The Last Arcadia: Coolidge and the 1920s

The rehabilitation of Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the U.S., has been a long time coming but may be picking up speed lately, what with the announcement of an all-new  biography by Amity Shlaes, due out in 2011.
The parallels, real or perceived, between the depression of the 1930s and the current economic downturn, as well as between policy responses by presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Barack Obama make the actions or inactions of FDR’s pre-predecessor Coolidge particularly relevant for our time.
It will be the purpose of these pages to take part in the debate of Coolidge’s merits and failures, coming down squarely in Coolidge’s corner. In fact, the author believes, with noted historian Paul Johnson , that the 1920s, far from being a frivolous decade of debauchery and materialism, were in fact The Last Arcadia, a period of unparalleled and widespread prosperity AND unprecedented blossoming of the arts.

It will be one purpose of these pages to explore why the Coolidge era was the last heyday of limited Presidential power, and public approval of limited government. For while liberal critics even at the time derided Coolidge for allegedly having largely sleepwalked through his nearly six years in office, the general public overwhelmingly trusted the unprepossessing man, electing him again and again over the course of a linearly ascending political career that nevertheless had its lucky breaks. There is little doubt that the American electorate would have returned him to office in 1928, had he so “chosen”, yet it remains much to his credit that he was true to his stated belief that “it is a pretty good idea to get out when they still want you.”

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