Coolidge on speechwriting

Historical distance has condensed our image of Calvin Coolidge into the taciturn man from Vermont. This characterization as “Silent Cal” served the president well, as it accurately described him as a man of few unneccessary and obfuscating words. Still, Calvin Coolidge gave many speeches well worth studying, and author Charles W. Thompson, writing in his book “Presidents I’ve Known” in 1929 went so far as to state that in his opinion, Coolidge was “one of the few presidents who can be thought of as literary men.”

Coolidge himself was characteristically modest on the subject. His biographer Claude M. Fuess quotes a letter the president wrote to Thompson in 1924:

“I am not conscious of having any particular style about my writings. If I have any, it is undoubtedly due to my training in the construction of legal papers, where it is necessary in the framing of a contract (…) to say what you mean and mean what you say in terms sufficiently clear and concise so that your adversary will not be able to misinterpret them, or to divert the trial into a discussion of unimportant matters. The rule is to state the case with as little diffusion as possible.” He went on to describe as valuable training his time spent as Lieutenant-Governor of Massachusetts, and as Vice-President, when topical matters were usually addressed by the Governor, and the President, respectively, whereas it was left to him to speak on more general and perhaps fundamental principles: “While this did not create so much interest at the moment, it has, perhaps, lent a more permanent value to some of the addresses which I have made.”

Presidential secretary C. Bascom Slemp’s book “The Mind of the President” (1926) contains many selections from Coolidge’s speeches up to that time and is well worth looking into, if you can find it.

One thought on “Coolidge on speechwriting

  1. Why am I just learning about this blog?

    Coolidge would call that “a rhetorical question.” Now, to borrow an adjective from Theodore Roosevelt, I am “delighted” to see what you are doing.

    President Coolidge will take me down to Arkansas in June to participate in a Chautauqua “What Made the 1920s Roar?” I look forward to your future posts.

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