A Coolidge address that lives on…in misquotations

87 years ago today, on January 17, 1925, president Coolidge addressed the American Society of Newspaper Editors. He couldn’t know it at the time, but his address contained the words that in the intervening years have most often been misquoted and misappropriated for use against him – “the chief business of the American people is business.” No one who reads the whole address, or even the passage of it that contains the quote, will confirm the widespread erroneous impression that Coolidge speaks for crass materialism, or for a Babbitt-like myopic focus on the accumulation of wealth. Indeed, as he unequivocally states, “The chief ideal of the American people is idealism.”

One thought on “A Coolidge address that lives on…in misquotations

  1. It is worth noting that William Allen White, the great Sage of Emporia, is the originator of this and so much more misinformation. In his several tellings of this Coolidge “story” he assigns the address to different dates. I view as suspect anything written on Coolidge that relies much on Mr. White. When his Puritan in Babylon was published in 1938 White did not need a weather man to tell him which way the wind would blow. Clearly, he was sucking up to FDR; it is not a pretty picture.
    Dr. Sheldon Stern, retired Historian at the JFK Library, does a brilliant take-down of the Sage in his paper “William Allen White and the Origins of the Coolidge Stereotype” – delivered at JFK Library at the 1998 conference Calvin Coolidge: Examining the Evidence; published in The New England Journal of History. Volume 55 No. 1

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