In the past, I’ve expressed my reservations against rankings of presidential greatness, which traditionally have been skewed by various biases – action bias, power bias, liberal/progressive bias, and so forth.
My own experience in science reminds me that one can “build in” the desired end result to some extent by asking the right, i.e., carefully worded or even loaded questions of the right, i.e., handpicked people, and you can certainly tweak and twist the results, too. That said, I was heartened recently to see a ranking produced by Franklin’s Opus, the trade name of the American Institute of Historians and History Educators.
They asked a small but apparently knowledgeable panel of experts to rank all presidents (excepting only the current holder of the office, and short-termers William Henry Harrison and James A. Garfield) on three criteria, namely how well they “executed the laws and the Constitution,” “promoted liberty and prosperity,” and “exercised good leadership,” and if you think these bode well for Calvin Coolidge, you would be absolutely correct – have a look at the results, and check out the cool animation of what Mt. Rushmore would look like if it represented the survey’s result!
For those who don’t follow bloggingheads.tv regularly, their series “The DMZ” featuring liberal Bill Scher and conservative Matt Lewis in civil debate had a segment recently whereBill Scher referred to and quoted from, unfortunately, William Allen White’s Coolidge biography. The blurb says that Scher refers to Coolidge as an example of a temperamental conservative, and expressly quotes Coolidge as a civil politician who would not campaign negatively.
it has been fun and interesting to keep up a more or less (lately the latter) steady stream of posts to this blog, and more than that, it has been a privilege to converse, and in some rare cases meet, with readers, many of whom are far more knowledgeable on all matters Coolidge than I could ever be.
While I still think we live in a time that is in sore need of some of the qualities that made Calvin Coolidge special, and while I believe we can profit from his wisdom today, pressing other commitments and far too many interests do not permit me to continue coming up with fresh material. In Coolidge’s own style, “I choose to not add any more new material.” Unlike Coolidge, I may yet reverse that decision some time in the future, and for the time being, the blog will remain active, as I feel it is important that there are as many fair and accurate sources on Coolidge to counter some of the misinformation that unfortunately is out there. I have followed with a great deal of admiration the contributions by Daniel Wright at his blog and would urge every one who does not already subscribe to The Importance of the Obvious to do so.
I thank everyone for their support, comments and input. As we approach, in a few days, the 90th anniversary of Calvin Coolidge’s ascension to the Presidency, I feel certain the stature and reputation of, and affection for, the 30th president will continue to grow.
Edwin Meese in his Heritage Foundation office, 2005
The Honorable Edwin Meese III, who served as Counsellor to president Ronald Reagan, as well as the 75th U.S. Attorney General, contributed a keynote address to the 14th Annual Student Symposium of the Center for the Study of the Presidency in April 1983. His subject was “Shaping the Presidency: Parties, Personalities and Press”, of which I include the segment on Calvin Coolidge. It’s a fairly long piece, but a nice example of one of the stalwarts of the Reagan Revolution extolling the virtues of Coolidge.
Setting the historical context, Meese states that during the 1920s,
“the Presidency was beginning to assume a far greater place in the American consciousness. Its occupant was becoming a fixed part of daily lives. As communications expanded, his picture and words were disseminated widely. It was ironic, then, that the first President to preside during a period of mass communication was the man dubbed “Silent Cal” by reporters who had tried to coax more than a line or two out of him. President Coolidge answered them by saying: “I never got in trouble for something I didn’t say.”
“Coolidge has been somewhat maligned by historians – unfairly I think, and I don’t say that just because his picture now hangs in the Cabinet Room in the White House, but it is true that he liked to sleep 11 hours a day, and that he refused to work beyond 4 o’clock in the afternoon. As he put it, “If a man can’t finish his job by then, he’s not too smart.” As one who has had some experience in waking up Presidents [Meese is referring here to his decision to not wake up the vacationing president Reagan when U.S. Navy fighter jets engaged and downed Libyan jets], I can assure you that I could have some understanding for President Coolidge, but it is a matter of historical fact that except in wartime, the Presidency, for most of our early history on into at least the early 1900’s, seldom required the long working days that we now associate with the Chief Executive. The reason might be apparent when we remember that Congress during those days was in session only a small portion of the year.
Calvin Coolidge was only a relatively young 56 when he relinquished the presidency in 1929, yet his health was none too robust and he did not take on too much strenuous work in his retirement years. For a while he wrote the widely syndicated newspaper column “Calvin Coolidge Says,” but the strain of having to write it wore on him and he disliked the constant press of deadlines.
tCoolidge did take on a number of board memberships or trusteeships, but his one instance of post-presidential government service occurred when president Hoover in 1932 appointed him chairman of the non-partisan National Transportation Committee, whose task it was to make recommendations concerning the burgeoning problems of the transportation industry. The committee also included financier Bernard M. Baruch and former New York governor and 1928 Democratic presidential candidate Alfred E. Smith.
Coolidge participated in several meetings of the commission in New York, the accompanying picture was taken on one of those occasions.
In what I hope is a not too frivolous post on this Fourth of July, I wanted to share a surprise Coolidge moment I enjoyed while watching one of my favorite shows, Futurama, on DVD just last night.
For those not in the know about the show’s back story and setup, it would be too convoluted to go into detail. Suffice it to say that in this faraway future animated comedy universe, the heads of important figures such as Mr. T, Mr. Spock, and of course all the U.S. presidents are kept alive (of sorts) in jars of life-sustaining fluid.
In the patriotic and historical episode “All The Presidents’ Heads“, first aired 07/28/11, night watchman Philip J. Fry parties with the presidents (all the presidents – from Chester A. Arthur to Chester Z. Arthur), and while some, like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Warren Harding, FDR (“We have nothing to fear but the lack of beer”), and Rutherford Hayes get speaking parts, others are used in various ways for party games. Calvin Coolidge’s jar serves as -you guessed it – a beer cooler, and his head looks none too pleased. (I’m still looking for a good screenshot…a tiny one can be seen below under #30
Wishing everyone a happy Fourth of July!
July 4th marks the 141st birthday of Calvin Coolidge, America’s 30th president, and still the only chief executive to have been born on the national holiday. We remember and honor him on this day for his lifetime of service, for his quiet certitude, rectitude and civility, and for a presidential record of unprecedented prosperity and peace. The United States has changed much since Coolidge’s day, but while he surely would be aghast at many of these changes, his belief in the foundational principles of the Republic would be firm and unchanged. Happy Birthday, Calvin Coolidge!
…or your reputation, at any rate. Amity Shlaes and George Nash have done some research into whether or not Calvin Coolidge really made the upbeat remarks about the soundness of the 1928 stock market that Herbert Hoover attributes to him in his memoirs, and which John Kenneth Galbraith requoted to lay the blame for the 1929 crash at the feet of Coolidge.Turns out he very likely didn’t make that statement – which goes some way towards absolving him, although at the same time it proves wrong Coolidge’s own aphorism that he “never had been hurt by anything he didn’t say.”
June 20 marks the anniversary of the Geneva Naval Conference of 1927, a major arms control effort of the Coolidge administration.
The United States and Great Britain, allies in World War I, were now basically rivals in the field of naval armament – and the naval balance of power was approximately equivalent in importance to the nuclear balance of power half a century later. Great Britain still possessed the world’s biggest and most potent navy, and, while much diminished by the strains of the Great War, it also was the chief economic and financial rival of the U.S.