Today’s episode of Glenn Beck’s “Founder’s Friday” looked deeper into the presidency of Calvin Coolidge. ‘Silent Cal’ was Ronald Reagan’s favorite president. Historian Amy Shlaes, author of “The Forgotten Man”, was a guest and referred to Coolidge not as a ‘reformer’ but as a ‘refrainer’. Coolidge knew when not to act, which is usually better than acting and doing the wrong thing.
Which, of course, is what our current president, Barack ‘Hoover’ Obama, is doing. Each and every decision Obama has made since taking office has been an error, except perhaps allowing the Navy SEALs to do their job to rescue an American ship captain from Somali pirates.
Along with Amy Shlaes, Glenn also had another guest, historian David Pietrusza who authored “Silent Cal’s Almanack”. First, the basics. Calvin Coolidge became our 30th president when Warren Harding died suddenly during a trip to California. The Secret Service tracked Coolidge down at a cabin in Vermont where he was vacationing with his father. Coolidge’s father, who was a notary public, swore his son into office by light of a kerosene lamp (the home had no electricity, nor a telephone). Coolidge was sworn in again once he returned to Washington.
When Harding took office, America was reeling from the Depression of 1920. Statistically, it was far worse than the immediate affects of the Crash in 1929. The nation had far more unemployment, along with the massive debts from World War One, and the horrible shock of the Swine Flu outbreak of 1918. Productivity had declined sharply and many factories had closed their doors.
The GDP dropped 6.5%. The Deflation Rate was 18%. Wholesale Prices fell even more, a whopping 36.8%. Unemployment rocketed from 4% to 12%. Overall production declined 17%. The Federal Reserve, which was created a few years earlier in 1913 to prevent such economic upheavals, did nothing!
Warren Harding ‘inherited’ the calamity from Woodrow Wilson. Harding’s initial response was to cut the income tax rate from 77% to 56%. Federal spending was cut about 25%. Within a few short months, the depression bottomed out and the signs of a real, genuine recovery took shape. By the summer of 1922, unemployment was down to 6.9%. In 1923, unemployment reached a record low of a mere 2.3%!
Coolidge took over on August 3, 1923 following Harding’s death. His first order of business was calm and continuity. While many of Harding’s cabinet were embroiled in political scandals, such as the Teapot-Dome Scandal, Coolidge did not shuffle the deck. He continued Harding’s agenda, thereby adding stability and confidence to the nation.
Perhaps “Silent Cal’s” most notable quote is “…the chief business of the American people is business.”. During the election of 1924, Coolidge’s son, Calvin Jr. died from blood poison after an injury became infected. Coolidge went on to campaign and won. He refrained from going negative and as a result, won every state outside The South, except fro Wisconsin. In addition to an overwhelming electoral landslide, he also won 2.5 million more popular votes than his opponents, John Davis (Democrat) and Robert La Follette (Progressive Party). La Follette was from Wisconsin, by the way, home of the evil Progressive Movement.
As an elected president, Coolidge went about slashing income taxes further, down to a rate of 25%. He also cut the Federal budget to just half of what it had been in 1920. His own cabinet included a few hand picked men to practice true laissez-faire policies. Perhaps his best selection was in appointing Andrew Mellon as Secretary of the Treasury. Together, they wound the size of government down and reduced the National Debt. By 1927, only the top 2% of the richest Americans paid the 25% income tax rate.
The resulting economic boom is what we now call the ‘Roaring Twenties’. The standard of living increased for the middle class, illiteracy was slashed in half, and the average hours of a work week fell. People now had free time for recreation and vacations more so than ever before. The Age of Consumerism was born as technology produced a huge range of labor and time saving devices, which ended much daily drudgery and extended life expectancy.
Coolidge also reversed the Federal policies of Woodrow Wilson in regards to discrimination against African-Americans. During a war memorial in Kansas City, he insisted on having a unit of Black soldiers present. Coolidge challenged the Klu Klux Klan, which dominated the Democrat Party, particularly in the Southern states. His calls for an anti-lynching law was filibustered by the Southern Democrats in the Senate. However, Coolidge was able to pass and sign a law which gave Indians U.S. citizenship.
“Silent Cal” got his nickname for his brevity. One of the more infamous examples was during a dinner party where a woman seated next to him confessed that her husband had bet her Coolidge would not say more than three words during the dinner. Coolidge replied, “Sorry, you lose.”
In 1928, Coolidge announced while on vacation that he would not run for re-election. “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.” Coolidge was not pleased when the Republican Party selected his Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover (a hold-over from Harding’s cabinet), as their presidential nominee. “For six years that man has given me his unsolicited advice — all of it bad.” OUCH!
Coolidge left office as quietly as he entered it. Perhaps one of his best quotes was “We draw our Presidents from the people. It is a wholesome thing for them to return to the people. I came from them. I wish to be one of them again.“ Coolidge died on January 5, 1933. Thank you, Glenn Beck, Amy Shlaes and David Pietrusza who reminding us who a truly great President is! Now, if only our current one would get a clue!