If someone asked me a few years ago what I thought about Calvin Coolidge, I would have said I didn’t know much about him. He was just another no-name president from the pre-WWI, post-Civil War era. It wasn’t until I read Amity Shlaes’ biography, Coolidge, of our nation’s 30th President that I realized that this quiet, Massachusetts native was actually one of the best our country has ever seen.
Calvin Coolidge comes from the golden age of Massachusetts politics. About 100 years ago, Massachusetts was an exceptionally red state.
Coolidge is a true example of a public servant. While clerking for a law firm in Northampton, Massachusetts, he ran for City Council, where he held various municipal offices in addition to practicing law. He lost only one election in his whole career, which was a position on the Northampton School Committee. From local office to the Massachusetts State House, Coolidge worked his way up. He was a State Representative, Mayor of Northampton, State Senator, President of the State Senate, Lieutenant Governor, Governor, Vice President, then President.
Coolidge made himself a national figure worthy of selection as Warren Harding’s running mate when the former was the Governor of Massachusetts. In September of 1919, the Boston Police Department decided to strike in protest of low wages and terrible working conditions. Although the police were in truly dire straits, the city of Boston did nothing to improve their condition, forcing Coolidge to make a difficult decision. At the risk of a pending general strike—a strike in which all union workers in the city of Boston would strike—Coolidge made an example out of the Boston Police Department. He called in the National Guard to stop the riots caused by the strike and hired all new police officers. All of the officers that participated in the protests were relieved of their duties.
Coolidge saved the city from anarchy, stopped a general strike in the city of Boston, and prevented a wave of newly formed police unions from considering striking across the country.
President Warren Harding fell ill and passed away due to a heart attack on August 2, 1923 while on a speaking tour in California, leaving Coolidge to assume the role of the president.
Calvin Coolidge entered the presidency with one major goal in mind: reduce the size of the federal government. The national debt was a major target for Coolidge, and target it he did. The national debt in 1923 was $22.35 billion. By the time Coolidge left office in 1929, the national debt was $16.931 billion. That is roughly a 25 percent reduction in the debt.
Since Woodrow Wilson’s presidency (which began in 1914) Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge have been the only presidents to leave the White House with a lower debt deficit than when they began their term.
In order to reduce the debt, Coolidge cut spending by making controversial decisions. When there was flooding in the Ohio River Valley and in the Mississippi River Valley, Coolidge cut flood relief money, believing that it was a state issue, not a federal one.
Calvin Coolidge also enforced a ‘term limit’ on himself. Considering the fact that he was popular across the country, he could have run for a second-term with large amounts of public support.
The way he announced that he would not run for a second term is also a classic moment in American political history. While visiting South Dakota, Coolidge convened a press conference and, without speaking, passed out slips of paper to the press. After distributing these papers, Coolidge remarked, “There will be nothing more from this office today.”
When the reporters read the slips of paper, there was a short, to the point message that said, “I do not choose to run for president in 1928.” No grandiose rally or announcement. No farewell speech.
Coolidge was staunchly against the pageantry that came with being president.
Throughout his political career, Calvin Coolidge was a staunch small-government conservative. He believed in minimal federal involvement in state issues and reducing federal spending. Conservatives today should look to Coolidge as a conservative role model, because it will take another Silent Cal to be able to tackle the enormously high levels of federal entitlement spending that is bankrupting our nation.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.