On August 2, 1923, the United States of America was shocked by the sudden death of President Harding. His Vice President, Calvin Coolidge, awakened by his father while vacationing in Plymouth Notch, was sworn into the most challenging job in the world under a kerosene lamp on his family farm.
Calvin Coolidge faced the enormous task of rebuilding the country following a Presidency plagued with one of the biggest scandals in American history, rivaled only by Watergate. Known as “Silent Cal,” one of the most misunderstood, and ignored Presidents of the 20th century, against all odds, proved himself capable handling the task of propelling the United States in what would be known as the first truly modern decade. The newfound problems that this illustrious modernity brought forth, which still ring true today, were effectively resolved under Coolidge’s leadership. Our current leaders, as well as our future leaders, would do well to study Calvin Coolidge and his approach to several, sometimes eerily, similar challenges to our union.
In relation to a growing number of protests turning violent, which unfortunately has returned to our country, Coolidge was exalted into the national spotlight for his famous response as then Governor of Massachusetts, concerning the Boston Police Strike of 1919.
The Boston Police famously stepped down in their duty, citing complaints of wages, resulting in a dangerous position for the public. Coolidge responded with a direct and famous statement: “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime.”
Coolidge understood, following the Russian Revolution and the spread of socialism across the globe, that the potential of its proliferation was very real, and that issue at hand wasn’t increasing the pay (which he supported), but rather the faith of the public in our institutions. This is why instead of appeasing the strike, he remained grounded. In a tumultuous time, where protests seemed especially susceptible to plunge into violence, Coolidge held strong. Today, our leaders cannot secede to the heckler’s veto, or draw a correlation between the level of outrage and the “acceptable” amount of violence: political violence that threatens the safety of the public has no place in our country.
Another issue that has a disturbing impact on the United States today, was faced by Coolidge as well: the role of the media in a free society. Similar to today, the media was being driven by sensationalism, and usually with the disregard of the truth. In a speech by Coolidge, “The Press Under a Free Government,” he made his thoughts clear on the subject:
“The public press under an autocracy is necessarily a true agency of propaganda. Under a free government it must be the very reverse. Propaganda seeks to present a part of the facts, to distort their relations, and to force conclusions which could not be drawn from a complete and candid survey of all the facts. It has been observed that propaganda seeks to close the mind, while education seeks to open it.”
President Coolidge also presided over one of the greatest economic booms in the history of the United States, rivaled only by the post-World War Two expansion. The terms, “ Coolidge Prosperity” and the “Roaring Twenties” have been used to describe the incredible growth, fueled by de-regulation, tax cuts, and the innovation that ensued. President Coolidge and Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon’s Revenue acts of 1921, 1924, and 1926 were instrumental to the massive growth in the 20’s. It cut the top tax rates from 77% to 25%. In proving true to the Laffer Curve, despite cutting taxes massively, revenue from those taxes skyrocketed.
The result? According to the Economic History Association, economic growth sometimes exceeded over 9% a year. On average, Real GNP increased by 4.2% each year, the Consumer Price Index fell from 53.6 to 51.2, real GNP per capita grew on average 2.7% each year, and unemployment collapsed from 11.7% to 5%. Furthermore, some the biggest technological innovations that define much of our modern experience were invented in the 20’s: the washer machine, electric irons, the radio, vacuum cleaners, traffic signals, and of course, the assembly line.
Despite the incredible wealth, Coolidge understood the moral hazards that materialism posed to modern life:
“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 of our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp.” -Calvin Coolidge
Coolidge’s dedication to the principles of the founding, which he personified daily through his spirituality, frugality, and governing, was key to the massive success of which he was instrumental in building. He was the last Republican president to simultaneously cut the national debt, balance the budget, all while growing the economy.
He fought racial injustices by pushing the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 and shut down the “Birth of a Nation” which Woodrow Wilson famously backed. He provided access to government positions not based on the color of your skin, but the merit of the human being under it. He bravely proposed to strengthen punishments for lynchings every year he was in office, and famously foiled a KKK plot to gain strength in the Oklahoma State government in 1926 when the Klan was at the height of its power.
President Calvin Coolidge was a spiritual man in an unspiritual time. A frugal, responsible leader. A decisive politician bound not by self-interest, but in duty, grounded in an unwavering love for his country.
In other words, the 30th President of this great union personified everything we so desperately need today.