(President from 1923-1929, 30th)
By Richard E. Noble
"Silent" Calvin Coolidge had the reputation of being quiet, but firm. He was nothing like Mr., 'Slap 'em on the back', Warren Harding. By the time Warren died and Calvin his vice-president had taken over, the poop of the Tea Pot Dome business was hitting the fan. But Calvin's quiet, steady, apparent honesty ruled the day.
Calvin defended his lack of verbosity with statements to the effect that if a person never spoke, it would be difficult to misquote him. Actually Calvin seems to have had a pretty good sense of humor, even if a bit subdued and dry. Supposedly a hostess came up to him at a party and said, "You must talk to me. I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you." Calvin said, "You lose."
Calvin was not much of a student. He failed the entrance examination for Amherst and was forced to take preparatory instruction to be accepted. He eventually became a lawyer. But he knew his own mind – for whatever that was worth.
His proposal to his future bride Grace Anna Goodhue was an ultimatum; "I am going to be married to you," he told her.
Calvin was not a military man.
It is curious to me that with all of the corruption of the Harding administration, the people actually retained Mr. Coolidge, Harding's vice president.
Since the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, the country had been pretty much ruled by notably corrupt Republican/Conservative administrations. There are only two Democrats between the Civil War and World War II, Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson. Woodrow Wilson said that Cleveland was no Democrat, and, by present day standards, I think very few would consider Wilson much of a Democrat either. So, from Abe to F.D.R. we had 'Conservative' government which seemed to be synonymous with big-business support and corruption.
Certainly one would think that after Harding and reaching what seemed to be the bottom of the Republican barrel, as after Nixon, the American people would have voted for a Democrat; any Democrat. But they didn't. Why not? Well, either Coolidge was more dynamic than the history books lead us to believe, or the Democratic Party had big problems. The Democratic Party was really the party of the "slavers." In the North we had the appeasers and compromisers, the wishy-washy; and in the South we had the Klu Klux Klan, white racists and extremists. Even the Progressive Party, which had been gaining ground, was Republican. So I guess the choice was that you could vote for a bunch of wishy-washy, wackoes, or silent, Republican Cal.
Cal was for no nonsense. As Governor of Massachusetts he had called in the Federal Troops when the Boston police went on strike. Nobody has the right to strike against the public safety, he had declared. Of course, Cal was not talking about the safety of the Boston Policemen who were occupying rat infested, roach filled, dilapidated police stations and working 80 to 100 hours a week. They weren't paid to go to court. They were often asked to sleep at the police station just in case somebody didn't show up – also with no additional pay.
They had inadequate toilet facilities and basically all they were asking was that their pay be adjusted to compensate for the War time inflation. Inflation had gone up 79% while their paychecks had gone up a modest 15 to 20 percent. Calvin fired the whole lot of them and refused to hire them back. Somehow Calvin Coolidge became an American hero over this incident - and even got himself elected president.
He was said to be Ronald Reagan presidential hero. "You hear a lot of jokes every once in awhile about Silent Cal Coolidge," said Mr. Reagan. "The joke is on the people who make the jokes. Look at his record. He cut the taxes four times. We had probably the greatest growth and prosperity that we've ever known. I have taken heed of that because if he did that by doing nothing, maybe that is the answer."
And then, of course, with all that extra money and speculative spending we have the great stock market "trickle down" of 1929. Interesting to note we had a similar trickle down of the S&L and the Commercial banking industry after Reagan's Coolidge inspired tax cuts.
The Red Scare was on the rise in the “Colonies.” The Workers of the World were acting up. The Bolsheviks had taken over in Russia. Simply put, the Reds wanted to take from the rich and give it to the poor. Many Americans were very much in favor of this notion. Many Americans were adamantly opposed. In Europe Aldolf Hitler was the champion of the rich and powerful battling the rank and file terrorism of the Red Bolshevik Workers of the World. The battle lines of the coming century were being defined.
This period, between the wars, I consider crucial to understanding this past century. It was during this period that all of the concepts that would rule our century were taking on reality; Socialism, Unionism, Communism, Fascism, Feminism, Racism, Fundamentalism, Darwinism, Anarchism, Intellectualism, Alcoholism, Gangsterism, Civil rights, Human Rights, Modern Science and the Depression. And in 1929 came a loss of faith in “the system” due to the deflation and manipulation of Capitalism.
It seems ironic that this placid figure of Calvin Coolidge is the man to lead us into and through most of the Roaring Twenties. Coolidge chose, wisely, not to run in 1928, fearing a depression as prophesied to him by his dad.