Dateline Northampton, Dec. 9, 1930

Well, this time I’m getting an early start! Eighty years ago tomorrow, Calvin Coolidge wrote his daily “Calvin Coolidge Says” column about a subject near and dear to his heart, and also somewhat pertinent to our day and age – taxation:

The Congress has before it two distinct problems which in their solution conflict with each other. One is the necessity of providing revenue to meet obligations already incurred, or any new commitments for relief. The other is to do what it can to encourage business. The obligations must be met. But that requires taxes and perhaps more taxes. That will retard business. The answer may lie in temporary borrowing to meet temporary emergency. The danger there is extravagance.

It would seem perfectly clear that business will not be improved by spending tax money. Taxes are already too high. With all the national reductions, states and municipalities have raised taxes until the grand total is about  $13,000,000,000.

Nothing would so encourage business than a reduction of this local and national burden. In 1921 it was particularly the drastic cuts in Federal expenses and taxes that brought economic revival.

While relief must be provided, those who now advocate higher taxes may be meeting the Treasury requirements but are postponing prosperity. Those who seek to improve our economic position by spending more tax money are going in the wrong direction. Rigid governmental economy would finally solve both problems.

Interestingly for those who now approvingly quote Coolidge (or Mellon) policies, it is clearly apparent that Coolidge was not of the “deficits don’t matter” school. As Joe Thorndike has only recently pointed out, Coolidge was for tax reduction when accompanied by rigid government economy, and certainly not in favor of extravagant borrowing – I’m positive he would be aghast at today’s levels of national indebtedness.

Dateline Northampton, Dec. 6, 1930

I’m a little late to be able to claim that this item from Calvin Coolidge’s daily column appeared exactly 80 years ago, but close enough…I hope! Here, the former president makes the case for advertising:

When I was a boy in the hills of Vermont twelve miles from the railroad the only merchandise I saw was in the country store. But my horizon was widened by certain publications containing pictures and descriptions of things that appealed to youth. I read and bought. The man who supplied them became rich and died a great philanthropist. He advertised.

It is essential in the first instance to make good merchandise. But that is not enough. It is just as essential to create a desire for it. That is advertising.

The person or association of persons who can produce that combination of excellence and demand is performing a real public service. They enlarge the mental horizon and provide new forms of utility and beauty. The material benefits pass over into spiritual benefits. Culture and charity are the by-products.

A country that is spending two billion dollars annually in the production and application of beauty lotions has resources with which to make large purchases of what it concludes it wants. The only way for the people to become acquainted with what they want is through judicious advertising. Goods not worth advertising are not worth selling.

On a side note, I can’t help but wonder what Coolidge would make of the large selection of publications now available in the most remote country stores and definitely neither wholesome nor conducive to culture and charity. I note that he endorses “judicious” advertising, which leads me to believe he would be appalled at some of the more blatant and omnipresent commercialism now surrounding us.

A Coolidge Thanksgiving

Writing in his daily newspaper column, “Calvin Coolidge Says”, on Nov. 26, 1930, Calvin Coolidge succinctly expressed his thoughts about Thanksgiving. Not surprisingly, he stressed the spiritual importance of the holiday:

Thanksgiving is not only a holiday, it is a holy day. It is by no means enough to make it an occasion for recreation and feasting. Thanks are not to be returned merely to ourselves or to each other. The day is without significance unless it has a spiritual meaning. For more than three centuries our people have felt the need of celebrating the harvest time as a religious rite by offering thanks to the Creator for all their earthly blessings. There can be no true Thanksgiving without prayer.

If at any time our rewards have seemed meager, we shall find our justification for Thanksgiving by carefully comparing what we have with what we deserve. The little band of Pilgrims who first established this institution on the shore by Plymouth Rock had no doubts. If their little colony of devoted souls, when exiled to a foreign wilderness by persecution, cut in half by disease, surrounded by hostility and threatened by famine, could give thanks how much more should this great nation, less deserving than the Pilgrims yet abounding in freedom, peace, security and plenty, now have faith to return thanks to the author of all good and perfect gifts.

Dateline Northampton, Oct. 17, 1930

In his column “Calvin Coolidge Says” of 80 years ago on this day, the former president made a plea for self-government that is still pertinent today, and perhaps even more so than it was originally.

If some current statements are to be taken seriously we are expecting too much from free government. Notwithstanding the excellent practice of voting our ideals, nevertheless we have a representative government that must necessarily be about what we ourselves are. We demand entire freedom of action and then expect the government in some miraculous way to save us from the consequences of our own acts. We want the right to run our own business, fix our own wages and prices, and spend our own money, but if depression and unemployment result we look to government for a remedy.

We insist on producing a farm surplus, but think the government should find a profitable market for it. We overindulge in speculation, but ask the government to prevent panics. Now the only way to hold the government entirely responsible for conditions is to give up our liberty for a dictatorship. If we continue the more reasonable practice of managing our own affairs we must bear the burdens of our own mistakes. A free people cannot shift their responsibility for them to the government. Self-government means self-reliance.

Dateline Northampton, Oct. 16, 1930

The former president’s daily column, “Calvin Coolidge Says” urged Depression-era readers to take a historical perspective, which he felt certain would engender an attitude of gratitude rather than complaining. Undoubtedly, appeals of this sort were scoffed at because they seemed to show that Coolidge was out of touch with present times. However, instead of taking for granted the present, and demanding more from the future, it would serve well every generation to take a grateful look at the past (is the humble opinion of this blogger).

We would save ourselves from a great deal of discouragement and impatience if we had a better historical perspective. As a part of the celebration of the tercentary in Massachusetts, much has been published in word and picture to show how people lived in the early days of our country. At Salem a small village has been constructed reproducing the ancient habitations and handwork industries of about three hundred years ago. They show that the bare necessities of existence were about all that the most unremitting toil, hardship and exposure could produce. All that the rich then could afford would be scorned by the wage earners of the present day.

The conditions there exhibited were the usual course of life on this continent until well into the nineteenth century. Now all is changed. Comparatively, we have affluence and luxury on every hand. Free of charge our people have schools, roads, libraries and sanitation; and for a small charge water, lights, transportation and amusements.

More important still, our progress seems cumulative. The last twenty-five years greatly surpasses every other like period. It would be wholesome to think more on these things. It would reduce complaint and increase contentment.


Calvin Coolidge on the Women Vote

Coolidge’s daily column “Calvin Coolidge Says” on Oct. 13 1930 commemorated the “tencennial” of woman suffrage. As has been reported in an earlier post, Coolidge had long been a supporter of votes for women, not least because he held the view that women were apt to vote sensibly and conservatively, a view reiterated in the column. No doubt Coolidge would be thrown for a loop by the feminist movement of later decades – and feminists would likely bristle at what might be construed as his reduction of women’s roles to those of mother and homemaker.

We have just completed the first decade of national woman suffrage. Generally it has revealed that while women are not eager for public office they administer it successfully. Not all the claims made about the value they would add to political life have been substantiated. Party alignments have been little changed. If a purification of politics has not yet been perceptible, probably public life was already reasonably clean.

But women voters have had a very considerable influence on party platforms and governmental policy, especially on the humane and social welfare sides. Education is better served. Ten years are too short for final results. The women are particularly effective on the conservative side of affairs. They are still the homemakers. They look to the future. They think of conditions not only for themselves but for their posterity.

The great benefit of their vote will be in bringing to the aid of the State that spiritual support which they have so long given to the Church. They are devoted, steadfast, sensible. They will not follow radical proposals, but will be influenced by moral values. Nothing can be safer for the commonwealth than the informed judgment of the mothers of the land.

Calvin Coolidge as blogger?

Well, it’s not quite as far-fetched as it seems. In those distant decades long before the internet was invented, other media fulfilled those same purposes, chief among them daily newspapers. A daily column in a newspaper may be likened to a blog, in that it had to be fresh, topical, and interesting. Coolidge wrote a daily syndicated newspaper column (“Calvin Coolidge Says”) for exactly one year, from June 1930 to June 1931. The former president had been courted by a number of news organizations to write columns or articles of varying formats. He finally settled on the New York-based McClure Newspaper Syndicate, maybe because that firm’s chief, Richard H. Waldo, was more persistent than most. It was a lucrative deal for both parties, but especially for the former president who contractually received 60 percent net of the gross sales, against which a weekly advance of  $ 3,000 was deposited in his account. Author Edward Connery Lathem, who compiled a complete collection of the columns that was published by the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation in 1972, calculates that Coolidge’s total income for one year of writing amounted to $ 203,146.91 – quite a substantial sum for the time  (or any time).

I’ll republish and comment on some of Coolidge’s columns in this blog over the next few months, which is to say, exactly 80 years after they were originally written and published, selecting those I feel contain timeless and pertinent observations.

While Coolidge adapted to the task quickly and at first even looked forward to his daily task, he soon tired of it. To the surprise of many, he did not renew the contract after one year, even as newspapers were clamoring for more Coolidge. The reasons he gave were that he felt he’d covered every subject, that the daily deadline was too confining, that he was uneasy about the income in times of depression, and that, with the 1932 elections looming, he did not want to argue partisan politics. Ultimately, as related by U.S. Senator George H. Moses in his eulogy of Coolidge, given March 15, 1933, “the preparation of his daily articles became to him an obsessionate dread, and (…) the constant thought of it wore upon him more grievously than the most arduous of his labors in the Presidency” – a feeling not unknown to the blogger of today who wants to keep his blog pipeline filled with fresh material, ideally on a daily basis.

Cover of the 1972 volume of Coolidge's collected columns (how's that for alliteration?)