review, which treated the book as part of an attempt to “resurrect” Coolidge as a “prophet” of an “austere doctrine” of “Republican Calvinism,” with a “liturgy” based on Coolidge’s belief that the federal government should shrink, not grow.
The use of the religious imagery was not intended as complimentary. The reviewer asserted that Coolidge’s “actual record” shows he was “an extraordinarily blinkered and foolish and complacent leader” who is “no model for the present,” but rather “a bleak omen from the past.”
Coolidge’s “actual record”: he inherited a national debt of $28 billion and reduced it to less than $18 billion; he cut the top income tax rate to 25% while balancing the budget and producing surpluses each year; and unemployment was reduced from 5.7 million at the beginning of the decade to 1.8 million when he left office. The economy became popularly known as the “Coolidge prosperity.”
As actual records go, that is not too bad — particularly compared to more recent ones.
The last four years have shown that “stimulus” (which Coolidge would have called “spending”) and “investments” (which Coolidge would have called “spending”) are not panaceas, but rather part of the problem. We have also learned that it is extraordinarily blinkered and foolish for a government that already has unsustainable financial obligations for existing “entitlements” (which Coolidge would have called “spending”) to enact not only a record “stimulus” and huge new “investments” but also a massive new “entitlement,” relying on borrowed funds and no budget.
It is a bleak omen, produced by a quasi-religious belief in the power of an ever-larger government to produce “fairness” while allegedly adding not one dime to the deficit, nor costing anything for 99 percent of the people, and allowing people who like their plan to keep it, although Catholics with religious objections will be ignored.
It seems less like a model for the present than like the last stage of an unsustainable plan.
We should have known by now that increased “revenues” (or “taxes,” as Coolidge would have called them) depends on a growing private sector (“commerce”) stimulated by lower tax rates. It has already been demonstrated not only by Coolidge, but by Kennedy and Reagan. We should know that the Clinton surplus in its later years was produced not by increased tax rates, but by acts that limited government and stimulated commerce: (1) the rejection of HillaryCare; (2) the welfare reform that imposed work requirements; (3) the NAFTA free trade legislation; and (4) the 40% reduction in the capital gains tax rate (from 28% to 20%).
Most of us know Coolidge only for his legendary reticence. He is famous for having told a woman, who had bet she could get him to say three words, that “you lose.” He once explained why he often sat silently through interviews: “Many times I say only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to people. Even that is too much. It winds them up for twenty minutes more.” When he died, his will was 23 words long (it left his entire estate to his wife).
Coolidge’s eloquence is much less known, but for eloquence it is hard to match his July 5, 1926 “Address at the Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence” in Philadelphia, with its concluding paragraph that treated the Declaration as “the product of the spiritual insight of the people”:
We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.
Is it too late for us to recover the values in the public sphere that Coolidge embodied, and to re-establish a more limited government as an ideal? Perhaps. Coolidge lived at a different time, in what seems like a less complicated world.
But Dr. Benjamin Carson’s recent speech at the National Prayer Breakfast is an indication that the values Coolidge articulated still resonate. (The YouTube videos of the speech have been viewed by nearly three million people so far.) The speech was Coolidge-like in its understated eloquence, its focus on moral decay and fiscal irresponsibility, its religious power and sense of history, and its warning against trying to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.
If we are unable to recover the values Coolidge championed, and if our politics cannot produce another president like him, it will ultimately say less about Coolidge than about us.
For years, most Americans’ vision of history has been shaped by the New Deal historians. Writing soon after Franklin Roosevelt’s death, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and others celebrated his accomplishments and denigrated his opponents.
They were gifted writers, and many of their books were bestsellers. And they have persuaded many Americans — Barack Obama definitely included — that progress means an ever bigger government.
In their view, the prosperous 1920s were a binge of mindless frivolity. The Depression of the 1930s was the inevitable hangover, for which FDR administered the cure.
That’s one way to see it. But there are others, and no one is doing a better job of making a counter argument than Amity Shlaes, whose 2008 book “The Forgotten Man” painted a different picture of the 1930s.
Shlaes agrees that Roosevelt’s initial policies seemed to end the downward deflationary spiral. But then bigger government, higher taxes and aggressive regulation led to further recession and years of achingly slow growth. Sound familiar?
Now Shlaes has produced a book tersely titled “Coolidge.” It shows the 30th president in a far different light than the antique reactionary depicted by the New Deal historians.
Calvin Coolidge began his political career during the Progressive era, a time of expanding government. But he came to national notice when that era was ending in turmoil.
It was a time of revolution in Russia and attempted revolutions elsewhere in Europe, a time of continuing war in parts of the world even after the armistice formally ended World War I.
At home, it was a time of unemployment and inflation, of bombs set off before the attorney general’s house and on Wall Street, of labor union strikes in coal and other basic industries.
Coolidge was governor of Massachusetts and in charge of the Boston police when they went on strike in September 1919. The cops had legitimate grievances. But the strike was followed by nights of violence and murder, looting of department stores and shops.
Coolidge fired the striking policemen. He explained why in a telegram to labor leader Samuel Gompers. It concluded, “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime.”
“The time for disruption was over; in order for the next day to be better,” Shlaes writes, “law must be allowed to reign now.”
Coolidge became a national celebrity. The Republican bosses in the smoke-filled room picked someone else to be Warren Harding’s running mate. But the convention delegates stampeded and nominated Coolidge.
That made Coolidge president on the sudden death of Harding (who comes off much better here than in the New Deal histories) in August 1923.
Shlaes tells how he settled into a routine of meeting regularly with the director of the new Bureau of the Budget, paring down spending any way he could.
Coolidge’s Republicans had small majorities in Congress, and many favored big new spending programs — veterans’ bonuses, farm subsidies. Coolidge said no, with vetoes that were sustained.
At the same time, he pressed Congress for tax cuts. After Coolidge won a full term in 1924, the top income tax rate was reduced from the wartime 70 percent to 25 percent.
An economy that lurched from inflation to recession between 1918 and 1922 suddenly burst into robust economic growth.
That helped Coolidge achieve budget surpluses ever year — surpluses that he used to pay down the national debt.
In the summer of 1927, while vacationing in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Coolidge announced, “I do not choose to run for president in 1928.”
All the political indicators — random sample public opinion polls had not yet been invented — suggest he would have won a second full term. And would have been in office when the stock market crashed in October 1929.
The New Deal historians depict the prosperity of the Coolidge years as illusory. In their view, the binge would inevitably be followed by the hangover.
More recent economic historians have suggested that policy mistakes by the Federal Reserve were the prime cause of the deflationary downward spiral. The onerous Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930 may have been a culprit, too.
In any case, the standard of living of millions of Americans improved in the Coolidge years. Automobiles, refrigerators and radios became commonplace possessions.
Shlaes doesn’t argue that Coolidge’s policies could or should be replicated today. But she does establish that the 30th president is worthy of more respect than previous historians have accorded him.
Is Coolidge better than Reagan? On fiscal policies, perhaps. As president, Coolidge served five and a half years. When Coolidge left office, in 1929, the federal budget was lower than when he came in. Few other peacetimes presidents, not even Reagan, can boast this. In addition, the thirtieth president cut the top income tax rate to 25%, below Reagan’s storied 1986 rate of 28%. Where does Coolidge rank compared to other presidents, such as Lincoln, who also lost a son while in the White House? Watch the video and rate the chief executives yourself.
Amity Shlaes stops by for interview to discuss “Coolidge”, her new sequel — or perhaps prequel is the better word — to “The Forgotten Man”
February 11th, 2013 – Columnist and author Amity Shlaes stops by for a half-hour interview to discuss Coolidge, her new sequel — or perhaps prequel is the better word — to The Forgotten Man, her best-selling look at the 1930s. The latter book shed new light on the Depression, by exploring its “Forgotten Men” — the entrepreneurs and employees whose lives were up-ended by the destructive “Progressive” policies of first Herbert Hoover, and then FDR.
Coolidge places the Roaring ‘20s into context by focusing on the man who helped make them possible, by getting out of the way. Silent Cal was the only president who ever said, “Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business.” And along the way, as Amity mentions in our interview, “He was in office more than one presidential term. And when he left that office, the federal budget was lower than when he came in. Real, nominal — with vanilla sprinkles on top. Wow, how’d he do that?”
How indeed? During our wide-ranging interview, Shlaes discusses such topics as:
● Recovering a sense of traditional America after Woodrow Wilson’s oppressive administration and collectivism during WWI. ● The real version of Coolidge’s “the business of America is business” quote. ● The surprising modernity of the 1920s and Coolidge himself. ● The tragic and untimely death of Coolidge’s son, and how it impacted Coolidge himself. ● Coolidge’s fear of where the unending expansion of government could lead. ● Who best fits the model of Coolidge today.
And much more. Click here to listen: (30 minutes long; 27.4MB file size. Want to download instead of streaming? Right click here to download this segment to your hard drive. Or right click here to download the 5.14MB lo-fi edition. And for our earlier podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.)
If the above Flash audio player is not be compatible with your browser, click below on the YouTube player below, or click here to be taken directly to YouTube, for an audio-only YouTube clip. Between one of those versions, you should find a format that plays on your system.
Transcript of our interview begins on the following page. Incidentally, I first interviewed Amity for an early segment of PJM Political, which ran on Sirius-XM satellite radio from 2007 through the end of 2010, not too long after The Forgotten Man was released. Fortunately, that episode is still online; Shlaes’ interview begins at about the 25:50 mark.
To finish reading, the interview, which contains additional commentary and links to other books on Coolidge, click here.
The budget idea, I may admit, is a sort of obsession with me. I believe in budgets. I want other people to believe in them. I have had a small one to run my own home; and besides that, I am the head of the organization that makes the greatest of all budgets, that of the United States government. Do you wonder, then, that at times I dream of balance sheets and sinking funds, and deficits, and tax rates and all the rest? [emphasis supplied]
Coolidge, by Amity Shlaes (Harper, 576 pp., $35)
Occasionally, what goes around does come around. Eighty years after Calvin Coolidge and his reputation were laid to rest, the 30th president is enjoying a renaissance. New Deal historians may unfairly blame Coolidge for the Great Depression and consign him to the dustbin of failed presidents, but modern conservatives, inspired by his frugality, see him as a muse. “Governor Romney, please meet Gov. Coolidge,” pleaded the American Thinker last year; “It’s time for a Little Calvin Coolidge in our Economic Approach,” demanded the American Spectator. Economists, searching for ways out of the country’s economic doldrums, gathered at Dartmouth to contemplate what advice he would give—all while Republicans searched for a reincarnated Coolidge to carry their banner.
Coolidge admiration is not entirely novel—Ronald Reagan hung Silent Cal’s portrait in the West Wing’s Cabinet Room—but it is, to some degree, only skin deep. Many Coolidge fans celebrate less the man than the silhouette: a taciturn New Englander who cut taxes and spending and presided over the booming twenties. But a serious discussion of Coolidge’s ideas and the importance of his presidency has been lacking until now.
Amity Shlaes’s Coolidge is not only the scholarly culmination of the Coolidge revival, but a definitive biography that should move appreciation for its subject beyond conservative publications and into the political mainstream. Hers is not the only recent Coolidge study. Robert Sobel’s 1998 Coolidge: An American Enigma and Charles C. Johnson’s new Why Coolidge Matters are both fine and insightful. Johnson’s book, in particular, is a persuasive and thoughtful defense of its subject’s record with an eye toward the current national debate. But in terms of scope and depth, Shlaes’s book is in a league of its own. Coolidge is masterfully researched and lyrically written, balancing detailed economic history with a fascinating and often moving human story. In this it resembles and also serves as a prequel to the author’s unromantic history of Franklin Roosevelt’s economic policies, The Forgotten Man.
As Shlaes explains, Coolidge’s austere character was forged in and forever linked with Vermont. He was, from childhood on, an outsider. Unlike preceding generations of Coolidges who farmed the Green Mountain State’s flinty soil, Calvin left Plymouth Notch, the family homestead, for Amherst, Massachusetts. There, under the tutelage of philosophy instructor Charles Edward Garman, he grew from an awkward adolescent to a self-assured young man determined to swim in what Garman described as the river of life. For Coolidge, those currents led to a career in law and then, quickly, to politics.
From the city council to the statehouse, from the mayor’s office to the governor’s office, Coolidge’s career was a frenzy of realized ambition. But he was not always the tax-cutter and small-government champion of conservative lore. Originally a mild supporter of Theodore Roosevelt’s progressivism, and an advocate of Republican unity at all costs, Coolidge often made it a priority to hold the middle ground. He didn’t hesitate to support his party, even if it meant more public spending. “There should be no parsimony in the care of our unfortunates,” he declared in 1916.
But as he progressed from office to office, Coolidge began to see firsthand the destructive power of overzealous regulation and legislation, careless public budgeting, and stifling taxation, both on businesses and individuals. In time, he fought off demands to build new city halls, consolidated 100 state government departments, and, most famously, as Massachusetts governor, dismissed over 1,100 striking Boston policemen in 1919. The decision, which Shlaes examines in an absorbing chapter, was difficult: the picketing police had legitimate grievances, but waves of violence and looting forced Coolidge’s hand. The incident launched his national star.
His strong hand during the strike, along with the promotional push of Frank Stearns, the Massachusetts department store owner who supported his career from its early years, landed him a spot on the 1920 presidential ticket with Warren G. Harding. The duo pledged to return the nation to “normalcy”—a phrase Shlaes rescues from historical ridicule and translates as a promise to restore the order lost, and peel back the excessive layers of government accumulated, during the Great War. Harding pursued these goals with vigor, holding the line on spending and cutting government. Miserable in the vice presidency and ostracized by Washington society, Coolidge provided little assistance. But then Harding, his administration sinking in scandal, suddenly died in San Francisco in the summer of 1923, and the task of normalizing the country fell to his deputy. In perhaps the most humble passage of power in American history, which Shlaes wonderfully recounts, Coolidge was sworn into the presidency by his father, a notary public, near the flickering light of a kerosene lamp at Plymouth Notch.
Shlaes focuses on two key components of Coolidge’s presidency: spending and taxes. Huddling with his budget director, Herbert Lord, the new president relentlessly cut government and searched for savings. Government employees, for example, were issued one pencil at a time, and the government purchased lighter, less expensive paper. The Weather Bureau stopped sending out postcard forecasts, since citizens now turned to their newspapers for that information; the post office made bags with new, cheaper material, and government-wide red tape was replaced with simple white string. Coolidge, a master of the art of rebuffing congressional spending requests (he vetoed 50 bills), even carried the frugality into the executive mansion, where he chastised his housekeeper for excessive ham procurement. Meanwhile, collaborating with Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, the president lowered the top income tax rate to 25 percent on the theory that the reductions, paired with budget cuts, would actually bring more money into government coffers. It worked: revenues surged, wartime debt declined, and the president both balanced and decreased the size of the federal budget.
As interesting as the policy side of the story is, Shlaes’s book is equally valuable for its insight into Coolidge’s life and too-often lampooned character. The retiring Vermonter was actually an ambitious, shrewd politician; the silent and aloof president was capable of great warmth and striking eloquence; and his domestic life was mostly tranquil (his wife, Grace, supplied the fire to his ice). But like Abraham Lincoln, Coolidge knew tragedy too well—the death of his mother and sister colored his youth, while the death of his teenage son, Calvin Jr. (whose own writing reveals a promising life cut short), darkened his presidency and the rest of his life.
Shlaes persuasively discredits the shopworn image of Coolidge as incurious. Coolidge was, in fact, a complex thinker who possessed a New Englander’s knack for expressing intricate ideas in common language. Coolidge’s bodyguard, Edmund Starling, even saw similarities between his charge and our most academic president, Woodrow Wilson. Nor was Coolidge a Luddite. He embraced technology, particularly aviation, and saw clearly that it was a key driver of prosperity. While not exactly a civil rights crusader, he did use the presidency to rebuff the Ku Klux Klan and call for tolerance toward newly arrived immigrants.
Though he did not lack ego, Coolidge, refreshingly (and perhaps strangely by today’s standards) viewed power, and especially the presidency, coolly. When faced with the possibility of running, and likely winning, his own second term in 1928, which would have made him the longest-serving U.S. president at that time, Coolidge politely declined. “It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know that he is not a great man,” he later wrote. This reticent legacy offers contemporary America, deep in debt, spending wildly while growing anemically, and obsessed with presidential celebrity, an alternative path—or, in Shlaes’s phrasing, a useful “gift.” Whether the country would accept it is another matter.
Toward the end of his term, Coolidge was besieged with requests for federal intervention and assistance after a series of destructive floods hit the South. A committed federalist, the president refused, pointing out that the states, rather than Washington, were best situated to provide relief. When flooding subsequently devastated Vermont, Coolidge stood firm, while the nation grew restive and called for action. Could an equally restrained president find favor today? Whatever the answer may be, Shlaes offers a long-overdue, three-dimensional version of Calvin Coolidge. Her book is not unlike its namesake: thoughtful, modestly eloquent, dryly humorous, and above all, relevant.
Ryan L. Cole, a former advisor to Governor Mitch Daniels, writes from Indiana.
John Calvin Coolidge was born in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, in 1874. Most of what we know of Coolidge’s early life comes directly from his autobiography. His father was a relatively prominent public official who served in the Vermont state Senate.
July 4, 1872, in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, to John Calvin Coolidge Sr. and Victoria Josephine Moor (Coolidge).
Attended Black River Academy and Amherst College. Apprenticed with the Hammond & Field law firm.
Married Grace Anna Goodhue in 1905, with whom he had two sons, John (born 1906) and Calvin Jr. (born 1908).
- Massachusetts House of Representatives (1907–1908).
- Mayor of Northampton, Massachusetts (1910–1911).
- Massachusetts State Senate (1912–1915); President from 1914–1915.
- Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts (1916–1918).
- Governor of Massachusetts (1919–1920).
- Vice President of the United States (1921–1923).
- President of the United States (1923–1929).
- Author of The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge (1929) and three volumes of his greatest speeches: Have Faith in Massachusetts (1919), The Price of Freedom (1924), and Foundations of the Republic (1926).
January 5, 1933, of a heart attack in Northampton, Massachusetts.
“American ideals do not require to be changed so much as they require to be understood and applied.”
The time spent with his father as a young boy had a profound effect on Coolidge’s political views. From his father’s experience, Coolidge later wrote, “I came to have a good working knowledge of the practical side of government. I understood that it consisted of restraints which the people had imposed upon themselves in order to promote the common welfare.” He learned that “when taxes were laid some one had to work to earn the money to pay them. I saw that a public debt was a burden on all the people in a community.”
Coolidge therefore learned at an early age the importance of fiscal restraint and the evils of excessive government debt. These lessons stuck with him throughout his political career, and aside from his eloquent defense of the Founders and his thoughtful critique of Progressivism, his greatest legacy as President is his incredible reduction in spending and taxes and the economic prosperity that resulted from his policies.
Sadly, Coolidge’s mother died from wounds suffered in a carriage accident when Coolidge was 12. “Life was never to seem the same again,” Coolidge wrote of the feeling of losing his mother. Just a few years later, he lost his sister, Abigail, to what was likely appendicitis. These tragic events surely had some effect on Coolidge, who was to experience a far more traumatic loss when his youngest son died at the age of 16.
The stories that survive from Coolidge’s upbringing paint a picture of a spry and clever lad with a core of profound seriousness. He attended the Black River Academy, where he was trained in the classics. He excelled in Latin and read a lot of Cicero (he was particularly fond of the orations against Cataline).
Every graduate from the academy gave a speech at the graduation ceremony; Coolidge’s speech, revealingly, was called “Oratory in History.” The speech addressed “the effect of the spoken word in determining human action.” Little did he know as a young graduate that generations later, Americans would study his spoken words to determine their actions in politics.
Yet Coolidge’s impishness also shone through on several occasions. When he enrolled at Amherst College in 1891, he impressed his fellow residents most with his sense of humor. During one meal in which he and his boardmates were served hash, Coolidge took one look at the hash and asked the server to “Bring me the cat.”
At Amherst Coolidge discovered his passion for great books, great ideas, and great deeds. He also developed his liking for modern languages, Italian and French in particular. Years later, a foreign diplomat quipped that Coolidge, a.k.a. “Silent Cal,” could be “silent in five languages.”
During his junior and senior years, Coolidge gained a reputation on campus as a talented orator. He was heavily influenced by two of his professors: Anson D. Morse, whose courses in history taught Coolidge (among other things) to value the American party system for its contributions to a well-functioning democracy, and Charles E. Garman, a philosophy and psychology professor who was very close to the Pragmatist thinker William James. Perhaps as a result of Garman’s influence, Coolidge was drawn to Progressive political philosophy and policies during the early years of his political career, before he rejected Progressivism and gained prominence as a conservative.
Upon his graduation from Amherst in 1895, Coolidge became apprenticed to John C. Hammond and Henry P. Field, two prominent lawyers in Northampton, Massachusetts. (Most American lawyers received their training through apprenticeship prior to 1900, when states began to limit admission to the bar to graduates of law schools.) During the day, he prepared legal documents, and in the evenings, he continued to study the classics: the speeches of Daniel Webster, the literary works of John Milton and Shakespeare. Drawing on his classical education, he translated speeches of Cicero on the worth of reading literature.
The deepening of his reading and appreciation for the classics would serve him well during his political career. He also received an award from the Sons of the American Revolution for an essay on “The Principles Fought for in the American Revolution.”
Entry into Politics and Rise to National Prominence
Shortly after passing the bar in Massachusetts at the age of 25, Coolidge launched himself into politics. His first elected office was a one-year term in the Northampton common council. The only election he lost was in 1905, when he ran for the school board.
That same year, he married a young teacher named Grace Goodhue. His devotion to her was so great that he translated Dante’s Inferno into English during their courtship. In 1906, he returned to politics and won consecutive terms in the Massachusetts state legislature.
Coolidge emerged as a leader of the Republican ranks in Massachusetts after he unseated the president of the state Senate in 1913. His unique political demeanor immediately attracted attention. In an age where politicians were increasingly gregarious and ostentatious, the serious and taciturn Coolidge stood out.
As president of the state Senate, he had his first of many encounters with Frank W. Stearns, a prominent Boston businessman. As Stearns related the event, he met Coolidge in an office with a single desk and chair, in which Coolidge sat. Stearns was forced to stand while he asked for a legislative favor from Coolidge. As Coolidge became more interested in Stearns’s proposal, he walked over to a closet, unlocked the door, and grabbed a chair for his guest. When the meeting concluded, Coolidge put the chair back in the closet and locked the door. Though Stearns initially found the encounter off-putting, when Coolidge followed up with a note that the favor had been completed, he recognized Coolidge’s political virtues.
Coolidge was elected Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts in 1915 and Governor of Massachusetts in 1918. He rose to prominence the following year, when the Boston Police Department went on strike in response to suspension of its union leaders by Boston Police Commissioner Edwin Curtis. Coolidge acted decisively, calling up the National Guard and taking control of the police force. When challenged by Samuel Gompers, the head of the American Federation of Labor, Coolidge asserted: “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anyone, anywhere, any time.” Coolidge’s forceful treatment of the public employee union reverberated throughout the nation and brought him national notoriety.
Though not among the front-runners when the Republican National Convention opened in Chicago in 1920, Coolidge eventually emerged as Warren G. Harding’s running mate in the critical presidential election of 1920. Harding and Coolidge won a landslide victory against James Cox and Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Their margin of victory in the popular vote was unmatched in any election before or since. As Vice President, Coolidge gave many of his most eloquent speeches, cultivating the speech craft that would flourish during his own presidency. Following Harding’s sudden death in August 1923, Coolidge was sworn in (by his father at their family home in Vermont) as President of the United States, and he was re-elected to his own term in 1924.
During the summer of 1924, Coolidge suddenly lost his son, Calvin Jr., to blood poisoning from a blister caused while playing tennis on the White House lawn. Many scholars claim that this incredible personal tragedy fundamentally altered Coolidge’s decision-making as President, but Coolidge’s personal philosophy, as articulated in his speeches and actions, was constant both before and after the loss of his son. Yet while his political philosophy remained constant, the loss exacted a heavy emotional cost. In his autobiography, Coolidge wondered, “if I had not been President he would not have raised a blister on his toe…. I do not know why such a price was exacted for occupying the White House.”
Despite his great popularity, Coolidge declined to run for an additional term in 1928 and was succeeded by Herbert Hoover. He explained in his autobiography: “The Presidential office takes a heavy toll of those who occupy it and those who are dear to them. While we should not refuse to spend and be spent in the service of our country, it is hazardous to attempt what we feel is beyond our strength to accomplish.” With his typical humility, Coolidge stated, “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.”
Defense of Founding Principles
Throughout his political career, Coolidge was a staunch defender of the principles of the American Founding. These principles formed the basis of his conservative philosophy.
When Coolidge rose to the presidency, the country was slowly emerging from the doldrums of the post–World War I economy. Economic growth was sluggish, and the government’s debt from the war was staggering. Coolidge maintained that America would flourish again only if its citizens remembered the principles that made the country great in the first place. He called upon Americans to conserve their traditions and their principles and to reapply them. The wisdom of the past ought to guide the present, he argued: “American ideals do not require to be changed so much as they require to be understood and applied.”
The core of the American Founding, Coolidge argued in many of his speeches, was the set of permanent truths articulated in the Declaration of Independence. These principles were permanent because human nature was permanent. “We must realize that human nature is about the most constant thing in the universe and that the essentials of the human relationship do not change.” Since human nature is unchanging, the principles of human relationships, including the principles of government, do not change. The Founders got it right when they set forth these principles in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
The first principle the Founders set forth was the principle of natural human equality. This, Coolidge said, is “the natural and inalienable condition of beings who were created ‘a little lower than the angels.’” Equality is “not an equality of possessions, not an equality of degree, but an equality in the attributes of humanity, an equality of kind.”
We are all equal, Coolidge (and the Founders) argued, because we are all equally human: because we possess the same human nature and share the same “attributes of humanity.” And because we are equal—because no person has a natural or divine title to rule the rest of us without our consent—we are also equally free. Regardless of our differences, all human beings possess the same equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Deeply intertwined with our liberty is the right to property. Each man, Coolidge wrote, has the right “to possess, enjoy, and control the dollar which he earns” and be assured that “it shall not be taken away without due process of law.” Our rights to property follow from our right to liberty: Without property rights, liberty could not be preserved. “This necessarily goes with any theory of independence or of liberty, which would be only a mockery unless it secured to the individual the rewards of his own effort and industry.” Without property rights, liberty can never be secure.
In the political realm, our liberty translates into self-government. “Our country was conceived in the theory of local self-government,” Coolidge argued. “It is the foundation principle of our system of liberty.”
This American conservative philosophy of equality of rights to life, liberty, and property, with government by the consent of the governed, was concisely set forth in the Declaration of Independence, Coolidge observed:
Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed. These doctrines, he argued, “are the ideals which supply the foundation of American institutions.”
These principles rested on the wisdom of centuries of thoughtful peoples. They were not unique to America, in Coolidge’s view. The American Founders did not set forth new principles in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; they applied long-established political theories to their own practical circumstances. “The American Constitution was not a new theory. But…it was the practical application of an old theory which is very new,” Coolidge said.
The wisdom of America’s first principles, in other words, was derived from the wisdom of the ages. In this sense, Coolidge’s philosophy was deeply conservative, dedicated to preserving the wisdom of the past.
Critique of Progressivism
Coolidge’s eloquent defense of the principles of the Founding was matched only by his insightful criticisms of Progressivism. In his day, the basic principles of equality, natural rights, and consent of the governed were being attacked by a new philosophy of government that claimed to be “progressive.” Coolidge’s anchoring in the permanent principles of the Founding allowed him to counter the purported claim to progress of this new worldview. In a memorable Fourth of July oration, he stated the issue with absolute clarity:
It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary.
Coolidge turned the argument of the Progressives on its head. What were Progressives trying to progress beyond? If the principles of our Declaration are permanent because human nature is unchanging, then there can be no progress, but only regression away from these principles of equality, inalienable rights, and consent of the governed. Progressives who seek to depart from our Founding principles, he argued, are reactionaries in disguise. They would depart from the ideas that made America the greatest and freest country in human history.
The Progressive rejection of our Founding principles led, in Coolidge’s view, to disastrous consequences, including the erosion of self-reliance, the growth of government burden and dependence, and the vilification of business and industry. Coolidge fought vigorously against these trends.
One of the effects of Progressiv-ism was the centralization of power in Washington and expansion of the role of government in Americans’ lives. Coolidge believed that government had a legitimate role to play in securing the equal rights of Americans and ensuring equality of opportunity in the marketplace, but he firmly rejected the notion that the government’s new job would be to take care of its citizens. Self-reliance, rather than government assistance, is always the best means to happiness and prosperity, he believed.
Alas, he was forced to acknowledge that “the present tendency is not in this spirit.” Progressivism had eroded the self-reliance and personal responsibility of the American people:
The individual, instead of working out his own salvation and securing his own freedom by establishing his own economic and moral independence by his own industry and his own self-mastery, tends to throw himself on some vague influence which he denominates society and to hold that in some way responsible for the sufficiency of his support…. This is not local self-government. It is not American. It is not the method which has made this country what it is. We can not maintain the western standard of civilization on that theory. If it is supported at all, it will have to be supported on the principle of individual responsibility.
With the decline of individual responsibility comes the rise of dependence on government. Once citizens no longer care for themselves, they are beholden to the government, which they expect will care for them. Coolidge emphasized that the new Progressive philosophy of government entitlements was actually a philosophy of government dependence. “I do not want to see any of the people cringing supplicants for the favor of the Government, when they should all be independent masters of their own destiny,” he proclaimed.
Perhaps most alarming in Coolidge’s view was the cynicism that Progressivism produced about the motivations of businessmen and corporations. In the past, Americans had always praised those who did well economically and understood that it is a good thing when businesses thrive, but Progressivism argued that it was evil to do things for profit and that inequalities of wealth were harmful to the country.
Coolidge constantly fought against these claims. Whenever he spoke to industry groups, chambers of commerce, banking organizations, or leaders of labor, he emphasized that business is based on the law of service: If someone does well in business, it is because he provided a valuable service to customers. Business “does not represent, as some have hastily concluded, a mere desire to minister to selfishness,” he explained. “It is something far more important than a sordid desire for gain. It could not successively succeed on that basis. It is dominated by a more worthy purpose; [it] rests on a higher law…. It rests squarely on the law of service.”
In other words, it is through service to others, not selfishness, that businesses succeed in America. Successful entrepreneurs should therefore be praised, not condemned.
A “Roaring” Economy
Coolidge put his actions behind his rhetoric. He followed his principles as President and was remarkably successful in achieving his policy goals. Harding and Coolidge inherited one of the worst economic disasters in American history. In 1921, the unemployment rate was 11.7 percent. The national debt had shot up from $1.5 billion in 1916 to $24 billion in 1919. Gross national product decreased from $91.5 billion in 1920 to $69.6 billion in 1921.
In response, Harding and Coolidge did not blame their predecessor, Woodrow Wilson, for the disaster they inherited. They went about putting their principles into practice and turning the economy around, and they were extremely effective in doing so. They employed a three-step plan.
- Cut spending dramatically.
- Lower taxes.
- Reduce the burden of regulation.
Due to the passage of the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, Coolidge had a newfound power to propose an annual budget, giving him some influence over spending issues. Coolidge used this power, in his words, in an “intensive campaign” that he “waged unrelentingly” against federal spending. Coolidge won his war on federal spending: From 1921 to 1924, federal expenditures were reduced from $5.1 billion to $2.9 billion—a spending reduction of 43 percent.
At the same time, Coolidge worked with Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon to pass three successive income tax reduction plans. The purpose of reducing spending, he noted, was to protect the property rights of citizens.“A government which lays taxes on the people not required by urgent necessity…is not a protector of liberty, but an instrument of tyranny. It condemns the citizen to servitude.”
Freeing the citizen from burdensome taxes was Coolidge’s top priority, and under the Revenue Acts of 1921, 1924, and 1926, the highest income tax rate fell from 73 percent in 1921 to 24 percent in 1929. By reducing spending, Coolidge was able to lower taxes and retire much of the government’s debt, which was reduced from $24 billion to $16.9 billion.
Combined with his program of regulatory relief, Coolidge’s economic policies produced a period of incredible prosperity. The “Roaring Twenties” saw one of the most dynamic periods of economic growth in the nation’s history, and Coolidge left office having achieved great personal popularity and, more important, having shown that the principles of the Founding were still the best way to achieve freedom and prosperity.
Skeptics might respond that the prosperity of the Roaring Twenties was a mirage, since the economy went into a tailspin in 1929, causing the “Great Depression.” Economists have long disagreed, and will probably continue to disagree, about the causes of the Great Depression. Many blame faulty government policies (in particular, faulty monetary policy pursued by the Federal Reserve) for exacerbating a normal and temporary downturn.
While this debate will never be fully settled, it is probably fair to say that the prosperity of the 1920s was bound to level off at some point. At the same time, however, the causes of the Great Depression were numerous, and Coolidge’s policies of reducing taxes, cutting spending, and paying off the national debt were probably not immediate causes of the crash of 1929.
A Conservative Hero
When Ronald Reagan became President in 1981, he hung a portrait of Calvin Coolidge in the Cabinet Room of the White House. This act astonished many who merely thought of Coolidge as “Silent Cal,” the President of few words. But Reagan understood the real Coolidge, perhaps a man of few words, but also a President who made those words count and meant what he said.
Coolidge was the most effective defender of America’s Founding principles at a time when those principles were widely dismissed. Moreover, he was extraordinarily effective at putting those principles into practice. Surely, Reagan considered Calvin Coolidge a hero for these reasons, and it is for these reasons that all conservatives should regard Coolidge as one of their greatest heroes.
—Joseph Postell, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and a Visiting Fellow in the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at The Heritage Foundation.
Human Events By: Charles Cole 10/27/2012 11:07 PM
“Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
Many politicians have cited Einstein’s quote, but Americans don’t seem to be listening. Philosopher George Santayana famously noted that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Sadly, our history books have followed a scripted narrative, omitting much important information that the American people need to consider this year.
Since the early years of the 20th Century, Americans have chosen various approaches to governance. They have elected Republican presidents but given them Democratic-controlled congresses – for example, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and, for part of his administration, G.W. Bush. They have elected Democratic presidents to serve with Republican majorities in one or both houses of Congress – for example, the last few years of Woodrow Wilson’s administration, Harry Truman, part of the administration of Bill Clinton, and a Republican House during the final two years of Barack Obama’s first term.
There were, however, several periods during which Democratic presidents enjoyed huge majorities in both houses of Congress as shown in the summary chart below: 
|President||House of Representatives||Senate|
|Franklin D. Roosevelt||Democrats: 70 percent||Democrats: 66 percent|
|“ “ “ “ “ “||Republicans: 30||Republicans: 34|
|Lyndon B. Johnson||Democrats: 61||Democrats: 65|
|“ “ “ “||Republicans: 39||Republicans: 35|
|Jimmy Carter||Democrats: 66||Democrats: 60|
|“ “ “ “||Republicans: 34||Republicans: 40|
During the first two years of Barack Obama’s first term, the breakout was as follows:
Senate: 59 percent Democrats 41 percent Republicans
House: 59 percent Democrats 41 percent Republicans
From these charts, we can see that there have been several Democratic presidents over the past 80 years who enjoyed very large majorities in both houses of Congress throughout their terms of office. Barack Obama enjoyed similar majorities through the first full two years of his term. After the 2010 congressional election, Democrats retained control of the U.S. Senate, but lost the majority in the House.
Historical facts reveal that President Roosevelt took actions which, according to his theoretical approach to governance, would “stimulate the economy” and end the Great Depression. The facts that have emerged from recent research indicate that the traditional (“mainstream”) view that FDR’s policies “ended the Great Depression” is woefully lacking when exposed to the light of critical review. Even Henry Morgenthau, FDR’s Secretary of Treasury (hardly a conservative naysayer or a “right wing extremist”) said the following in testimony before Congress several years into the Roosevelt Administration:
“We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work…. We have never made good on our promises … I say after eight years of this administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started… and an enormous debt to boot!”
President Lyndon Johnson vastly increased the size and scope of the welfare state through his “Great Society” and created the entitlement programs known as Medicare and Medicaid. What he and the Democratic Congress failed to create was a credible way to pay for these federal programs in the long term. They are now major drivers of our debt and deficit and threaten to bankrupt the treasury unless reformed. And yet President Obama demagogues this issue and has proposed no credible proposals to deal with it.
Democratic President Jimmy Carter also used his huge congressional majorities to further the agenda of the left in the areas of spending, debt, deficit, and growing the size and power of the federal government. By the end of his administration, the American economy suffered from nagging inflation and high interest rates. It’s another prime example of what one-party Democratic government has produced.
You won’t read the aforementioned accounts in today’s high school or college history textbooks. Instead, students are treated to airbrushed versions of history that either whitewash or simply omit the documented, factual record of these Democratic administrations. They all applied a virtually identical approach to governance as that practiced by President Barack Obama and by leftwing Democrats in California, Illinois, and other states they control.
Probably fewer than one in 100,000 Americans knows the last time a truly constitutionally conservative Republican president enjoyed significant conservative majorities in both houses of Congress. Sadly, it was back in the 1920s during the administration of President Calvin Coolidge. “Mainstream” historians have omitted from their narratives much about this extraordinary period in American history.
Vice President Calvin Coolidge became president upon the death of President Warren Harding in 1923. He was elected in his own right in 1924 and served until March of 1929.
At the beginning of the Harding/Coolidge administration, the country was suffering a serious economic depression. Rather than apply feckless measures involving the federal government — as was later done by the progressive Republican Herbert Hoover, or Franklin Roosevelt, or, more recently, Barack Obama — the newly inaugurated Republican administration implemented measures similar to those executed by contemporary conservative governors in Virginia and Wisconsin and elsewhere upon inheriting such economic woes. They used their conservative majorities in both houses of Congress to apply constitutionally conservative principles to fix economic problems.
Specifically, the administration cut taxes on all taxpayers by 67 percent, which resulted in large increases in government revenues. This, by the way, has happened virtually every time the tax rates have been lowered, despite Democrats’ stubborn refusal to acknowledge this fact and their obstinate determination to raise taxes, even during economic downturns.
The Republicans also cut government spending by 25 percent over 8 years, resulting in budget surpluses. Rather than concoct new programs on which to spend these surpluses, Coolidge applied them to pay down the federal debt, reducing it significantly.
During the six years of his part of the administration, thanks to the efforts of his Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon and the cooperation of a conservative Republican Congress, Calvin Coolidge lowered unemployment to an astounding and never again replicated 2 percent. 
One would think that, after numerous times of giving Democrats a virtual one-party rule in Washington, perhaps the American people might finally give the Calvin Coolidge/Mitt Romney approach a fair and long overdue try, especially given the severity of the economic challenges facing our nation.
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan should be elected and also given a fair chance to govern by giving them solid conservative majorities in both houses of Congress – the same chance several Democrat presidents have been given in the past. If states such as Ohio, Virginia, Florida, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Montana, and even West Virginia and New Mexico were to replace incumbent or retiring Democrat Senators with Republicans running for those seats, a new Republican president would have, for the first time since the 1920s, a genuine opportunity to implement the conservative agenda which is working so well in several of the states of our union.
It’s time for a real change. It’s time to give the conservative side of the aisle a legitimate chance to apply effective solutions to serious problems. America deserves a chance to succeed! And time is growing dangerously short.
Charles Cole is a retired Defense Department educator who lives in Wyoming and writes political essays.
July 14, 2012 By Garland Tucker
The American public may be about to do something it has not done in 88 years: elect a former governor of Massachusetts as president of the United States. In anticipation of this election, we can only hope that some of Governor Romney’s advisors will introduce him to his predecessor, Governor Calvin Coolidge.
Coolidge was one of the most popular presidents in U.S. history, but historians have tended to underestimate his importance. However, with the advent of Reagan and the revival of conservatism, Coolidge’s place in history has been re-appraised. Historian Paul Johnson has called Coolidge “[t]he most internally consistent and single minded of modern American presidents.” Amity Shlaes has written recently that Coolidge believed his first obligation was “to do no harm. His no harm rule came out of strength of character. By holding back, Coolidge believed he sustained stability, so that citizens knew what to expect from their government.” Perhaps one of Coolidge’s own supporters best summarized his record: “Coolidge never wasted any time, never wasted any words, and never wasted any public money.”
Before meeting his predecessor, Romney might well consider the following Coolidge administration accomplishments:
- Top marginal income tax rates were lowered from 73% to 24%.
- By the end of his term, 98% of the population paid no income tax at all.
- The federal budget was reduced by 35%.
- Per capita income increased over 30%.
- Unemployment averaged 3.3%.
- GNP grew at the fastest compound rate of any eight-year period in U.S. history.
There are some very important lessons that Mitt could learn from Silent Cal. First and foremost, Coolidge was a man of character who embodied the classic New England virtues upon which the Republic was founded: hard work, independent thinking (“common sense” as he called it), lack of pretense, sense of duty, perseverance, scrupulous honesty — in other words, the bedrock on which Coolidge had been raised in rural Vermont and on which he built his political career. The 1920s made for a decade of rapid social change, but Coolidge’s somewhat old-fashioned virtues resonated with the American public.
How could such a seemingly simple man as Coolidge, who adhered so closely to traditional virtues and conservative, Jeffersonian government, have captured the respect, admiration, and even affection of 20th-century America? After pondering the Coolidge phenomenon for eight years, Walter Lippmann finally concluded near the end of Coolidge’s tenure, “Americans feel, I think, that they are stern, ascetic and devoted to plain living because they vote for a man who is.”
Perhaps that is still the case, Governor Romney.
Coolidge believed that the role of government was appropriately limited by the Constitution and was convinced of the creative power of individual initiative. Like Jefferson, Coolidge harbored a very healthy distrust of government and a strong conviction that government was appropriately limited by the Constitution. He wanted “the people of America to be able to work less for the government and more for themselves. I want them to have the rewards of their own industry. That is the chief meaning of freedom.” He consistently resisted progressive efforts to expand the reach of government, and he understood it was a moral — as well as an economic — issue: “I favor a government policy of economy not because I wish to save money but because I wish to save people.” He deplored the dependency which accompanies expanded government.
As Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote recently in National Review, “[t]his is America’s road to serfdom. No death squads or goose-stepping thugs, just one little compromise after another to the free enterprise system. Each one sounds sort of appealing, and no single one is enough to bring down the system. But add them all up, and here we are, on our way to becoming Greece. There’s only one kind of argument that will shake people awake: a moral one.” Our current state of affairs would no doubt evoke moral indignation from Coolidge.
It may surprise Governor Romney to know that supply-side economics did not, in fact, begin with Arthur Laffer and Ronald Reagan, but rather with Calvin Coolidge and Andrew Mellon. Coolidge termed high taxes “a species of legalized larceny,” and he knew that the creation of jobs comes from the private sector, not from government. As Coolidge simultaneously slashed top income tax rates from 77% to 24% and reduced government spending by over 35%, GNP grew at the fastest rate ever recorded for any eight year period in U. S. history.
As the public well knows, Governor Romney has had a distinguished career in business and earned a reputation as a “fixer.” Coolidge’s realistic appreciation of the limits of constitutional government will probably sound rather counterintuitive to an inveterate fixer like Romney, but Romney would be well-served to consider its merit. Coolidge’s secretary of commerce and successor as president was Herbert Hoover, a highly accomplished businessman with a penchant for fixing everything. Referring disparagingly to Hoover as “Wonder Boy,” Coolidge offered him this advice: “If you see then troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you, and you have to battle with only one of them.” Coolidge was careful never to propose laws or regulation to address problems that would be sorted out more efficiently in the free market.
Now, lest Governor Romney mistakenly conclude that his predecessor was chronically inactive, he should explore how Coolidge did in fact deal with a few of the one in ten troubles that did not fall into the ditch. In 1919, as governor of Massachusetts, Coolidge was confronted with a bitter police strike in Boston. He labored for weeks to avoid a showdown, but when the police union leaders called a strike, he acted decisively. He issued the following terse statement that resonated around the country, swiftly ended the strike, and catapulted him onto the national stage: “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anytime, anywhere.”
President Reagan cited these words sixty-one years later when he acted similarly in the air controllers’ strike. Coolidge did not require public opinion poll to tell him what to think or how to act when action was necessary (nor did Reagan).
Finally, on a personal dimension, Coolidge was a politician of civility, and he also possessed a well-developed sense of humor. One of his guiding principles was “I will not attack an individual” — and he didn’t. Candidate Romney should concentrate on President Obama’s record, while heeding Coolidge’s admonition to avoid attacking the individual.
Somewhat surprisingly, Coolidge was famous in his day for humorous one-liners. His humor was often self-deprecating and showed a keen sense of awareness of human limitations and foibles. To the society matron whose husband had wagered that she could not get the president to utter more than two words, he replied, with a wink, “You lose.” Returning home from church one Sunday, Coolidge was asked by his wife, “What was the sermon about?” He replied, “Sin.”
“Well, what did the preacher say about sin?” she asked. “He was against it,” Coolidge replied. At the end of his term, Coolidge observed to the press corps, “I have found in the course of a long public life that the things I did not say never hurt me.”
Coolidge was one of our most photographed presidents. He delighted in striking rather ridiculous poses — e.g., donning full Indian headdress, fly-fishing in a three-piece suit, pitching hay on the farm in a “farmer’s smock” and wingtips. The public seemed to appreciate that he never took himself too seriously.
Today, the country is desperate for a president with character, vision, discipline, common sense, civility, and humor. So, before entering the White House, Governor Romney, please meet Governor Coolidge.
And let’s hope they become fast friends.
Garland S. Tucker III is president of a NYSE-listed specialty finance company and author of The High of American Conservatism – Davis, Coolidge and the 1924 Election (Emerald Book Company, 2010).
February 9, 2013 at 3:54 pm · Filed under Uncategorized and tagged: Calvin Coolidge, Constitution the greatest privilege, free republic, good character, limited government, opposition to progressive-statism, roaring 20′s, Ronald Reagan, sanctity of private property, self-government, stand against Obamacare, the “hearthstone”, true to principles, underrated presidents
June 24, 2010
by Josie Wales
No, not because this is the day that the 30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, was sworn into office; although the words of “Silent Cal” lend credence to the modern movement in opposition to progressive-statism. Take a gander:
Civilization and profit go hand in hand.
Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.
There is no dignity quite so impressive, and no one independence quite so important, as living within your means.
Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery.
Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business.
To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.
President Coolidge may be the most under-rated president in American history, but his words do little to roll back the progressive machine now. The beginning of that roll-back does not occur on November 2, but much earlier. On August 3, 2010, Missouri voters will be tasked with the responsibility of taking the first stand against Obamacare, the progressive panacea, by voting for the Missouri Health Care Freedom Act (MHCFA) in a public referendum.
May 16, 2010
by Alan Snyder
Ronald Reagan admired him a lot. In fact, when Reagan was looking over his new house—the White House—shortly after his inaugural in 1981, he entered into the Cabinet Room.
On the wall were portraits of Truman, Jefferson, and Lincoln. The White House curator commented at the time, “If you don’t like Mr. Truman, you can move Mr. Truman out.” Even though Reagan, a former Democrat, had voted for Truman back in 1948, he made his decision: Truman’s portrait was removed and one of Calvin Coolidge was dusted off and put in its place.
Nowadays, in all the “right” circles [to be found primarily among the academic elite], the person of Coolidge is a source of amusement, if not outright derision. Why, he was a do-nothing president, someone who didn’t use the power of the office as he should have. Probably his most grievous sin, in their view, was the way he put the brakes on destiny: he was a foe of the progressive movement that was intended to reshape American government and culture.
Coolidge, whose administration spanned a good part of the 1920s, was a throwback to an earlier time. He was not a Woodrow Wilson; rather, he believed in the vision of the Founding Fathers and their concept of limited government. He remained true to the principles of self-government and the sanctity of private property. The rule of law was paramount in his political philosophy. No one was above the law, a belief that, if followed, would keep the people safe from the power of an overextended government.
During the 1920s, the continent of Europe experimented with socialism. What might larger government be able to accomplish? What vistas await us once we unleash the full power of government intervention? Coolidge stood opposed to this false vision of the future.
Historians also like to make fun of his approach to speechmaking. Coolidge preferred to say as little as possible. As he once noted, he never got in trouble for things he didn’t say. Yet when he did speak, he made some very significant pronouncements. His words conveyed key ideas for American success. Meditate on this paragraph, for instance:
In a free republic a great government is the product of a great people. They will look to themselves rather than government for success. The destiny, the greatness of America lies around the hearthstone. If thrift and industry are taught there, and the example of self-sacrifice oft appears, if honor abide there, and high ideals, if there the building of fortune be subordinate to the building of character, America will live in security, rejoicing in an abundant prosperity and good government at home and in peace, respect, and confidence abroad. If these virtues be absent there is no power that can supply these blessings. Look well then to the hearthstone, therein all hope for America lies.
Notice Coolidge’s stress on what he called the “hearthstone,” which is a designation for the family. He saw the family as the cornerstone of society, the place where character should be developed. Note also his subordination of financial fortune to the building of character. Fortune may come, but only if character comes first: thrift, industry, and honor—qualities in short supply at the moment.
America was prosperous during the Coolidge years. The Great Depression was just around the corner, but it didn’t occur as a result of Coolidge’s policies of tax cuts and economic liberty. The Depression was more a result of misdirection from the Federal Reserve [low cash reserves in banks; easy credit]; its continuation throughout the 1930s was due to government actions of the New Deal.
If there’s one thing most historians can agree on with Coolidge, it’s that he easily would have won reelection in 1928 had he chosen to run again. Yet he voluntarily stood down. Why? What prompted that decision? He tells us what led him to do so in his autobiography.
It is difficult for men in high office to avoid the malady of self-delusion. They are always surrounded by worshipers. They are constantly, and for the most part sincerely, assured of their greatness. They live in an artificial atmosphere of adulation and exultation which sooner or later impairs their judgment. They are in grave danger of becoming careless and arrogant.
Coolidge saw the problems associated with elected office. He knew that men often developed what might be called the “swelled-head syndrome.” He wanted nothing to do with that. If for no other reason, Coolidge should be honored for his willingness to set aside power and maintain his good character. Where are the politicians willing to do that today?
Taylor Bigler Entertainment Editor
Did you know that President Calvin Coolidge was kind of awesome?
Coolidge was elected as vice president to Warren G. Harding in 1920. When Harding died in 1923, Coolidge became president and was elected outright in 1924.
He was considered a small government conservative and a man of few words, but these photographs of him are worth thousands.
What other presidents were photographed staring down a cow or holding a tiny kitten? None of them.
Behold, the greatness of the 30th President of the United States.
Coolidge administration was the true high tide of conservative, limited government (Acton Institute) / the foundational truths of government / the Spirit of Federalism
Coolidge administration was the true high tide of conservative, limited government (Acton)
by Ray Nothstine on Tuesday, December 11, 2012 ACTON Institute
Given all the reassessment going on today about conservatism and its popularity and viability for governing, I recommend picking up a copy of The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election by Garland Tucker, III.
The author is Chief Executive Officer of Triangle Capital Corporation in Raleigh, N.C. Over the years, I’ve highlighted how Coolidge’s ideas relate to Acton’s thought and mission. And while I’ve read and written a lot about Coolidge, I knew next to nothing about John W. Davis. Davis was a lawyer, ambassador, and Solicitor General of the United States who hailed from West Virginia. He argued 140 cases before the Supreme Court. As the Democratic presidential nominee in 1924, he was also Coolidge’s election opponent.
Davis believed strongly in limited government and economic freedom. He criticized the policies of the New Deal saying, “Whether business is better today than it was yesterday, or will be better or worse tomorrow than it is today, is a poor guide for people who are called upon to decide what sort of government they want to live under both today and tomorrow and for the long days after.”
I reached out to the author to ask him some questions about his book and about the ideas and significance of Coolidge and Davis. Below is the interview: Why is Calvin Coolidge so important for conservatives to understand today and what are modern conservative leaders missing from the vision he put forward?
Modern conservatives need to understand Calvin Coolidge because he is the only modern president who actually implemented the complete conservative agenda. Coolidge sharply reduced taxes, while also sharply reducing government spending, the national debt, and the regulatory scope of government. At the same time, he earned the approbation of a huge majority of the American electorate. In the face of a severe postwar recession in 1920, the Harding administration began to implement conservative policies, but the major implementation came under Coolidge (and Mellon) in 1923-1928. The result of lower tax rates and reduced government spending was the greatest sustained decade of economic growth in U. S. history.
Coolidge had a very deep understanding of the connection between morality and the economy. Why do you think this was the case and why was it essential in his view?
Coolidge once said, “I favor economy in government not just to save money, but to save people.” He not only believed strongly in the economic efficacy of free markets, individual initiative, and limited government , but he understood these economic principles were undergirded by moral principles. He saw the debilitating dependency created when citizens depend on the government rather than on themselves and their fellow citizens. The Washington Post commented, “Few persons, probably, have considered economy and taxation as moral issues. But Mr. Coolidge so considers them, and his observations give a fresh impression of the intensity of his feeling on this subject. He holds that economy, in connection with tax reduction and tax reform, involves the principle of conservation of national resources. A nation that dissipates its resources falls into moral decay.”
Your book The High Tide of American Conservatism talks about the 1924 presidential race as really the pinnacle of modern American conservatism for good reason. What did you learn most from writing this book?
I learned three important things from writing the book: First, from an historical perspective, 1924 was “the high tide” of American conservatism in that it was the last time a conservative was nominated by both of the major political parties. The results of this watershed election have been lasting. From 1924 till the present, the Democratic Party has been always well to the left of the Republican Party. Post 1924, progressive Republicans began to migrate to the Democratic Party, while conservative Democrats migrated to the GOP.
Secondly, the two candidates, Coolidge and Davis, were exemplary public servants. No hint of scandal ever touched either man. The personal integrity of these two men was never questioned. They conducted what was arguably the most gentlemanly campaign in U. S. presidential history. And, in addition, they were both men of exceptional ability.
Finally, from a political perspective, the policies that were affirmed in this election and implemented in the decade of the 1920s provide a convincing argument for the efficacy of conservatism. There is a sharp contrast between both the government policies and the strength of the economic recoveries following the recessions of 1920 and 1980 as compared with those following the recessions of 1930 and 2008. Conservatism has the weight of history on its side!
Coolidge’s challenger, John W. Davis, is largely forgotten in American political history. What’s his lasting political legacy and why is it important today?
John W. Davis left an historical and a personal legacy. He was the last conservative to capture the nomination of the Democratic Party. Davis was a direct philosophical descendent of Thomas Jefferson. This line of Jeffersonian small government conservatism in the Democratic Party ended with Davis. His personal legacy was one of character, integrity, professional excellence, graciousness, and intellectual brilliance.
I believe Davis’ lasting political legacy was his brilliant advocacy before the Supreme Court in challenging – often successfully- the New Deal legislation of the 1930s and 1940s. Davis argued over 140 cases before the Supreme Court over his long career – more than any American except Daniel Webster. Probably his crowning achievement was successfully arguing the steel seizure case in 1952 at age 79, whereby an overreaching President Truman was forced to abandon his seizure of the American steel industry – confirming the bounds of constitutional restraint.
Coolidge and Davis had a lot of very similar views when it came to the role of government, the economy, and personal character. Who are a few of the people who shaped these two men?
Coolidge and Davis held virtually identical views of the role of government, which they defined in the narrowest of terms. Davis held, “the chief aim of all government is to preserve the freedom of the citizen. His control over his person, his property, his movements, his business, his desires, should be restrained only so far as the public welfare imperatively demands. The world is in more danger of being governed too much than too little.” Similarly, Coolidge offered a very limited role, “The government can help to maintain peace, to promote economy, to leave the people in the possession of their own property, and to maintain the integrity of the courts. It is our theory that the people make the government, not that the government makes the people.”
These two men were both lastingly influenced by their parents and the communities in which they were raised. Coolidge was the quintessential New Englander, a reflection of his parents and his native Vermont. It was once said of Coolidge that he “never wasted any words, any time, or any of the people’s money.” He was a man of few words, but above all a man of his word. Thrift, hard work, and complete lack of pretense were his hallmarks. In addition to the influence of his parents and community, Coolidge’s college, Amherst, also reinforced these New England virtues. Amherst Professor Charles Garman was the greatest philosophical influence on Coolidge.
Similarly, Davis was very much a product of his parents, community, region and college. His father was a leading West Virginia lawyer and devotee of Jeffersonian principles. His mother inculcated in young Davis a life – long love of learning. At his college, Washington & Lee, he was greatly influenced by conservative law professors, John Randolph Tucker and Charles Graves. It was from these sources that Davis’s integrity, character, and innate graciousness were formed and nurtured.
The Coolidge Model, born on the 4th of July, needed every day!
July 16, 2011 By Harry Graver a Sophomore at Yale University.
During the fireworks and barbeques of the recent 4th of July celebrations, a small minority of Americans took time to celebrate another birthday — that of Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge’s legacy, regrettably unknown or forgotten by most, is a paradigm of conservatism that can serve as a valuable guidepost amid today’s political tumult. In an age dominated by rhetorical flash and personal charm, principle and genuine character drift into lesser considerations. But they defined Coolidge, both as a statesman and, more importantly, as a person.
When one thinks of modern conservatism, essential tenets of governance come to mind: low taxes, low regulation, federalism. Coolidge certainly shared this worldview. He once famously quipped: “Four-fifths of our troubles would disappear, if we would only sit down and keep still.” Coolidge revered and supported the light touch of the state. As Governor of Massachusetts, he described his role as “to walk humbly and discharge my obligations.” As president, Coolidge reflected that “[p]erhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business.”
And these ideas had results. The economic measures enacted by President Harding and, later, President Coolidge turned around the depression of 1920-1921 and ushered in the roaring twenties. Under Coolidge, the federal budget was cut, the national debt decreased by almost half, and standards of living, from literacy to wealth, increased across the board. From a 20% high in 1921, unemployment under Coolidge came down to an average of 3.3% a year. American prosperity stemmed directly from Coolidge’s belief in free enterprise: “Wealth is the product of industry, ambition, character and untiring effort.”
The example of Coolidge’s record extends beyond fiscal matters, particularly regarding his commitment to the rule of law and belief in states’ rights. As governor, Coolidge (who opposed prohibition) vetoed a popular law allowing the sale of certain alcoholic beverages, citing the necessary respect and adherence to 18th Amendment of the Constitution — despite personal convictions and countervailing reason. Furthermore, as president, Coolidge was commander-in-chief during the Great Misssissippi Flood of 1927. When faced with a dilemma similar to Katrina, Coolidge saw the federal government’s job as ancillary, assisting the state and private charity, but not overburdening the effort with the complications of federal intervention.
The policies and results of Coolidge are a secondary to the larger point of his legacy. Conservatism today, due to the major points of Republican rhetoric, is understood solely as a theory on the proper role of the state. The points mentioned before (low taxes, low regulation, federalism) have grounding, though, beyond empirics. These are means to a greater end — the understanding and preservation of organic, natural society.
Conservatism is lost, currently, as a political philosophy. The fundamental values of men like Burke are unaddressed, leaving them undefended in the marketplace of ideas. We look to the Founding Fathers as axiomatic truths, but fail to explain why. The constancy of human nature, the fallibility of man, the role of tradition in guiding social structures — the very ideas that lead to our founding — seem irrelevant or unimportant to our politicians.
Take the question: is there progress in history? It is a near-certainty that almost all politicians, on both sides of the aisle, would answer, “Of course!” We are wealthier, smarter, and healthier than we were one hundred years ago — it’s a no-brainer, right? Here, though, lies the problem in a style of governance divorced from its underlying philosophy. Democrats and Republicans, while advocating for different methods, use the same metric of material well-being (a legacy of the enlightenment). This is not the conservative answer, cognizant of a larger purpose. Coolidge explained:
It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning cannot be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction cannot lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.
The Coolidge Model is one of principle and practice. His record as a leader is undoubtedly admirable and worthy of emulation. However, today, Coolidge’s conservatism of character is far more valuable, for it is lost and forgotten. As our society is bogged down in economic turmoil and worldly danger, conservatives cannot engage in the reactionary rhetoric of “what should we do?!” when they fail to re-examine why they are here. True leadership will not come from a seasoned economist, but from those who first tackle this necessary question. Here lies the true gift of Coolidge’s legacy and the lessons he passed down.
This is a long, gradual process, but our national identity requires a re-evaluation of purpose. Perhaps the first move, as Coolidge said, is a simple step towards humility: “It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know that he is not a great man.”
February 7, 2013 at 3:51 pm · h/t http://gardenofliberty.com/
The ‘Simple’ Solution to America’s Complex Problems:
We do not need more material development, we need more spiritual development. We do not need more intellectual power, we need more moral power. We do not need more knowledge, we need more character. We do not need more government, we need more culture. We do not need more law, we need more religion.
We do not need more of the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are unseen. It is on that side of life that it is desirable If that side is strengthened, the other side will take care of itself. It is that side which is the foundation of all else. If the foundation be firm, the superstructure will stand.
THANKSGIVING – 1928 – PROCLAMATION BY PRESIDENT COOLIDGE
The season again approaches when it has been the custom for generations to set apart a day of thanksgiving for the blessings which the giver of all good and perfect gifts has bestowed upon us during the year. It is most becoming that we should do this, for the goodness and mercy of God which have followed us through the year deserve our grateful recognition and acknowledgment. Through His Divine favor peace and tranquillity have reigned throughout the land; He has protected our country as a whole against pestilence and disaster and has directed us in the ways of National prosperity. Our fields have been abundantly productive; our industries have flourished; our commerce has increased; wages have been lucrative, and comfort and contentment have followed the undisturbed pursuit of honest toil. As we have prospered in material things, so have we also grown and expanded in things spiritual. Through divine inspiration we have enlarged our charities and our missions; we have been imbued with high ideals which have operated for the benefit of the world and the promotion of the brotherhood of man through peace and good will. Wherefore, I, Calvin Coolidge, President of the United States, do hereby set apart Thursday, the twenty-ninth day of November next as a day of general thanksgiving and prayer, and I recommend that on that day the people shall cease from their daily work, and in their homes and in their accustomed places of worship, devoutly give thanks to the Almighty for the many and great blessings they have received, and seek His guidance that they may deserve a continuance of His favor. In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the City of Washington, this 23d day of October, in the year of our Lord One thousand Nine Hundred and Twenty-eight, and of the Independence of the United States, the One Hundred and Fifty-third. ~ CALVIN COOLIDGE
President Calvin Coolidge (Hearthstone quote)
“In a free republic a great government is the product of a great people. They will look to themselves rather than government for success. The destiny, the greatness of America lies around the hearthstone. If thrift and industry are taught there, and the example of self-sacrifice oft appears, if honor abide there, and high ideals, if there the building of fortune be subordinate to the building of character, America will live in security, rejoicing in an abundant prosperity and good government at home and in peace, respect, and confidence abroad. If these virtues be absent there is no power that can supply these blessings. Look well then to the hearthstone, therein all hope for America lies.”
June 10,1924 Republican Platform
We the delegates of the republican party in national convention assembled, bow our heads in reverent memory of Warren G. Harding.
We nominated him four years ago to be our candidate; the people of the nation elected him their president. His human qualities gripped the affections of the American people. He was a public servant unswerving in his devotion to duty.
A staunch republican, he was first of all a true patriot, who gave unstintingly of himself during a trying and critical period of our national life.
His conception and successful direction of the limitation of armaments conference in Washington was an accomplishment which advanced the world along the path toward peace.
As delegates of the republican party, we share in the national thanksgiving that in the great emergency created by the death of our great leader there stood forth fully equipped to be his successor one whom we had nominated as vice-president—Calvin Coolidge, who as vice-president and president by his every act has justified the faith and confidence which he has won from the nation.
He has put the public welfare above personal considerations. He has given to the people practical idealism in office. In his every act, he has won without seeking the applause of the people of the country. The constantly accumulating evidence of his integrity, vision and single minded devotion to the needs of the people of this nation strengthens and inspires our confident faith in his continued leadership.
Situation in 1921
When the republican administration took control of the government in 1921, there were four and a half million unemployed; industry and commerce were stagnant; agriculture was prostrate; business was depressed; securities of the government were selling below their par values.
Peace was delayed; misunderstanding and friction characterized our relations abroad. There was a lack of faith in the administration of government resulting in a growing feeling of distrust in the very principles upon which our institutions are rounded.
To-day industry and commerce are active; public and private credits are sound; we have made peace; we have taken the first step toward disarmament and strengthened our friendship with the world powers, our relations with the rest of the world are on a firmer basis, our position was never better understood, our foreign policy never more definite and consistent. The tasks to which we have put our hands are completed. Time has been too short for the correction of all the ills we received as a heritage from the last democratic administration, and the notable accomplishments under republican rule warrant us in appealing to the country with entire confidence.
We demand and the people of the United States have a right to demand rigid economy in government. A policy of strict economy enforced by the republican administration since 1921 has made possible a reduction in taxation and has enabled the government to reduce the public debt by $2,500,000,000. This policy vigorously enforced has resulted in a progressive reduction of public expenditures until they arc now two billions dollars per annum less than in 1921. The tax burdens of the people have been relieved to the extent of $1,250,000,000 per annum. Government securities have been increased in value more than $3,000,000,000. Deficits have been converted in surpluses. The budget system has been firmly established and the number of federal employes has been reduced more than one hundred thousand. We commend the firm insistence of President Coolidge upon rigid government economy and pledge him our earnest support to this end.
Finance and Taxation
We believe that the achievement of the republican administration in reducing taxation by $1,250,000,000 per annum; reducing of the public debt by $2,432,000,000; installing a budget system; reducing the public expenditures from $5,500,000,000 per annum to approximately $3,400,000,000 per annum, thus reducing the ordinary expenditures of the government to substantially a pre-war basis, and the complete restoration of public credit; the payment or refunding of $7,500,000,000 of public obligations without disturbance of credit or industry—all during the short period of three years—presents a record unsurpassed in the history of public finance.
The assessment of taxes wisely and scientifically collected and the efficient and economical expenditure of the money received by the government are essential to the prosperity of our nation.
Carelessness in levying taxes inevitably breeds extravagance in expenditures. The wisest of taxation rests most rightly on the individual and economic life of the country. The public demand for a sound tax policy is insistent.
Progressive tax reduction should be accomplished through tax reorganization. It should not be confined to less than 4,000,000 of our citizens who pay direct taxes, but is the right of more than 100,000,000 who are daily paying their taxes through their living expenses. Congress has in the main confined its work to tax reduction. The matter of tax reform is still unsettled and is equally essential.
We pledge ourselves to the progressive reduction of taxes of all the people as rapidly as may be done with due regard for the essential expenditures for the government administered with rigid economy and to place our tax system on a sound peace time basis.
We endorse the plan of President Coolidge to call in November a national conference of federal and state officials for the development of the effective methods of lightening the tax burden of our citizens and adjusting questions of taxation as between national and state governments.
We favor the creation by appropriate legislation of a non-partisan federal commission to make a comprehensive study and report upon the tax system of the states and federal government with a view to an intelligent reformation of our systems of taxation to a more equitable basis and a proper adjustment of the subjects of taxation as between the national and state governments with justice to the taxpayer and in conformity with the sound economic principles.
We favor a comprehensive reorganization of the executive departments and bureaus along the line of the plan recently submitted by a joint committee of the congress which has the unqualified support of President Coolidge.
Improvement in the enforcement of the merit system both by legislative enactment and executive action since March 4, 1921, has been marked and effective. By executive order the appointment of presidential postmasters has been placed on the merit basis similar to that applying to the classified service.
We favor the classification of postmasters in first, second and third class postoffices and the placing of the prohibition enforcement field forces within the classified civil service without necessarily incorporating the present personnel.
In fulfillment of our solemn pledge in the national platform of 1920 we have steadfastly refused to consider the cancellation of foreign debts. Our attitude has not been that of an oppressive creditor seeking immediate return and ignoring existing financial conditions, but has been based on the conviction that a moral obligation such as was incurred should not be disregarded.
We stand for settlements with all debtor countries, similar in character to our debt agreement with Great Britain. That settlement achieved under a republican administration, was the greatest international financial transaction in the history of the world. Under the terms of the agreement the United States now receives an annual return upon four billion six hundred million dollars owing to us by Great Britain with a definite obligation of ultimate payment in full.
The justness of the basis employed has been formally recognized by other debtor nations.
Great nations cannot recognize or admit the principle of repudiation. To do so would undermine the integrity essential for international trade, commerce and credit. Thirty-five per cent of the total foreign debt is now in process of liquidation.
We reaffirm our belief in the protective tariff to extend needed protection to our productive industries. We believe in protection as a national policy, with due and equal regard to all sections and to all classes. It is only by adherence to such a policy that the well being of the consumers can be safeguarded that there can be assured to American agriculture, to American labor and to American manufacturers a return to perpetrate American standards of life. A protective tariff is designed to support the high American economic level of life for the average family and to prevent a lowering to the levels of economic life prevailing in other lands.
In the history of the nation the protective tariff system has ever justified itself by restoring confidence, promoting industrial activity and employment, enormously increasing our purchasing power and bringing increased prosperity to all our people.
The tariff protection to our industry works for increased consumption of domestic agricultural products by an employed population instead of one unable to purchase the necessities of life. Without the strict maintenance of the tariff principle our farmers will need always to compete with cheap lands and cheap labor abroad and with lower standards of living.
The enormous value of the protective principle has once more been demonstrated by the emergency tariff act of 1921 and the tariff act of 1922.
We assert our belief in the elastic provision adopted by congress in the tariff act of 1922 providing for a method of readjusting the tariff rates and the classifications in order to meet changing economic conditions when such changed conditions are brought to the attention of the president by complaint or application.
We believe that the power to increase or decrease any rate of duty provided in the tariff furnishes a safeguard on the one hand against excessive taxes and on the other hand against too high customs charges.
The wise provisions of this section of the tariff act afford ample opportunity for tariff duties to be adjusted after a hearing in order that they may cover the actual differences in the cost of production in the United States and the principal competing countries of the world.
We also believe that the application of this provision of the tariff act will contribute to business stability by making unnecessary general disturbances which are usually incident to general tariff revisions.
The republican party reaffirmed its stand for agreement among the nations to prevent war and preserve peace. As an immediate step in this direction we endorse the permanent court of international justice and favor the adherence of the United States to this tribunal as recommended by President Coolidge. This government has definitely refused membership in the league of nations or to assume any obligations under the covenant of the league. On this we stand.
While we are unwilling to enter into political commitments which would involve us in the conflict of European politics, it should be the purpose and high privilege of the United States to continue to co-operate with other nations in humanitarian efforts in accordance with our cherished traditions. The basic principles of our foreign policy must be independence without indifference to the rights and necessities of others and cooperation without entangling alliances. The policy overwhelmingly approved by the people has been vindicated since the end of the great war.
America’s participation in world affairs under the administration of President Harding and President Coolidge has demonstrated the wisdom and prudence of the national judgment. A most impressive example of the capacity of the United States to serve the cause of the world peace without political affiliations was shown in the effective and beneficent work of the Dawes commission toward the solution of the perplexing question of German reparations.
The first conference of great powers in Washington called by President Harding accomplished the limitation of armaments and the readjustment of the relations of the powers interested in the far east. The conference resulted in an agreement to reduce armaments, relieved the competitive nations involved from the great burdens of taxation arising from the construction and maintenance of capital battleships; assured a new, broader and better understanding in the far east; brought the assurance of peace in the region of the Pacific and formally adopted the policy of the open door for trade and commerce in the great markets of the far east.
This historic conference paved the way to avert the danger of renewed hostilities in Europe, and to restore the necessary economic stability. While the military forces of America have been restored to a peace footing, there has been an increase in the land and air forces abroad which constitutes a continual menace to the peace of the world and a bar to the return of prosperity.
We firmly advocate the calling of a conference on the limitation of land forces, the use of submarines and poison gas, as proposed by President Coolidge, when, through the adoption of a permanent reparations plan the conditions in Europe will make negotiations and co-operation opportune and possible.
By treaties of peace, safeguarding our rights and without derogating those of our former associates in arms, the republican administration ended the war between this country and Germany and Austria. We have concluded and signed with other nations during the past three years more than fifty treaties and international agreements in the furtherance of peace and good will.
New sanctions and new proofs of permanent accord have marked our relations with all Latin-America. The long standing controversy between Chile and Peru has been advanced toward settlement by its submission to the president of the United States as arbitrator and with the helpful co-operation of this country a treaty has been signed by the representatives of sixteen American republics which will stabilize conditions on the American continent and minimize the opportunities for war.
Our difficulties with Mexico have happily yielded to a most friendly adjustment. Mutual confidence has been restored and a pathway for that friendliness and helpfulness which should exist between this government and the government of our neighboring republic has been marked. Agreements have been entered into for the determination by judicial commissions of the claims of the citizens of each country against the respective governments. We can confidently look forward to more permanent and more stable re lations with this republic that joins for so many miles our southern border.
Our policy, now well defined, of giving practical aid to other peoples without assuming political obligations has been conspicuously demonstrated. The ready and generous response of America to the needs of the starving in Russia and the suddenly stricken people of Japan gave evidence of our helpful interest in the welfare of the distressed in other lands.
The work of our representatives in dealing with subjects of such universal concern as the traffic in women and children, the production and distribution of narcotic drugs, the sale of arms and in matters affecting public health and morals, demonstrates that we can effectively do our part for humanity and civilization without forfeiting, limiting or restricting our national freedom of action.
The American people do cherish their independence, but their sense of duty to all mankind will ever prompt them to give their support, service and leadership to every cause which makes for peace and amity among the nations of the world.
In dealing with agriculture the republican party recognizes that we are faced with a fundamental national problem, and that the prosperity and welfare of the nation as a whole is dependent upon the prosperity and welfare of our agricultural population.
We recognize our agricultural activities are still struggling with adverse conditions that have brought about distress. We pledge the party to take whatever steps are necessary to bring back a balanced condition between agriculture, industry and labor, which was destroyed by the democratic party through an unfortunate administration of legislation passed as war-time measures.
We affirm that under the republican administration the problems of the farm have received more serious consideration than ever before both by definite executive action and by congressional action not only in the field of general legislation but also in the enactment of laws to meet emergency situations.
The restoration of general prosperity and the purchasing power of our people through tariff protection has resulted in an increased domestic consumption of food products while the price of many agricultural commodities are above the war price level by reason of direct tariff protection.
Under the leadership of the president at the most critical time, a corporation was organized by private capital making available $100,000,000 to assist the farmers of the northwest.
In realization of the disturbance in the agricultural export market, the result of the financial depression in Europe. and appreciating that the export field would be enormously improved by economic rehabilitation and the resulting increased consuming power, a sympathetic support and direction was given to the work of the American representatives on the European reparations commission.
The revival in 1921 of the war finance corporation with loans of over $300,000,000 averted in 1921 a complete collapse in the agricultural industry.
We have established new intermediate credit banks for agriculture and increased the capital of the federal farm loan system. Emergency loans have been granted to drought stricken areas. We have enacted into law the co-operative marketing act, the grain futures and packer control acts; given to agriculture direct representation on the federal reserve board and on the federal aid commission. We have greatly strengthened our foreign marketing service for the disposal of our agricultural products.
The crux of the problem from the standpoint of the farmer is the net profit he receives after his outlay. The process of bringing the average prices of what he buys and what he sells closer together can be promptly expedited by reduction in taxes, steady employment in industry and stability in business.
This process can be expedited directly by lower freight rates, by better marketing through cooperative efforts and a more scientific organization of the physical human machinery of distribution and by a greater diversification of farm products.
We promise every assistance in the reorganization of the market system on sounder and more economical lines and where diversification is needed government assistance during the period of transition. Vigorous efforts of this administration toward broadening our exports market will be continued. The republican party pledges itself to the development and enactment of measures which will place the agricultural interests of America on a basis of economic equality with other industries to assure its prosperity and success. We favor adequate tariff protection to such of our agriculture products as are threatened by competition. We favor, without putting the government into business, the establishment of a federal system of organization for co-operative marketing of farm products.
The federal aid road act, adopted by the republican congress in 1921 has been of inestimable value to the development of the highway systems of the several states and of the nation. We pledge a continuation of this policy of federal co-opera-tion with the states in highway building.
We favor the construction of roads and trails in our national forests necessary to their protection and utilization. In appropriations, therefore, the taxes which these lands would pay if taxable, should be considered as a controlling factor.
The increasing stress of industrial life, the constant and necessary efforts because of world competition to increase production and decrease costs has made it specially incumbent on those in authority to protect labor from undue exactions.
We commend congress for having recognized this possibility in its prompt adoption of the recommendation of President Coolidge for a constitutional amendment authorizing congress to legislate on the subject of child labor, and we urge the prompt consideration of that amendment by the legislatures of the various states.
There is no success great enough to justify the employment of women in labor under conditions which will impair their natural functions.
We favor high standards for wage, working and living conditions among the women employed in industry. We pledge a continuance of the successful efforts of the republican administration to eliminate the seven-day, twelve-hour day industry.
We regard with satisfaction the elimination of the twelve-hour day in the steel industry and the agreement eliminating the seven-day work week of alternate thirteen and eleven hours accomplished through the efforts of Presidents Harding and Coolidge.
We declare our faith in the principle of the eight-hour day.
We pledge a continuation of the work of rehabilitating workers in industry as conducted by the federal board for vocational education, and favor adequate appropriations for this purpose.
We favor a broader and better system of vocational education, a more adequate system of federal free employment agencies with facilities for assisting the movements of seasonal and migratory labor, including farm labor, with ample organization for bringing the man and his job together.
We believe that the demand of the American people for improved railroad service at cheaper rates is justified and that it can be fulfilled by the consolidation of the railroads into a lesser number of connecting systems with the resultant operating economy. The labor board provision should be amended to meet the requirements made evident by experience gained from its actual creation.
Collective bargaining, voluntary mediation and arbitration are the most important steps in maintaining peaceful labor relations. We do not believe in compulsory action at any time. Public opinion must be the final arbiter in any crisis which so vitally affects public welfare as the suspension of transportation. Therefore, the interests of the public require the maintenance of an impartial tribunal which can in any emergency make an investigation of the fact and publish its conclusions. This is accepted as a basis of popular judgment.
The prosperity of the American nation rests on the vigor of private initiative which has bred a spirit of independence and self-reliance. The republican party stands now, as always, against all attempts to put the government into business.
American industry should not be compelled to struggle against government competition. The right of the government to regulate, supervise and control public utilities and public interests, we believe, should be strengthened, but we are firmly opposed to the nationalization or government ownership of public utilities.
The price and a constant supply of this essential commodity are of vital interest to the public. The government has no constitutional power to regulate prices, but can bring its influence to bear by the powerful instrument afforded by full publicity. When through industrial conflict, its supply is threatened, the president should have authority to appoint a commission to act as mediators and as a medium for voluntary arbitration. In the event of a strike, the control of distribution must be invoked to prevent profiteering.
The republican party stands for a strong and permanent merchant marine built by Americans, owned by Americans and manned by Americans to secure the necessary contact with world markets for our surplus agricultural products and manufactures; to protect our shippers and importers from exorbitant ocean freight rates, and to become a powerful arm of our national defense.
That part of the merchant marine now owned by the government should continue to be improved in its economic and efficient management, with reduction of the losses now paid by the government through taxation until it is finally placed on so sound a basis that, with ocean freight rates becoming normal, due to improvement in international affairs, it can be sold to American citizens.
Fully realizing the vital importance of transportation in both cost and service to all of our people, we favor the construction of the most feasible waterways from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico, and the improvement and development of rivers, harbors and waterways, inland and coastwise, to the full-est extent justified by the present and potential tonnage available.
We favor a comprehensive survey of the conditions under which the flood waters of the Colorado river may be controlled and utilized for the benefit of the people of the states which border thereon.
The federal water power act establishes a national water power policy and the way has thereby been opened for the greatest water power development in history under conditions which preserve initiative of our people, yet protect the public interest.
World War Veterans
The republican party pledges a continual and increasing solicitude for all those suffering any disability as a result of service to the United States in time of war. No country and no administration has ever shown a more generous disposition in the care of its disabled, or more thoughtful consideration in providing a sound administration for the solution of the many problems involved in making intended benefits fully, directly and promptly available to the veterans.
The confusion, inefficiency and maladministration existing heretofore since the establishment of this government agency has been cured, and plans are being actively made looking to a further improvement in the operation of the bureau by the passage of new legislation. The basic statute has been so liberalized as to bring within its terms 100,000 additional beneficiaries. The privilege of hospitalization in government hospitals, as recommended by President Coolidge, has been granted to all veterans irrespective of the origin of disability, and over $50,000,000 has been appropriated for hospital construction which will provide sufficient beds to care for all. Appropriations totalling over $1,100,000,000, made by the republican congress for the care of the disabled, evidence the unmistakable purpose of the government not to consider costs when the welfare of these men is at stake. No legislation for the benefit of the disabled soldiers proposed during the last four years by veterans’ organizations has failed to receive consideration.
We pledge ourselves to meet the problems of the future affecting the care of our wounded and disabled in a spirit of liberality, and with that thoughtful consideration which will enable the government to give to the individual veteran that full measure of care guaranteed by an effective administrative machinery.
We believe in the development, effective and efficient, whether of oil, timber, coal or water power resources of this government only as needed and only after the public needs have become a matter of public record, controlled with a scrupulous regard and ever-vigilant safeguards against waste, speculation and monopoly.
The natural resources of the country belong to all the people and are a part of an estate belonging to generations yet unborn. The government policy should be to safeguard, develop and utilize these possessions. The conservation policy of the nation originated with the republican party under the inspiration of Theodore Roosevelt.
We hold it a privilege of the republican party to build as a memorial to him on the foundation which he laid.
Education and Belief
The conservation of human resources is one of the most solemn responsibilities of government. This is an obligation which cannot be ignored and which demands that the federal government shall, as far as lies in its power, give to the people and the states the benefit of its counsel.
The welfare activities of the government connected with the various departments are already uumerous and important, but lack the co-ordina-tion which is essential to effective action. To meet these needs we approve the suggestion for the creation of a cabinet post of education and relief.
We believe that in time of war the nation should draft for its defense not only its citizens but also every resource which may contribute to success. The country demands that should the United States ever again be called upon to defend itself by arms the president be empowered to draft such material resources and such service as may be required, and to stabilize the prices of services and essential commodities, whether used in actual warfare or private activities.
We advocate the early enactment of such legislation and the taking of such steps by the government as will tend to promote commercial aviation.
Army and Navy
There must be no further weakening of our regular army and we advocate appropriations sufficient to provide for the training of all members of the national guard, the citizens’ military training camps, the reserve officers’ training camps and the reserves who may offer themselves for service. We pledge ourselves for service. We pledge ourselves to round out and maintain the navy to the full strength provided the United States by the letter and spirit of the limitation of armament conference.
We urge the congress to enact at the earliest possible date a federal anti-lynching law so that the full influence of the federal government may be wielded to exterminate this hideous crime. We believe that much of the misunderstanding which now exists can be eliminated by humane and sympathetic study of its causes. The president has recommended the creation of a commission for the investigation of social and economic conditions and the promotion of mutual understanding and confidence.
The republican party reaffirms its devotion to orderly government under the guarantees embodied in the constitution of the United States. We recognize the duty of constant vigilance to preserve at all times a clean and honest government and to bring to the bar of justice every defiler of the public service in or out of office.
Dishonesty and corruption are not political attributes. The recent congressional investigations have exposed instances in both parties of men in public office who are willing to sell official favors and men out of office who are willing to buy them in some cases with money and others with influence.
The sale of influence resulting from the holding of public position or from association while in public office or the use of such influence for private gain or advantage is a perversion of public trust and prejudicial to good government. It should be condemned by public opinion and forbidden by law.
We demand the speedy, fearless and impartial prosecution of all wrong doers, without regard for political affiliations; but we dee]are no greater wrong can be committed against the people than the attempt to destroy their trust in the great body of their public servants. Admitting the deep humiliation which all good citizens share that our public life should have harbored some dishonest men, we assert that these undesirables do not represent the standard of our national integrity.
The government at Washington is served to-day by thousands of earnest, conscientious and faithful officials and employГ©s in every department.
It is a grave wrong against these patriotic men and women to strive indiscriminately to besmirch the names of the innocent and undermine the confidence of the people in the government under which they live. It is even a greater wrong when this is done for partisan purposes or for selfish exploitation.
The unprecedented living conditions in Europe following the world war created a condition by which we were threatened with mass immigration that would have seriously disturbed our economic life. The law recently enacted is designed to protect the inhabitants of our country, not only the American citizen, but also the alien already with us who is seeking to secure an economic foothold for himself and family from the competition that would come from unrestricted immigration. The administrative features of the law represent a great constructive advance, and eliminate the hardships suffered by immigrants under emergency statute.
We favor the adoption of methods which will exercise a helpful influence among the foreign born population and provide for the education of the alien in our language, customs, ideals and standards of life. We favor the improvement of naturalization laws.
All of them born in February.
Turns out the shortest month on the calendar is actually the most significant for American history. For our three greatest Presidents were all born in February.
George Washington Born on February, 22, 1732, George Washington displayed a character that continues to define our nation. The General of the victorious army that defeated the most powerful nation on earth at the time, he could have led a march on the Congress and declared himself the King, or Emperor of the Americas. But almost unique in world history, he had the character to decline to do that, and stay the course with the principles of liberty for which he fought.
It was also the character of his judgment that won the Revolution. If you read the military history of the Revolution, he was the master of the strategic retreat, picking fights he knew he could win. He intimidated the British out of Boston in March 1776, with the difficult maneuver of laboriously hauling heavy cannon, seized by Yankee militia from Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York, to the commanding Dorchester Heights overlooking the city. But he spent the rest of 1776 retreating in the face of overwhelming British land and sea power from Long Island, to Manhattan, to New Jersey, then all the way across New Jersey to Pennsylvania, from Philadelphia, into the less settled climes of Pennsylvania.
Knowing that he needed a victory to keep the nation’s hopes alive, he engineered a Christmas Day counterattack at a weak point of the British occupation, at Trenton, New Jersey, capturing the entire thousand-man garrison. Washington then pressed his advantage, a week later attacking the main British army in the field, at Princeton. Bravely rallying his more scattered troops personally on the field of battle, he kept the fight up until the British regulars in the end ran.
The British settled into the cities of New York and Philadelphia for the winter of 1777. But Washington was left to hold together his dwindling force in the relative wilds at Valley Forge for the winter. By the spring of 1778, Americans grateful that Washington had kept the Revolution alive flocked in droves to Washington’s encampment.
The army had spent the winter becoming newly professionalized, drilled by veteran volunteers from European militaries sympathetic to Washington’s cause. Emerging with a disciplined force newly uniformed, Washington laid siege to the main British force in New York. When he learned that Cornwallis marching up from the south had encamped on the Yorktown peninsula in Virginia, with a French fleet heading there to cut off retreat by sea, Washington deceived the British by leaving a skeleton force at New York, and stealing away by forced march to Virginia. He surprised Cornwallis by arriving along with the French to trap the British army there into surrender. With the capture of this third British force of the war, the British gave up the fight.
Abraham Lincoln Born February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln made a career out of devotion to the principles of America’s founding. Foreshadowing the civil rights struggle a century later, Lincoln emphasized the principled language of the Declaration of Independence as the foundation of his argument against slavery.
In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln focused on the Declaration’s recognition that “All men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” He teased crowds with the suggestion that maybe we should rip these words out of the document, engendering cries of “No, No,” in response. He replied, “Well, let’s follow it then.”
In doing so, Lincoln put the lie to today’s anti-American“Progressives,” who deride the Founders as hypocritical slaveholders. The Founders did not have the power to abolish slavery when America was born. America would fight a brutal civil war 100 years later to do that. But what they did was lay the intellectual and moral foundation for abolition, and 100 years beyond that for civil rights.
Those American founding principles have reverberated across the globe ever since then, providing the foundation for liberation of enslaved people everywhere. And they continue to resonate to this day, inspiring the Resistance to the Progressive rejection of America’s founding, and their attempted transformation of America from the freest and most prosperous nation in world history.
Lincoln used the moral force of the founding to hold America together though the long suffering of the Civil War. Just as in the Revolutionary War, the forces of liberty got stronger and stronger with each passing year. And the liberation of America from slavery was consequently achieved.
It is a reflection of the perversity of American culture today that the Republican Party that was founded to liberate the slaves, and that went on to support civil rights 100 years later, over a Democrat party then still entrenched in the South that often opposed civil rights, now finds 95% of African Americans voting against it in every election. It is not that the Democrat party has delivered for black America. What it has delivered is poverty perpetuated by the slavery of welfare, rather than economic growth and prosperity lifting up from poverty.
So we see in Detroit, and Chicago, and Watts, and the Bronx, and everywhere where there is no competition against Democrat political monopoly, the welfare state destructively bringing everyone down, instead of a rising tide of capitalist prosperity that lifts all boats, as Kennedy envisioned. Detroit is actually disappearing under the feet of the Democratic socialists of America. But democracy is not functioning there, as the incumbents effectively carpet bombing the predominant black community in Detroit never face even the threat of being voted out.
Ronald Reagan Born on February 6, 1911, Reagan was a preservationist of the principles and vision of the Founders, opposed to the “Progressive” revolt against the founding principles of American freedom and prosperity that gained so much steam during the past century. Reagan restored those founding principles, and the freedom and prosperity they engendered, just when they were slipping away.
We have forgotten today what Reagan faced, what he overcame, and what he achieved. Reagan transformed double-digit inflation, double-digit unemployment, double-digit interest rates, with subpar growth about half the long-term U.S. average, declining real wages and incomes, and soaring poverty, to a 25-year boom restoring the long-term U.S. growth trend line, and ultimately full employment, while slaying an historic inflation that remains tamed to this day, with rising real wages and incomes, and persistently declining poverty.
The Reagan recovery grew into a 25-year economic boom, from 1982 to 2007, what Art Laffer and Steve Moore rightly called in their book, The End of Prosperity, “the greatest period of wealth creation in the history of the planet…. [M]ore wealth was created in America in the twenty-five year boom than in the previous two hundred years.” The economic growth during the first seven years of the boom alone was equivalent to adding the entire economy of West Germany, the third largest in the world at the time, to the U.S. economy. During the boom’s last seven years, the growth was the equivalent of adding the entire economy of China to the U.S. economy.
As George Washington University economist Henry R. Nau recentlyexplained in the Wall Street Journal, by 2007 the entire 25 year economic boom had created 50 million new jobs, and restored the long term U.S. economic growth rate to 3.3%, twice the rate of the 1970s. As Nau elaborated:
[T]he U.S. grew by more than 3% per year [in real terms] from 1980 to 2007, and created more than 50 million new jobs, massively expanding a middle class of working women, African-Americans and legal as well as illegal immigrants. Per capita income increased by 65%, and household income went up substantially in all income categories. (emphasis added).
He added, “In the past three decades [1980 to 2007], the percentage of households making more than $105,000 in inflation adjusted dollars doubled to 24% from 11%.”
The magnitude of the turnaround and these results are what make it the greatest economic boom in world history, and a heroic achievement deserving of much greater recognition and award for the major policymakers who led its creation.
That should be enough for any one President. But Reagan also won the Cold War without firing a shot, in Margaret Thatcher’s famous phrase, with the Soviet Union actually breaking up and disintegrating.
By their fruits, ye shall know them, the Bible wisely tells us. Barack Obama, by contrast, following exactly the opposite of everything Reagan did, has forced America to suffer the worst recovery from a recession since the Great Depression. And doing the same in foreign policy and national defense, Obama seems on track to reopen the Cold War as well, this time with America losing, and a lot more than shots fired.
March 16, 2013
Coolidge: A Politician Uncannily Deserving of Respect
By Matthew May
“Debt takes its toll.”
So begins Coolidge, the magnificent new biography of the 30th president of the United States by bestselling author and free-market journalist Amity Shlaes. No writer is perhaps better-suited to write a biography of the fiscal sentinel Calvin Coolidge, and this biography is indeed a prequel to her masterpiece, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression.
Calvin Coolidge found himself on the ballot as Warren G. Harding’s vice presidential running mate on the 1920 Republican Party ticket after an unlikely yet highly successful career in Massachusetts politics. Harding and Coolidge campaigned for smaller government as a response to the rising federal debt following World War I, a top tax rate over 70 percent, the nationalization of railroads, and Progressive attempts to establish governmental control of water power and electricity.
As president, Harding signed legislation that gave the executive branch more control of the federal budget, lowered the top tax rate, and proposed selling naval petroleum reserves to private entities. Yet Harding appointed cronies to several significant positions who were incapable of resisting bribes and favoritism. To stanch the damage, Harding embarked on a West Coast trip but never came back. He died, and Coolidge found himself president.
Into the breach Coolidge stepped. He vowed to see Harding’s budgetary and tax reforms through to “perfection,” meaning without scandal. To that end, he quickly announced that government spending would be slashed: “We must have no carelessness in our dealings with public property or the expenditure of public money. Such a condition is characteristic of undeveloped people, or of a decadent generation.” Coolidge led by the example of discipline, meeting with his budget director every Friday prior to Cabinet meetings in order to cull the budget and construct arguments for denying requests for more spending. Shlaes demonstrates how Coolidge’s twin pillars of fiscal policy — tax cuts coupled with tight budgeting — brought more tax receipts, budget surplus, and economic prosperity. The publication of this book is fortuitous.
Coolidge is, however, much more than economic policy, budgets, and taxes. It is also a story about fathers and sons. One of the interesting subtexts of this book is the relationship between Coolidge and his father, the Vermont jack-of-all-trades and legislator John Coolidge. Shlaes demonstrates how much the future president leaned on his father, learned from him, admired him, and shared his triumphs and defeats. Nothing better symbolized both men’s quiet confidence than the scene of Coolidge’s first recitation of the presidential oath, which Shlaes elegantly describes. Coolidge was visiting the family home in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, when the news of Harding’s death reached the house with no telephone. Coolidge was sworn in by the light of a kerosene lamp by his father, a notary public. The president of the United States then went back to bed.
Coolidge forged a similar bond of mutual respect and admiration with his sons, Calvin and John, with whom he shared a pithy sense of humor. No stranger to grief in his life, Coolidge’s agony at watching Calvin Jr. die of a blood infection in 1924, at perhaps the peak of Coolidge’s popularity and effectiveness, is devastatingly portrayed by Shlaes. Only later, in his autobiography, did Coolidge reveal a glimpse of the profound grief with which he coped for his remaining days in the White House. He wrote, “When he went, the glory of the presidency went with him.”
Shlaes does an outstanding job of detailing Coolidge’s rise in Massachusetts. One of the significant threads running through the narrative is the influence of Amherst College in, and Amherst men on, Coolidge’s life during and after his career there. Shlaes relates with well-researched detail Coolidge’s actions as chairman of a special legislative committee during the strike of workers of the American Woolen Company in Lawrence, and his steel-eyed determination as Massachusetts governor during the 1919 Boston police strike, which placed Coolidge in high esteem nationally.
One comes away from this book with the image of Coolidge as a governor — not so much as a chief executive, but rather as the human incarnation of the mechanical device that limits the speed of an automobile. Coolidge could be and was “progressive” in many instances during his political career. Yet he had a sense of appropriate boundaries that the overreaching radicals of his era such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson — and certainly the far left in power in Washington today — would not and will not set. “It is often much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones,” Coolidge once wrote to his father. Coolidge vetoed 50 bills and utilized the pocket veto. He utilized the rules at his disposal and went no farther.
In that sense, Coolidge is difficult to read. Coolidge, the consummate profile of New England economy and dignity, was the diametric opposite of the hacks and crooks that populate all levels of contemporary government, who ram legislation through with no heed to the fiscal, institutional, and moral price they exact. Coolidge’s reluctance to say too much, his ability to say no, and his willingness to cede his office in the name of principle would brand him a freak today. Shortly before his death and prior to the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt, Coolidge knew the ground was shifting toward more government encroachment, meddling, and waste: “I have been out of touch with political activities I feel that I no longer fit in with these times.”
Yet Shlaes reminds us that leaders can be responsible stewards of the treasury, and she shows us a blueprint for the way out from under the crushing debt we have so recklessly amassed. Admittedly, we live in different times. Yet history is often cyclical, and the ground may shift again. Coolidge restored honor and dignity to the White House in the wake of scandal, economy in the face of profligate spending.
Perhaps someone of Coolidge’s character, economy, and attitude will present himself or herself, and the American electorate will respond positively. The public’s revulsion to the current phony crisis of sequestration and the public’s interest in Rand Paul’s filibuster give glimmers of hope. Our current political leadership — and we who elect them — are spending the country into ruin. The laws of man can be bent and broken; the laws of economics can not. As Shlaes makes clear, Coolidge would be quick to remind us that one way or another, we must pay the cost.
Matthew May welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.