President Coolidge’s unfounded bad rap of yesteryears merits praise today
July 21, 2013
There was an element of surprise when after being introduced by Jim Lakely, Communications Director at The Heartland Institute, a boyish-looking, twenty-four-year-old described as a prolific, independent writer took over the podium. Johnson’s work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, among many others noted publications, and already Johnson has been the recipient of both the Robert L. Bartley Fellowship and Eric Breindal Award at the WSJ, the Robert Novak Award at the Philips Foundation, and the Publius Fellowship at the Claremont Institute.
As a paradox to Johnson’s present political leaning, as a twenty-four-year-old he grew up in a family that espoused the political Left. At age ten Charles’ grandmother gave him a copy of eight Calvin Coolidge’s speeches, who was rated low in the Johnson household, which jump-started Charles’ interest in Coolidge.
Relatively little is known about Calvin Coolidge in comparison with other presidents. Only 20 books have been written about Coolidge, and all were read by Johnson in writing his book. Nevertheless, Coolidge did leave behind quite a paper trail as a prolific writer.
Just why should Coolidge matter? In the study of presidents, history has not been kind to Calvin Coolidge in so far as Coolidge was a formidable figure as president who believed in limited government and constitutionalism. He was also pro-business even though he lived like a pauper in his private life.
Although often wrongly classified as a Libertarian president because of his belief in “limited” government, this was not in keeping with the Libertarian “small” government philosophy. Although Coolidge might have had certain Libertarian instincts, he believed that government was entrusted with certain powers but that did not include boundless spending and regulations. Although conceding that temporary help to the needy may have been justified, Coolidge thought large expenditures only delayed business recovery.
Johnson was quick to point out that the two things most Americans know or have heard about Coolidge are false. His image of being a “Silent Cal” and Coolidge as a mouthpiece for industry. According to Johnson, Coolidge was quite a chatty individual but adverse to glad-handling people at parties.
As for Coolidge’s closeness with industry, Coolidge embraced the free enterprise system. He thought it far better to trust the churning ingenuity of American business than any official bureau, as within man was the natural impulse of human nature to improve, produce and progress. Coolidge recognized the utter hopelessness of having any considerable business enterprise conducted by the Congress, recognizing the errors of nationalization,
A cartoonist portrayal of President Coolidge was the function of New Deal historians who wanted to down play Coolidge’s accomplishment.
Informational tidbits shared about Calvin Coolidge by Johnson include:
1) In running for office twenty times, Coolidge only lost once, and that was for school board.
2) As president, Coolidge had a closed relationship with the press. The press was required to come to his office. In reporting meetings the press had to refer to Coolidge as an administration official.
3) In his use of money, Coolidge thought the American people knew how to spend money better themselves, rather than to allow government to spend it on excess. Coolidge learned this as a youth when he went with his father, a tax collector, to collect taxes in his community.
4) Young Ronald Reagan listened to the speeches of Calvin Coolidge.
5) Regarding his relationship with unions, Coolidge thought is impossible to swear loyalty to unions and to the public at the same time.
6) Coolidge worked to bring in blacks, women and Indian Americans, even joining an Indian tribe, thinking that if he could become an American Indian, they in turn could think of themselves as Americans. All American Indians were made citizens by Coolidge in 1924.
7) As an affront to today’s society, Coolidge believed that the Bible should be taught in public schools.
8) Coolidge believed that all Americans had a common father in God the Father and that man should behave in the image of Christ.
9) Coolidge wanted to restrict immigration from other countries, his main concern being how to make those born in other countries into Americans. He thought that a too rapid increase would make assimilation difficult.
10) Coolidge accepted and applauded the Jews as having been involved from the very beginning in this nation’s founding, having cast their lot with America in the run up to the American Revolution, and not just a product of immigration in the 1900’s.
11) As a non-drinker Coolidge hung out in bars, getting the Irish-Catholics vote to back him.
12) Believing in the spiritual nature of man, Coolidge thought it good politics to speak about this connection.
13) Coolidge considered the Declaration of Independence the most spiritual document ever written, calling it “a miracle that inspired reverence,” believing also that man’s progress owed much to man’s natural rights.
14) Coolidge believed that “our nation cannot live without morality and that morality cannot live without religion.”
The most frequent put-down of Coolidge is that he was incompetent, failing as the activist many historians would have liked him to be, which made Coolidge a serious challenge to those who principles were not appreciated or understood. Classified as a fool, Coolidge wrote hundreds of speeches to prove otherwise.
As a deeply religious man, Coolidge trusted God that time would give him his proper due, believing that his role in government was to let Americans be great all on their own. His decision to cut taxes four times indicated his faith that the American people could tend to their own business and that generally lowering taxes was not only economically wise but also moral. Coolidge was the last president to pay down the national debt.
Regarding the Declaration of Independence, in a 1916 speech made in Daniel Webster’s home Coolidge declared it to be a great document ranking above mankind’s best. To Calvin Coolidge this nation was the fulfillment of God’s promise. The Declaration was a promissory note and a covenant with the American people. So long as Americans clung to its truth the system would endure, as the Declaration’s self-evident truths bound all Americans together in a common race.
Foremost in evaluating Coolidge are the lessons to be gleamed from the Coolidge administration that today’s America might be the beneficiary of. Most importantly, there was economic prosperity under Calvin Coolidge.
Coolidge inherited an America that looked much like the America of today. There were strikes by public-sector unions occupying the public square; foreign policy wandered aimlessly; there was a potential civil war on the southern border where racial and ethnic groups jostled for political influence; there was a war on illicit substances leading to urban violence; there were dramatic changes in how people were communicating and moving about; and the educated harbored increasing contempt for the philosophic underpinnings of our Republic.
It turns out that our Cal wasn’t as silent as we thought. Coolidge’s life speaks volumes about the sad state of contemporary politics, and may offer a map for the way out. Charles Johnson’s smart and entertaining book about our witty, wise, and humane 30th president is a must-read for anyone who cares about the history of the presidency, or its future.
Announced by Charles Johnson, with a most favorable response, was that he is currently involved in writing a political biography of Barack Obama from his home in California’s San Gabriel Valley. Johnson believes he is qualified to write on Obama, having met many Obama-types when attending Black River Academy, a liberal prep school. Johnson is fascinated by President Obama, perceiving him to be a fraud. Among many misconceptions related by Obama is one in which he claimed to be present when his mother died.
Johnson’s Obama biography is sure to be a hit. Stay tuned!
Sunday, July 21, 2013 at 12:07 PM | Permalink