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Remembering Calvin Coolidge: how he rescued America from a Depression

Written on Friday, July 15, 2011 by

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calvincoolidge

While we have recently been remembering the 40th President, Ronald Reagan, one of his heroes is almost forgotten today: the 30th President, John Calvin Coolidge, Jr., (1872–1933).   If Americans remember anything about him, it’s for being a man of so few words that he was nicknamed Silent Cal.  One story goes: a woman told him at a dinner, “Mr. Coolidge, I’ve made a bet against a fellow who said it was impossible to get more than two words out of you.” He replied, “You lose.” But he deserves to be known as one of our greatest presidents, helping to produce one of America’s most prosperous decades, the ‘Roaring 20s’.

Early career

Coolidge  was born on Independence Day, 1872, in Vermont, but moved to Massachusetts as a young man.  In 1905, he married a fellow Vermonter, Grace Anna Goodhue, a teacher of the deaf, in 1905, and they had two sons.  He first trained as a lawyer, but became involved in politics slowly, gaining experience by climbing the political ladder.

In 1896 he campaigned for Republican presidential candidate William McKinley, then being elected for Republican City Committee the next year.  The year after that, he was elected to the City Council of Northampton.

In the first decade of the 20th century, he had times in the State House of Representatives, as well as two terms as mayor of Northampton.  This experience was a first hint of his greatness, as he reduced both debt and tax rates in the city.

In 1912, he ran for the State Senate, and demolished his Democrat opponent.  Two years later, he was elected Senate President.  In his speech, “Have Faith in Massachusetts”, he presented his principles:

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 demagogue, but don’t be a demagogue. … Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong. Don’t hurry to legislate. Give administration a chance to catch up with legislation.

He would thus be spinning in his grave at Obama’s class warfare demagoguery, knowing full well that you can’t give the poor a bigger slice of the economic pie if you punish the bakers.

Massachusetts governor

In 1915, Coolidge ran for lieutenant governor under Samuel McCall, greatly contributing to their victories and re-elections (which were yearly at the time).  In 1918, McCall didn’t run again, so Coolidge ran for governor, and defeated Democrat Richard Long.

The most famous action was breaking the Boston police strike, which left the city defenceless against violence and rioters, and nine people killed.  Coolidge was very firm, calling the strikers “deserters” and “traitors”, and told the AFL leader, “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anyone, anywhere, any time.” He brought in Massachusetts State Guard to keep order, and eventually replaced the striking police with new recruits.  For this action, he won re-election by a huge reaction, and was praised even by Democrat President Woodrow Wilson.  It was also an inspiration to Reagan’s breaking the Air Traffic Controllers’ strike, as well as a good precedent for dealing with government teachers unions in Wisconsin and New Jersey.

Coolidge also showed his worth by refusing to raise taxes, and instead reduced the state debt by cutting government expenses by $4 million.  This included vetoing a bill to increase legislators’ pay by 50%.  But he also showed that conservatives are not anti-worker, by reducing the working week for women and children from 56 to 48 hours, saying, “We must humanize the industry, or the system will break down.”

And in an action that might seem quaint by today’s standards, he supported the Constitution even when it went against his own beliefs.  He was an opponent of Prohibition, but still vetoed a bill that allowed liquor sales since by that time, the Constitution prohibited alcohol sales because of the 18th Amendment.  Instead of using liberal judges to invent a new interpretation of the Constitution, he wrote: “Opinions and instructions do not outmatch the Constitution. Against it, they are void.”  I.e.  if we don’t like what it says, then amend it by the proper procedures (as happened in 1933 by ratification of the 21st Amendment).

Presidency

For the 1920 Presidential election, Coolidge was surprisingly nominated for Republican Vice Presidential candidate, under Warren Harding, because another delegate read his “Have Faith in Massachusetts” speech. They faced off against the Democratic Presidential Candidate, and his running mate, someone called Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and won in a landslide, winning 60.3% to 34.1% of the vote (still a record) and 37 of the 48 States.

Harding and Coolidge inherited a far worse mess than Obama did.  After the devastation of World War 1 and the Spanish Flu, America had 11.7% unemployment and a top marginal tax rate of 73% (for income over a million dollars).   Liberals wanted some public works programs, which would now be called “Stimulus packages”.  But Harding and Coolidge rejected those, first because they were unconstitutional (as shown above, Coolidge actually believed it), and second, because they would suck money from the private sector so would not help the economy overall (see also Spendulus Spin).

Instead, they cut the top rate to 25%, eliminating all income taxation for some two million people—and revenue went up not down! They also cut federal spending by 50%.  So instead of budget deficits, America ran surpluses, American debt was reduced by 25%, and American credit was the most sought after in the world.  And by 1923, unemployment had plummeted to 2.4%.  And this was not just fake “make-work” stimulus jobs; allowing entrepreneurs to keep most of their money made this an incredibly fruitful time for new inventions.  They developed Kleenex, scotch tape, the zipper, sliced bread, and especially the radio.

In August 2, 1923, President Harding died in office, and Coolidge succeeded him. He was visiting his family in Vermont at the time, and upon receiving this news, he said a prayer, and his father, a notary public, swore him into office after midnight.  The next day, he was re-sworn by the Chief Justice of the Washington DC Supreme Court.

In the 1924 election, Coolidge was able to stand on the Harding–Coolidge record.  It was so overwhelmingly obvious that even his Democrat opponent John Davis, likewise promoted limited government and lower taxes and regulation.  The lefties fled to a third party candidate, Robert LaFollette (the silliness of third parties is explained in Why conservatives should hold their nose and vote Republican).  This time, the spoiler effect was irrelevant, because Coolidge won convincingly with an absolute majority of 54.0% of the votes and 35 states, but it contributed to an almost 2:1 margin over his main opponent who gained only 28.8%.  This was despite a family tragedy: the death of his younger son.

Later years

Coolidge declined to run in 1928, explaining, “If I take another term, I will be in the White House till 1933 … Ten years in Washington is longer than any other man has had it—too long!”  His Republican successor, Herbert Hoover, Coolidge’s Commerce Secretary, ran on continuing Coolidge’s economic boom, and crushed the Democrat Al Smith by 40 states to 8 (58.2% to 40.8%).

As we now know, he did anything but that (despite textbook mendacity that he was a “do-nothing President).  While Hoover had previously been a great humanitarian and businessmen, as President he was a control freak, who increased spending, taxes, regulation and tariffs, starting the Great Depression.  Coolidge had presciently criticised Hoover’s nomination, saying “for six years that man has given me unsolicited advice—all of it bad.”  FDR easily defeated Hoover, sharply criticising Hoover’s big spending, but we now know that FDR was just Hoover writ large, and prolonged the Depression [update: see my later Patriot column Hoover and FDR: big government Presidents who prolonged the Depression].

Coolidge was not interested in running for President again, even when Hoover was headed for crushing defeat (FDR demolished him with 42 states to 6, and 57.4% to 39.7% of the vote).  Instead, he was semi-retired, and was honorary president of the American Foundation for the Blind.  He died suddenly of a heart attack on January 5, 1933, aged only 60.

Learning from Coolidge

Coolidge’s tax cut lesson was learned by President Kennedy, of all people, who likewise cut tax rates and increased revenues.  Of course, Reagan also learned the lesson: slashing taxes, increasing revenues—and overwhelming winning re-election.  Unfortunately Obama is learning FDR’s lesson: who cares about running up massive debt while the economy flounders, as long as he can buy votes?

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  • voteright2012

    They should teach this in School & College.

    • Earl

      The liberl professors in most of our colleges would never mention anything like this as it doesn’t compare well with their socialist agenda.

    • T Lady

      You’re so right…over the years the Left has often portrayed President Coolidge as an idiot. It better fits their flawed template. And of course Herbert Hoover is their Whipping Boy. While he did make several decisions that were unfavorable to the Free Market, he was not the monster they made him out to be.

    • Hank

      Coolidge is my favorite President in the last 100 years!

      Everyone Go Here!

      http://patriotupdate.com/6131/white-house-releases-obamas-long-form-birth-certificate-2/comment-page-1?replytocom=107276#respond

      A guy named Evolved needs to be put in his place. There is no worse person than someone that refers to Teapartiers as Teabaggers! Are you going to satnd for that? Are you just gonna sit idly by and let him drag your names through the mud?

      Don’t do it for me! Do it for the Tea Party! I am just a racist pig according to evolved, so I wouldn’t want you to be tainted by that.

      Evolved, I hope you read this, I am not trying to be sneaky.

    • California70

      Hey there,
      Quit worring about who calls who what. Just keep on being a good “social” conservative as well as a “fiscal” conservative. If we realize that is how the Marxists operate, we can all learn to ignore their “name-calling”. Then we can get on with the business of doing the right things in-spite of the dirty name-calling on the liberal side of politics. It’s high time real convervatives put these stupid libs in their place.

      Aren’t you all being tired of being called “racist” yet? When to the Conservatives get smart enough to start calling the libs “Un-American”? Because that is exactly what they are. I’m tired of being “bullied” by them with their “politically correct” speech, etc. From now on I’m calling a spade and spade (no pun intended. If the libs don’t like it, too darn bad! It is what it is, and I’m sick and tired of the New-speak as they called it in the book “1984”.

    • Dave

      What has President Obama done to “punish the bakers”?

    • Kristine

      Dave, Are you serious?? Or are you being tongue-in-cheek, or have you been anywhere other than in this country since 2009??
      He has done everything to punish the baker, and then once the pie is baked take it away from those who would buy it and give slices to those who can’t. Redistibution of wealth.
      K

    • http://x Patty

      They don’t teach Americn history, anymore, remember. None of American values, ethics or morals are considered important. They are too busy teaching about “gayness” and condoms and Obama…… We are in a severe moral decline………….

    • California70

      In my day the did. But that was before the Communists and Marxists took over education.

  • http://ThePatriotUpdate Karl Landgren

    Over and over, common sense, economic law, and historic fact have demonstrated that our Divinely inspired Constitution is brilliant!
    Congress, the courts, and the president have very few, strictly delineated powers. Sticking to these princples, and keeping taxes low is the tried and true formula for liberty and prosperity. Let’s get back to doing what we should do. Where is our Reaganesque candidate? I’m hoping Hermann Cain, Sarah Palin, Alan Keyes, Michelle Bachmann, Paul Ryan, or someone of their stature will run,get elected, and articulate clearly, emphatically,and repeatedly why we MUST return to Constituitional governing.

    • Dave

      I would love to see Sara Palin or Michelle Bachmann as the Republican candidate. Ms. Palin was quite humorous as the VP candidate. It would be a hoot to see her run for president. :)

    • Nathaniel Davidson

      Confiscatory taxes for one thing, although the top 1% of Americans *already* pay 40% of all federal income taxes; and for another, reducing tax breaks on charitable donations (punishing the *generous* rich). See my previous columns http://patriotupdate.com/oldsite/exclusives/read/287/Leftist-envy-mongering-Equality-v-Freedom, http://patriotupdate.com/oldsite/exclusives/read/225/the-greed-myth, and http://patriotupdate.com/oldsite/exclusives/read/249/The-Left-vs-the-Poor

    • Mark

      To Dave, I fear if Sara Palin would be the Republican candidate, it would just like it was with Bob Dole vs Clinton. It was a gimme to the Democrats. Same story if Gingrich would be nominated. We need someone that Americans would not see as some type of whacko, courtesy of the media. What we need is someone who really doesn’t give a darn what the world thinks, but does what is good for Americans, to make America the proud nation and truly a super-power that she once was. It is apparent that the world will never like us and is glad when we are in the mire pit. The eagle needs to stop scratching the dirt like the chickens and soar high. We need to shut down the ACLU, the political correctness crowd, and the America hating media and Hollywood leftists. What is good about political correctness? Absolutely nothing. All it means is to do is destroy the moral underpinnings of this country in the guise of tolerance for “everyone.” Funny thing is that they ain’t tolerant for those who are for moral conduct and especially those of the Evangelical Christian bent.

    • http://patriotupdate.com/6131/white-house-releases-obamas-long-form-birth-certificate-2/comment-page-1 Hank

      One woman at a time, please! And if we absolutely have to have one, it should be as VP, not POTUS. And, as much as I like them both, Bachmann is the better of the two.

    • California70

      You left out Allan West of Florida. He would be a terrific candidate too. If only he would run.

  • bigotist

    It appears history is repeating itself- As with President Coolidge, anyone with any foresight or intelligence is leaving the state of Vermont for greener pastures-
    The state now possesses all that he was fervently against, i.e. excessive taxes, regulations, large government, and stealing from the haves to give to the have nots
    (entitlements)-
    If he were alive today, the signs entering the state would read , “Welcome to the armpit of the nation”~

  • http://yahoo.com tod

    What We really need to do is go to Washington drag them all out,and Hang them on TV!

  • Paul W. Brock

    I taught American History for years and most textbooks used Alan Nevin’s interpretation of Coolidge. I understand the Nevins hated Coolidge, but at any rate I taught the real history which showed that he should be listed as at least the top 10 presidents of all time, because of what he did for the country. If the country continued his policies, the Great Depression would have not been that great, but a business downturn and recovery that would have lasted less than 18 months. And who knows, perhaps WWII might have been avoided. After all the depression affected the entire world leading to the rise of dictators in Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain. A prosperous United States might have helped Europe avoid the conditions that led to the war. The liberals have been writing history for so long, that myth has replaced reality. How many times does a democrat invoke the name of Hoover when running for office. He is the most maligned president of all time and really started the New Deal. Almost all of his programs were adopted by Roosevelt when he came into office. In the 1936 election Roosevelt ran on a “balanced budget” platform. Leading to the present administration to reason that the Great Depression lasted so long, was because Roosevelt did not spend enough money. So they intend not to make that “mistake”. Even the Fed thinks that ‘easy money” policy will cure the present “depression”. Today our students are presented this skewed view of Republicans and Coolidge. Americans attitudes about the role of government has been shaped by our schools in the last 20 years. Tyrants always want to re write history to control the people. The very liberal colleges and many high school teachers that are trained by them in summer workshops continue to teach this distorted view of history. That is why they are so susceptible to demagogues that lead the democratic party.

  • Dr. Thomas E. Davis, Colonel, USA(ret)

    In my humble opinion, a great start to America’s recovery would be Michele Bashmann for President in 2012 and her running mate, Sarah Palin. Women have proved time and time again that they have the ‘guts’ to do that which is best for the family. And America is family.

    • California70

      Dr. Davis,
      How about Allan West, (R) Florida? He has excellent credentials. But, I must agree with you on Michele Bachmann. She is terrific. One very intelligent Lady.

  • Dr. Thomas E. Davis, Colonel, USA(ret)

    Sorrry Michele; it should be Bachmann.

  • http://PatriotNewsUpdate JOHN KING

    read the folloeing link,

    republicoftheunitedstates.org

    it will open your eyes to the truth,
    qapla’

  • ROBERT MURAUSKAS

    He brought us out of the DEPRESSION, none of us know about. We all hear about FDR who made the GREAT DEPRESSION last longer, but nothing about Coolidge who brought our economy under control quickly and w/o much hardships upon the people. We should all learn from him.

  • Tom lennon

    Anybody who celebrates reagan has the stupid problem. you can cure ignorance, but stupidity is forever. If he wasn’t the worst then I guess we have to go to the bushes. Notice that I will not even capitalize them that’s how low they are.

    • Rocky Bailey

      “Stupid” is what the liberal left throws out when they have no valid ideas, or arguments. Ronald Reagan saved this country from four more years of Jimmy Carter, and a lot more.

  • Clark

    God bless Calvin Coolidge. Few words swpeak loudly. He didn’t need what oscuma needs just to say hello, a teleprompter. Of course the teleprompter wasn’t invented yet. By the way the inventor of the teleprompter passed away at age 94. oscuma, has draped all of his teleprompters with black crepe.

  • California70

    “Unfortunately Obama is learning FDR’s lesson: who cares about running up massive debt while the economy flounders, as long as he can buy votes?”

    Obama has learned well. Buying votes is the “Chicago Way”. They have the most crooked politics of any big city in the Nation.

    I certainly hope you have all learned a lesson too. Have enough brains to NEVER vote for anyone from Chicago again. They are nothing but a bunch of Marxists and opportunists. They are raping the American public.