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.
Coolidge on Civil Rights
Kurt L. Schmoke wrote how the 30th president, Republican Calvin Coolidge, was a major supporter of Howard University and an overlooked figure in advancing the cause of racial equality in the United States. In one of his earliest acts as president, Coolidge proposed and persuaded Congress to pass an appropriation bill that reinforced the unique relationship between Howard and the federal government.
Forty years before LBJ’s declaration that “we shall overcome” at Howard’s commencement, Coolidge gave the commencement address at Howard referencing the sad history of slavery and the importance of religious leaders in ending that period of American history. He then described the growth of businesses owned by African-Americans since emancipation from slavery, and emphasized business growth and the spread of literacy among blacks as paralleling developments in the nation at large. To the Howard graduates and to the entire country he then said:
The nation has need of all that can be contributed to it through the best efforts of all its citizens. The colored people have repeatedly proved their devotion to the high ideals of our country. They gave their services in the war with the same patriotism and readiness that other citizens did …. The propaganda of prejudice and hatred which sought to keep the colored men from supporting the national cause completely failed. The black man showed himself the same kind of citizen, moved by the same kind of patriotism, as the white man. They were tempted, but not one betrayed his country…They came home with many decorations and their conduct repeatedly won high commendation from both American and European commanders.
Coolidge continued his praise for the university and the leadership role that its graduates played in the country since emancipation ending by returning to the theme of national crisis which the United States was bound to encounter in the future. He stated his belief that African-Americans would be part of the effort to overcome these crises by saying:
We cannot go out from this place and occasion without refreshment of faith and renewal of confidence that in every exigency our Negro fellow citizens will render the best and fullest measure of service whereof they are capable.
Walter Olson notes that with the sole exception of the war year of 1917, which had 36, America saw at least 50 lynchings in each year between 1883 and 1922, the last year before Coolidge took office; the recent peak had come at war’s end with 70 lynchings in 1919 followed by a drop to 51 by 1922. But 1923, the year Coolidge took office, saw a drop to 29, and never again was the number to rise above the mid‐20s; in his final year, 1929, there were 7.
Immigration Act of 1924
The Immigration Act of 1924, or Johnson–Reed Act, including the Asian Exclusion Act and National Origins Act was a United States federal law that prevented immigration from Asia, set quotas on the number of immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere, and provided funding and an enforcement mechanism to carry out the longstanding ban on other immigrants. The 1924 act supplanted earlier acts to effectively ban all immigration from Asia and set a total immigration quota of 165,000 for countries outside the Western Hemisphere, an 80% reduction from the average before World War I.
Quotas for specific countries were based on 2% of the US population from that country recorded in the 1890 census. As a result, populations poorly represented in 1890 were prevented from immigrating in proportionate numbers—especially affecting Italians, Greeks and Eastern European Jews, as well as Poles and other Slavs. According to the US Department of State’s Office of the Historian, the purpose of the act was “to preserve the ideal of U.S. homogeneity.” Congressional opposition was minimal.
A key element of the act was its provisions for enforcement by providing funding and legal instructions to courts of deportation for immigrants whose national quotas were exceeded. Also, the formation of the US Border Patrol was authorized by the act. The act’s provisions were revised in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and replaced by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.
Yakima Valley Riots
The Yakima Valley riots were an expression of anti-Filipino sentiment that took place in the Yakima Valley of Washington (state) from November 8–11 in 1927. This riot took the homes, jobs, and lives of many Filipinos in the area.
Unable to receive help or protection from the white police, Filipinos were easy targets for radicalized and angered whites who saw them as thieves of their women and jobs. Under the cover or darkness, and occasionally during the daytime, mobs of white men would harass, threaten, and beat innocent Filipinos for no other reason than their presence.
In the late 1920s anti-Asian sentiment in the US grew, culminating in the Immigration Act of 1924. Unlike other Asian groups at the time, Filipinos were permitted in the country as a result of the US Colonization of the Philippines, and although they were legal residents, they still faced a great deal of discrimination. Many of these workers found jobs in Eastern Washington on the numerous farms in the area. At the same time, the Ku Klux Klan had been exploiting this existing anti-Asian sentiment with the residents of the valley claiming to protect white women from the threat of interracial dating, and local men from the source of cheap labor. In November 1927, this culminated in a series of intimidation and threats by the KKK in the valley.
Beginning the night of November 8, a mob gathered at a local boarding house owned by an interracial couple, demanding all Filipino boarders leave town. Throughout the week Filipino workers were threatened with death if they did not leave the valley. Most were forced onto trains out of town, or simply left on foot. Those who remained were put into the county jail for their own protection.
Overall hundreds of Filipinos were forced out of the valley as a result of the riot, which was finally ended November 11. In the aftermath of the incident, the local leaders were arrested and put on trial, eventually being found guilty by an all white jury and sentenced to 10 days in jail.
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 Under Coolidge
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.
The Dawes Plan (as proposed by the Dawes Committee, chaired by Charles G. Dawes) was a plan in 1924 that successfully resolved the issue of World War I reparations that Germany had to pay. It ended a crisis in European diplomacy following World War I and the Treaty of Versailles.
The plan provided for an end to the Allied occupation, and a staggered payment plan for Germany’s payment of war reparations. Because the Plan resolved a serious international crisis, Dawes shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925 for his work.
The Dawes Plan was put forward and was signed in Paris on August 16, 1924. This was done under the Foreign Secretary of Germany, Gustav Stresemann. Stresemann was Chancellor after the Hyperinflation Crisis of 1923 and was in charge of getting Germany back its global reputation for being a fighting force. However he resigned from his position as Chancellor in November 1923 but remained Foreign Secretary of Germany.
It was an interim measure and proved unworkable. The Young Plan was adopted in 1929 to replace it.
Coolidge presided largely over the Roaring Twenties refers to the decade of the 1920s in Western society and Western culture. It was a period of economic prosperity with a distinctive cultural edge in the United States and Europe, particularly in major cities such as Berlin, Chicago, London, Los Angeles, New York City, Paris, and Sydney.
In France, the decade was known as the “années folles” (‘crazy years’), emphasizing the era’s social, artistic and cultural dynamism. Jazz blossomed, the flapper redefined the modern look for British and American women, and Art Deco peaked.
In the wake of the military mobilization of World War I, President Warren G. Harding “brought back normalcy” to the politics of the United States. This period saw the large-scale development and use of automobiles, telephones, films, radio, and electrical appliances in the lives of millions in the Western world. Aviation soon became a business. Nations saw rapid industrial and economic growth, accelerated consumer demand, and introduced significant new trends in lifestyle and culture. The media, funded by the new industry of mass-market advertising driving consumer demand, focused on celebrities, especially sports heroes and movie stars, as cities rooted for their home teams and filled the new palatial cinemas and gigantic sports stadiums. In many major democratic states, women won the right to vote.
The social and cultural features known as the Roaring Twenties began in leading metropolitan centers and spread widely in the aftermath of World War I. The United States gained dominance in world finance. Thus, when Germany could no longer afford to pay World War I reparations to the United Kingdom, France, and the other Allied powers, the United States came up with the Dawes Plan, named after banker and later 30th Vice President Charles G. Dawes. Wall Street invested heavily in Germany, which paid its reparations to countries that, in turn, used the dollars to pay off their war debts to Washington. By the middle of the decade, prosperity was widespread, with the second half of the decade known, especially in Germany, as the “Golden Twenties”.
The spirit of the Roaring Twenties was marked by a general feeling of novelty associated with modernity and a break with tradition. Everything seemed possible through modern technology such as automobiles, moving pictures, and radio, which brought “modernity” to a large part of the population. Formal decorative frills were shed in favor of practicality in both daily life and architecture. At the same time, jazz and dancing rose in popularity, in opposition to the mood of World War I. As such, the period often is referred to as the Jazz Age.
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 ended the era, as the Great Depression brought years of hardship worldwide.
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.
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Herbert Hoover (1928-1932) would follow Calvin Coolidge
Warren Harding (1921-1923) would precede Calvin Coolidge.
Woodrow Wilson (1913 – 1921) would guide the United States through World War I.
Grover Cleveland (1885 – 1889) and would assume the presidency again from 1893-1897
Andrew Johnson (1865 – 1869) would assume the presidency after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (1861 – 1865)
Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) would assume the presidency after the Mexican War.
John Quincy Adams (1825 – 1829) was the first President who wasn’t a founding father and preceded the influential Andrew Jackson (1829 – 1837)
It all started with George Washington (1789 – 1797).
Harry Truman (1945 – 1953) would assume the presidency after the death of the iconic FDR (1933 – 1945)
Jimmy Carter (1977 – 1981) would be the only Democratic President for 25 years post Civil Rights.
George W. Bush (2000 – 2008) is the final President in our series.