The Sage of Baltimore

In a recent post over at reason, associate editor Damon W. Root takes advantage of the recently published new edition of H.L. Mencken‘s 6-volume Prejudices to praise the famous journalist and critic. As Root documents, and as any reader of Mencken’s works will find, the “Sage of Baltimore” was a foe of Progressivism, denouncing the prototypical Progressive as “one who is in favor of…more paternalism and meddling, more regulation of private affairs and less liberty.” Accordingly, he despised in particular the illiberal presidency of Woodrow Wilson.

Mencken, it is worth adding here, was largely friendly to Coolidge, saying he “has a natural talent for the incomparable English language,” although his assessment of the 30th president changed over time: where he had predicted, in 1927, that Coolidge would be “ranked among the vacuums; it would be difficult to imagine a more obscure and unimportant man,” he directed high praise indeed at the “vacuum” when he wrote in his 1933 obituary,

“We suffer most when the White House bursts with ideas. With a World Saver [Wilson] preceding him (I count out Harding as a mere hallucination) and a Wonder Boy [Hoover] following him he begins to seem, in retrospect, an extremely comfortable and even praiseworthy citizen. His failings are forgotten; the country remembers only the grateful fact that he left it alone. Well, there are worse epitaphs for a statesman. If the day ever comes when Jefferson’s warnings are heeded at last, and we reduce government to its simplest terms, it may very well happen that Cal’s bones now resting inconspicuously in the Vermont granite will come to be revered as those of a man who really did the nation some service.”

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