Posts tagged with: calvin coolidge

Coolidge and pitching great Walter Johnson.

Coolidge and pitching great Walter Johnson.

Calvin Coolidge is ripe for national recognition and his wisdom is being sought out perhaps now more than ever. If you’re a voracious reader of commentary and columns you’ve noticed his common sense adages are being unearthed at a rapid pace. Most of the credit and recognition for the Coolidge revival goes to Amity Shlaes. Her newly released and splendid biography Coolidge can’t be recommended enough. (Full review on the PowerBlog forthcoming)

Coolidge was the last president to oversee federal budget surpluses for every year in office. He cut taxes and government while preaching the wisdom of the American Founders. He was dismissed by many intellectual contemporaries and most historians ignored him or discounted him as some sort of throwback that came to power by luck. A mere placeholder in between the more important Progressive and New Deal eras. But as our spending and debt crisis continues to spiral out of control, America is starving for economic heroes. There is so little courage in Washington to make the tough choices and address the crisis directly. The spending binge has become a mockery of America’s foundations and ideals.

However, This fiscal insanity, debt, and rapid centralization of power is magnifying Coolidge’s heroics. His words and deeds are really timeless though, and deeply rooted in America’s Founding. The principles and lessons only need to be put into practice. Below is a great excerpt from the introduction of Shlaes’s biography:

Our great presidential heroes have often been war leaders, generals, and commanders. That seems natural to us. The big personalities of some presidents have drawn attention, hostile or friendly: Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt. There are plenty of personal events in Coolidge’s life, many of them sad, but he was principally a man of work. Indeed, Coolidge was a rare kind of hero: a minimalist president, an economic general of budgeting and tax cuts. Economic heroism is subtler than other forms of heroism, harder to appreciate.

Given all the reassessment going on today about conservatism and its popularity and viability for governing, I recommend picking up a copy of The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election by Garland Tucker, III.

The author is Chief Executive Officer of Triangle Capital Corporation in Raleigh, N.C. Over the years, I’ve highlighted how Coolidge’s ideas relate to Acton’s thought and mission. And while I’ve read and written a lot about Coolidge, I knew next to nothing about John W. Davis. Davis was a lawyer, ambassador, and Solicitor General of the United States who hailed from West Virginia. He argued 140 cases before the Supreme Court. As the Democratic presidential nominee in 1924, he was also Coolidge’s election opponent.

Davis believed strongly in limited government and economic freedom. He criticized the policies of the New Deal saying, “Whether business is better today than it was yesterday, or will be better or worse tomorrow than it is today, is a poor guide for people who are called upon to decide what sort of government they want to live under both today and tomorrow and for the long days after.”

I reached out to the author to ask him some questions about his book and about the ideas and significance of Coolidge and Davis. Below is the interview:
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Below is an excerpt from a 1925 Washington Post editorial on President Calvin Coolidge’s Inaugural Address. The comments speak directly to the moral arguments Coolidge was making for a free economy. It is the kind of moral thinking about markets and taxes we desperately need today from our national leaders.

The excerpt comes from an excellent book, The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election by Garland S. Tucker, III.

Few persons, probably, have considered economy and taxation moral issues. But Mr. Coolidge so considers them, and his observations give a fresh impression of the intensity of his feeling on this subject. He holds that economy, in connection with tax reduction and tax reform, involves the principle of conservation of national resources. A nation that dissipates its resources falls into moral decay. Extravagance lengthens the hours and diminishes the rewards of labor. “I favor the policy of economy,” says Mr. Coolidge, “not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people” [emphasis added]. He would protect those who toil by preventing the waste of the fruits of their labor. The burden of taxation is excessive. It makes life more meager, and falls hardest upon the poor. The United States is fortunate above other nations in the opportunity to economize. It is at peace and business activity has been restored. “The collection of any taxes which are not absolutely required, which do not beyond reasonable doubt contribute to the public welfare is only a species of legalized larceny,” is Mr. Coolidge’s vigorously expressed conclusion on the subject of economy.

It’s a logical, simple, and a deeply moral message. Some might call it common sense. Our times and the economic peril we face clearly calls for a commitment to reducing government spending and our tax burden. It has fallen on deaf ears in Washington and much of America. Coolidge’s words resonate today because it is the cure for our fiscal cliff and the ailing economy. And as Coolidge understood so well, it is the moral thing to do.

President Obama has been re-elected, and as many commentators point out, he faces a nation even more divided than when he took office.

In his victory speech, the President’s message came back to unity, how “we rise and fall together as one nation and as one people.” This comes, I should note, after a campaign that sought to demonize the rich and downplay the efforts of the entrepreneur. For those who believe prosperity comes from a full-scope appreciation of mankind, from the minimum-wage worker to the business owner, the President’s calls for national unity likely ring hollow. This is an administration that has taken a fracturing zero-sum approach to human engagement. If unity is at all possible, as the President hopes, it will require a fundamental realignment of rhetoric and policy.

Yet I am hopeful that such a realignment is indeed possible. Unlike his victory speech in 2008, the President seemed refreshingly aware of the inevitability of ideological conflict. “Each of us has deeply held beliefs,” said the President. “And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t.”

As I’ve written elsewhere, this stirring of the passions is a positive sign of social and moral engagement—what Madison called democracy’s “relief”. If properly identified and channeled, such sparring can be a boon for authentic unity should we actually recognize our disagreements and move to the dirty work of sorting things out. Ideology is important, and the first step to restoring economic confidence, whether through the investor, the entrepreneur, or the low-level laborer, will be for this administration to recognize that it has thus far led a significant segment of economic producers to feel isolated, insecure, and picked on.
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ray Nothstine, Associate Editor at the Acton Institute and Managing Editor of Religion & Liberty, appeared on Relevant Radio’s “On Call” today to discuss political messianism, Calvin Coolidge, and school choice. Click here or on the link below to listen.

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Related:

As Secularism Advances, Political Messianism Draws More Believers

Moral Formation and the School Choice Movement

Calvin Coolidge and the Foundational Truths of Government

In continuing with the work of highlighting Calvin Coolidge at Acton, Marc Vander Maas and I recently spoke with Amity Shlaes. Shlaes’s biography of the 30th president will be out in early 2013. She is a big fan of the Acton Institute and praised our work saying, “Acton has been all over the Coolidge case.”

Shlaes is also interviewed in the Fall 2009 issue of Religion & Liberty. Listen to the podcast below:

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Marc and I also recorded an earlier podcast on Coolidge in June for Radio Free Acton.

Marc Vander Maas and I just produced a podcast on Calvin Coolidge for Radio Free Acton. I have been doing a lot of research on the 30th president this year and have had the privilege of speaking about Coolidge in a few different settings. My recent Coolidge commentary for Acton is here.

One of the questions Marc asked me was about the ways in which Coolidge aligned with the thinking of the Acton Institute and in what ways he diverged from Acton thinking. I got so into the ways that he aligns with Acton in the interview but I neglected to address his divergence. Where Coolidge’s thinking parts with Acton is of course on trade. Coolidge, like many political leaders of his era, was a protectionist. He supported high tariffs on imports and advocated for government action to strengthen protectionist policies.

The podcast is a good introduction to Coolidge and his ideas. The 1920s era jazz music helps to set the tone. Listen below:

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I just read the introduction to Amity Shlaes’s forthcoming biography, Coolidge: Debt, Perseverance and the American Ideal. She has been very gracious in taking an interest in the work I have been doing on Coolidge and my recent Acton commentary on the 30th president.

Shlaes was interviewed in the Fall 2007 issue of Religion & Liberty about her book The Forgotten Man. I quickly realized in my own research there is no biography that captures Coolidge’s deep relevancy for today given the mammoth federal debt and the centralization of federal power. Coolidge took limiting federal power and its reach seriously.

Without naming names or titles, many of the Coolidge biographies in print are simply sub par. That will change with the release of her biography and this is a book that needs to be out now. There is no release date set in stone to my knowledge or I would offer it up to readers of the PowerBlog.

In the introduction, it is clear just how well Shlaes understands Coolidge’s leadership on economic issues and his emphasis on thrift. I love that she played off her title The Forgotten Man by calling Coolidge “The Forgotten President.” I’ve certainly noticed in my own talks when I go out and discuss Coolidge that so little is known about him.

In her introduction, Shlaes brilliantly draws out comparisons of Coolidge with George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, John F. kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan. Some of her insightful comparisons I would never have highlighted on my own. Shlaes is a gifted writer and I foresee this book being very influential with the ability to transform contemporary thinking about our national government.

One of the things that draws me to Coolidge is his appreciation for the past. He was a very modern president who oversaw great technological advances and an America that was modernizing at a rapid pace but he always reminded the people of who they were and the great heritage that gave birth to the American ideal. “If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it,” declared Coolidge.

One of my favorite books is The Word of Life by Thomas C. Oden. In the introduction to that book Oden quotes Henry Vaughan’s “Retreat:”

O How I long to travel back,
and tread against that ancient track! . . .
Some men a forward motion love,
But I by backward steps would move.

If Coolidge had heard those words, which is quite possible, I feel he would have loved them.

In this week’s commentary, I take a look at Calvin Coolidge and his views on government. Coolidge is important today for many reasons. Chiefly, he’s a striking contrast to our current culture of government and the bloated state.

Coolidge was sandwiched in between the progressive era and the rise of the New Dealers. And in his era of leadership, tyrannical leaders who preached the supremacy of the state rose to power abroad. Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini in Italy are two examples. Coolidge preached limited government and saw himself as a civic educator who wanted to remind America of its founding freedom.

In watching what just transpired with the recall election in Wisconsin and the debate over public sector unions, there is again a connection to Coolidge. His rise to national prominence came as governor of Massachusetts when he took on a public union. Coolidge’s firm stand against the Boston Police Strike of 1919 later led him to reflect saying, “The people will respond to the truth.” Coolidge famously declared during the strike that, “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.” Ronald Reagan would find inspiration from Coolidge’s hardline when he terminated the striking air traffic controllers in 1981 as president.

I have enjoyed reading through the speeches and biographies of Coolidge. I have read a lot of original sources such as Have Faith in Massachusetts, which is a collection of messages and speeches delivered by Coolidge during his political career in the Bay State. After reading through that, you get a picture of the depth of his conservative thought and how he was able to articulate it so well to the citizenry.

His most brilliant speech which is really a denunciation of the progressive era and a triumphant praise of America’s Founding is his remarkable address on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. If you don’t read anything else by Coolidge, that speech is a must read. Finally, keep the forthcoming Coolidge biography by Amity Shlaes on your radar.

I recently finished the advanced copy of Os Guinness’s A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future. I posted a previous excerpt on the topic of virtue in a free republic a couple of weeks ago.

In recent writing and speaking about President Calvin Coolidge, it is encouraging to study a leader who saw himself as a civic educator rather than an imperial president. We need a cultural change before we can ever expect reasonable change in the direction of our government. And let’s be honest, we need American people ready to think deeply about the direction of this country.

Guinness makes the case in his forthcoming book that the stakes are very high and self-government and sustainable freedom are at a precipice. Below is an excerpt from a A Free People’s Suicide on separation of powers and spheres of influence:

In short, the founders’ commitment to a separation of powers is more vital than ever today, and its current applications must go beyond a worn-out litany of clichés such as “limited government” and “get the government off our backs.” The rampant imperialism of the spheres must be reined in, and the citizens’ responsibility for the wider common good must be reinforced. Each sphere—business, law, education, entertainment and so on—must be reordered to serve the wider public good, and principles such as individual self-reliance, local self-government and state government must once again be given their proper roles. Not only must the latter be able to balance the dominance of federal government and provide a bulwark against the encroachments of bureaucratic overregulation, they must must also carry the robust human and ethical values that can prevent humanity being turned into a global supermarket where even souls are up for sale and profit is the measure of all things.

Unless America succeeds in such a reordering of the spheres, the present imperial hubris of the spheres will continue their runaway inflation, the tutelary state will expand its paternalistic smothering of individual freedom and and a politically and economically bloated America will resemble in its star-spangled obesity the enemies of freedom it has resisted so long and so heroically.