The 30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge often gets a bad wrap. Amity Shlaes makes clear in her excellently researched and written biography of the man who held the highest office in the land from 1923-1929 that there is much more to admire than we have been led to believe.
Where too many conclude that Silent Cal was passive, I see him as Shlaes portrays him – respectfully and circumspectly restrained.
As almost an opposite in temperament and governing philosophy to my favorite president to study, Theodore Roosevelt, Coolidge was always concerned with setting bad precedents and fostering undue dependence. In Coolidge’s mind, good intentions in the short-term were no excuse for causing potential trouble for future generations.
More concerned with removing bad laws than adding good laws to the books, Coolidge embodied the principle that ‘less is more.’ Less government from the top makes room for more self-government and self-sufficiency on the part of the common man. Less talk makes room for more listening. Less expense makes room for more saving for the future.
By not elevating himself as most men with power do, Coolidge in turn held up for America and the world an example of self-restraint at a time when technological innovation and political trends were promoting a more grandiose and ultimately illusory mindset about humanity’s prospects.
Despite what you may have read or heard elsewhere, Coolidge was not to blame for the Great Depression having been so disastrous economically, socially, and politically. We can thank first Hoover and later FDR for that. If only they had possessed the humility and sobriety of Calvin, a normal and healthy market correction would have been much milder and short-lived rather than being protracted and exacerbated through intervention and experimentation.
Coolidge stands as an understatedly heroic figure for the ages precisely because he was endeavoring stubbornly not to impose his will left and right as most presidents in the past century have.
Even in his famous announcement, “I do not choose to run for President in 1928,” we have a mercifully contrasting vision of public service moderated by consideration of his and his family’s personal needs to lead a quiet life tending to their own private affairs.
Do yourself a favor, then. Check out this excellent biography by Amity Shlaes about an entirely underrated and underappreciated public servant we could all learn a thing or two from.
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