Saturday, August 13, 2022

Let’s save a few words for ‘Silent Cal’ Coolidge on July 4th, his 150th birthday

A woman sitting next to President Calvin Coolidge at a dinner party once told him she made a bet that she could get him to say more than two words.

“You lose,” replies Coolidge, who served as president from 1923 to 1929.

During a White House performance, a nervous opera singer staged a performance in front of Coolidge. Someone asked him what he thought of the singer’s execution. “I’m all for it,” he said.

Coolidge was so silent that he became known as “Silent Cal.”

Three U.S. presidents – all of them Founding Fathers, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe – died on July 4.

Only one was born on July 4th.

Calvin Coolidge was born 150 years ago in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, on July 4, 1872. He died in January 1933.

Calvin Coolidge inspects a campaign truck painted with images of himself and his running mate, Charles G. Dawes.
FPG / Getty Images

Get to know Coolidge

Fireworks rarely followed Coolidge during his political career.

Coolidge was bald, 5 feet-9 with a slight build, and he could walk into an empty room and turn in. He rarely smiled or changed expression. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, described Coolidge’s dull expression by saying he looked like “he was weaned on a pickle.”

Such a description would not have offended Coolidge. “I think the American public wants a solemn donkey as president,” he said, “and I think I will go with them.”

Best known for a laugh or two

The 30th president remains a footnote in the history of American presidents. Coolidge was preceded in the White House by Warren Harding, whose administration was one of the most corrupt in American history. Coolidge was succeeded by Herbert Hoover, who was in office when the country fell into the grip of the Great Depression, which began with the collapse of the stock market in October 1929, several months after Hoover took office.

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Coolidge is probably best known for his contributions to books of political humor. I included him in a 2020 book I edited, “The Art of the Political Putdown: The Greatest Comebacks, Ripostes, and Retorts in History.”

Coolidge, a Republican who believed in petty government, low taxes, morality, frugality, and tradition, rose rapidly – but quietly – into Massachusetts politics, where he became president of the state Senate in 1914. While in that capacity. served, two senators entered into a bitter exchange in which one told the other to go to hell. The recipient of the remark demanded that Coolidge take his side. “I followed the law, Senator,” Coolidge told him, “and you do not have to go.”

Coolidge was elected governor of Massachusetts in 1919. He soon gained a national reputation for being decisive by firing striking police officers in Boston and ordering the state militia to bring calm to the city after the strike left its residents vulnerable to violent crowds in September 1919.

Warren Harding, the Republican presidential nominee in 1920, chose Coolidge as his running mate. Harding and Coolidge won the election. Coolidge then became president when Harding died in 1923.

Early in his term, in December 1923, Coolidge spoke to Congress and demanded isolation in American foreign policy and tax cuts. He believed in small government and also benefited from the country’s strong economic position in the early 1920s. This helped increase his popularity, and he won more than 54% of the popular vote in the 1924 election.

Calvin Coolidge eats ice cream from a plate next to his wife, in front of a group of men formally dressed in suits and a navy uniform in this black and white photo
Calvin Coolidge and his wife, Grace Goodhue Coolidge, eat ice cream at a garden party for veterans at the White House in an undated photo.
Library of Congress / Corbis / VCG via Getty Images)

A genius for inactivity

If it was Coolidge’s decisive action that brought him to national attention, it was his lack of action as president that defined his presidency and won him the admiration of political conservatives.

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Newspaper columnist Walter Lippmann wrote this about Coolidge in 1926: “Mr. Coolidge’s genius for inactivity has developed to a very high point. This is a grim, determined, awake inactivity that Mr. Coolidge is constantly busy. ”

However, historians praise Coolidge for presiding over low inflation, low unemployment and budget surpluses during each year of his presidency. He kept the country at peace and restored confidence in the government after the scandal-ridden Harding years.

But being president and taking daily naps, Coolidge apparently still left plenty of free time.

Coolidge apparently liked to push the alarm buttons in the Oval Office, and when the secret service agents ran into the office to see what was wrong, he would hide.

Coolidge decided not to run for re-election in 1928. When reporters asked him why, he replied with characteristic brevity. “Because there is no chance for progress,” he said.

If Coolidge had been re-elected, he would have suffered Hoover’s fate of being president during the Depression. His political timing was as good as his comic timing.

Social critic HL Mencken once speculated about how Coolidge would have reacted to the stock market crash and the collapse of the country’s economy.

“He would have reacted to bad times exactly as he reacted to good ones – that is, by pulling down the blinds, stretching his legs on his desk and slumbering away the lazy afternoons,” Mencken wrote. And yet the iconoclastic Mencken had this gruesome praise for Coolidge. “There was no excitement while he ruled, but there were also no headaches. He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance. “

When American author Dorothy Parker, who, like Coolidge, could say a lot in a few words, heard that the former president died in 1933, she replied, “How could they tell that?”

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