Meese on Coolidge

Edwin Meese in his Heritage Foundation office, 2005

Edwin Meese in his Heritage Foundation office, 2005

The Honorable Edwin Meese III, who served as Counsellor to president Ronald Reagan, as well as the 75th U.S. Attorney General, contributed a keynote address to the 14th Annual Student Symposium of the Center for the Study of the Presidency in April 1983. His subject was “Shaping the Presidency: Parties, Personalities and Press”, of which I include the segment on Calvin Coolidge. It’s a fairly long piece, but a nice example of one of the stalwarts of the Reagan Revolution extolling the virtues of Coolidge.

Setting the historical context, Meese states that during the 1920s,

“the Presidency was beginning to assume a far greater place in the American consciousness. Its occupant was becoming a fixed part of daily lives. As communications expanded, his picture and words were disseminated widely. It was ironic, then, that the first President to preside during a period of mass communication was the man dubbed “Silent Cal” by reporters who had tried to coax more than a line or two out of him. President Coolidge answered them by saying: “I never got in trouble for something I didn’t say.”

“Coolidge has been somewhat maligned by historians – unfairly I think, and I don’t say that just because his picture now hangs in the Cabinet Room in the White House, but it is true that he liked to sleep 11 hours a day, and that he refused to work beyond 4 o’clock in the afternoon. As he put it, “If a man can’t finish his job by then, he’s not too smart.” As one who has had some experience in waking up Presidents [Meese is referring here to his decision to not wake up the vacationing president Reagan when U.S. Navy fighter jets engaged and downed Libyan jets], I can assure you that I could have some understanding for President Coolidge, but it is a matter of historical fact that except in wartime, the Presidency, for most of our early history on into at least the early 1900’s, seldom required the long working days that we now associate with the Chief Executive. The reason might be apparent when we remember that Congress during those days was in session only a small portion of the year.

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