Calvin Coolidge: 30th Retrospective
“Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” – Ellis, No Country for Old Men (2007)
When President Harding died, Calvin Coolidge was at his father’s house in Vermont. It was his dad who swore him in as a Justice of the Peace in Vermont.
He was a cramped, somewhat mean spirited man who was not very sociable or genial. He was a lawyer and former Governor of Massachusetts. Known as “Silent Cal” he had a high, nasally voice.
While he said his only hobby was running for office, he was an avid fisherman with a dry New England wit. It was storied that at a dinner party at the White House, a woman seated next to him told him that she’d be able to get him to say more than two words. He responded with, “You lose.”
Coolidge frequently rode the mechanical horse in White House bedroom before dinner in the evening. Though stoic, he was always ready to dress up for a photo op.
Keep Cool With Coolidge
In 1924, voters decided to give Coolidge a full term of his own. He was sworn in by Taft making it the first time an ex President gave an oath to a President.
President Coolidge kept a tight rein on the federal budget. He used his veto powers to kill pay raises for postal workers and bonuses for World War I veterans. He also lowered taxes twice as his goal was to keep government small and business booming.
America Is Big Business
Coolidge believed in American business as the dominant force in American life. He was believed to have said “he who builds a factory builds a temple while he who works there worships there”
Coolidge presided over a reign of prosperity, but his economic policies failed to anticipate the future and the calamity of the looming Great Depression. He did what times seemed to require, though its clear he nor most of the people of his generation understood the economics of the time.
Coolidge also missed economic instability because he relied too heavily on his cabinet. For example, Andrew Mellon was his Secretary of the Treasury. He was the 3rd richest man in the country. No recession nor depression could touch him. He didn’t understand what was going on and Coolidge trusted in him.
Cal decided not to run for a second term and his Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover would become President. Popular in his day, Coolidge is now largely a forgotten figure. A quiet president that presided over the majority of the “Roaring Twenties”, a period seeing sustained economic prosperity with a distinctive cultural edge in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, particularly in major cities such as New York, Montreal, Chicago, Detroit, Paris, Berlin, London, and Los Angeles.
Silent Cal was the very definition of a limited government, conservative Republican. He didn’t want government involved in people’s lives to help or hurt them, and believed that supporting all business, but particularly big business was the key to prosperity. With Donald Trump as the GOP nominee, Coolidge’s limited government conservatism is now roundly rejected by both parties.
Warren G. Harding preceded him
Herbert Hoover would follow him.
It all started with George Washington.