Reagan on Coolidge 2:The sequel

As a little addendum to my recent post on Ronald Reagan and his esteem of Calvin Coolidge, here’s one further bit of Reagan on Coolidge – this one from the wonderful book “Reagan: A Life in Letters” :

During the holiday season of 1984, a Vermont correspondent had sent the just-re-elected Reagan a copy of Calvin Coolidge’s Christmas Greeting of 1927, which read

“To the American People: Christmas is not a time or a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. If we think on these things, there will be born in us a Savior and over us will shine a star sending its gleam of hope to the world.”

Reagan, as was his wont, wrote personally on January 29, 1985 as follows:

Thank you very much for sending me the copy of Calvin Coolidge’s Christmas Greeting of 1927. I’m delighted to have it. I happen to be an admirer of “Silent Cal” and believe he has been badly treated by history. I’ve done considerable reading and researching of his presidency. He served this country very well and accomplished much before speaking the words, “I do not choose to run.” Again, my thanks. Sincerely, Ronald Reagan.

The presidency has changed immeasurably, and not for the better, between the days of Coolidge and those of Reagan. And Calvin Coolidge would have been flabbergasted at the extent and grandeur of the imperial presidency of today. But I still think it is interesting that the 40th president thought so highly of the 30th, who had for over fifty years been the subject of ridicule if not contempt by liberal historians. Quite a reversal, also, for Reagan who as a young man had been an ardent admirer of FDR – the very antithesis of Coolidge in so many ways.

Reagan on Coolidge

Ronald Reagan was way ahead of the curve when it came to appreciating the virtues of Calvin Coolidge. As is well known, upon assuming the presidency, he had Coolidge’s official White House portrait taken out of storage and placed in the cabinet room. And as early as 1976, the year of his first serious presidential bid, he sang the praises of the 30th president in one of his regular radio addresses. I’m posting the full script of here (taken from the book “Reagan’s Path to Victory: The Shaping of Ronald Reagan’s Vision – Selected Writings“) (note: I say “script” because in the book, Reagan’s text is presented as a working draft, with changes and re-writes clearly shown. The following is what appears as the final script):

The names of some Presidents are invoked by spokesmen of both political parties as “men for all seasons”, epitomizing the greatness of America, Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson etc. Then there are Presidents whose names are brought in party circles, hailed as great but, if acknowledged by the other party at all,with not quite the same enthusiasm.

There are also two lists of Presidential names – one for each party, usually held up to view for strictly partisan purposes. Each party lists past Presidents of the opposing party as examples of that party’s terrible record.

The Democrats for example get laughs by mentioning Silent Cal Coolidge. And truth is mayn Republicans chuckle a little and go along with the idea that he was a do nothing President. Sometimes I wonder if he really was a “do nothing” or was he a little like a Life Guard on the beach who also seems to be doing very little when there is no emergency. If you take a closer look he is quietly being watchful.

Cal Coolidge is good for laughs but not all of them are at his expense. There was the press conference where a persistent reporter asked the President if he had anything to say about prohibition? Cal said “No.” “Any comments on the world court?” – “No.” – “What about the farm situation?” Again the answer was no. The reporter said, “You don’t seem to have any comment about anything.” Coolidge said, “No comment and don’t quote me.”

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A rare NEW Coolidge publication…and website!

Well, lo and behold, the National Notary Association is finally publishing the long-announced essay volume “Why Coolidge Matters: How Civility in Politics Can Bring a Nation Together”, filled with new material from noted Coolidge scholars, among them Amity Shlaes, who is also currently working on a new definitive biography of the 30th president. Why the National Notary Association, you may ask? Apparently, the nation’s notaries are honoring the fact that the candle-lit swearing-in of President Coolidge after the death of his predecessor Harding was performed by his father, a notary public (the ceremony was later reperformed with a different official at the White House, to make sure there was no question as to the constitutional legality). Actually, that is only one reason: the notaries also see a compelling connection between them and Coolidge in his conscientious and selfless conduct. But of course!

Obviously, I’m happy, nay, ecstatic about this publication and its accompanying website offering interesting material (some excellent high-res pictures for instance…I’m downloading a 34 MB (!) picture as I type this). I wonder why the people I contacted at the NNA at least a year ago to get some information about the pending project were unable to help or even get back to me, but all’s well that ends well, I suppose. I can only hope they will be a little more responsive in spreading the good news about this book, which you can order at the NNA website or, of course, from amazon.com.

To me, some of the material on the website appears more than a little questionable, as when the scant section on historical significance characterizes Coolidge as being perceived as bookended between two boisterous and raucous presidents, Harding and Hoover, both of whom were reviled for allowing rampant greed and corruption (my paraphrase). While this is all quite correct concerning Harding, I question whether anyone except the unnamed author would both characterize Hoover as “boisterous and raucous” AND tar him with an undeserved and illusory reputation for corruption. But I fully expect the essays in the book to be on more solid historical ground.

So, excuse me while I hurry to order my copy! I hope this will mark the acceleration of what I think is a trend to reassess the accomplishments and significance of Calvin Coolidge even for our day. And here’s a tip of the hat to the Silent Cal blog, who had it first.

You can see the man was (mostly) serious.

Daily (all right, weekly) dose of Coolidge

11623r“Underneath and upholding political parties was, and is, the enduring principle that a true citizen of a real republic cannot exist as a segregated, unattached fragment of selfishness, but must live as a constituent part of the whole of society, in which he can secure his own welfare only as he secures the welfare of his fellow men.”

(accepting nomination for president, Aug. 14, 1924)