There was a man from Vermont named Calvin Coolidge who became the 30th President of the United States. He was dubbed, “Silent Cal” because of his terse conversational style. I have just finished reading Claude M. Fuess’ excellent biography. We would do well today to emulate much of what President Coolidge espoused and did during his time in office.
Coolidge rose through the ranks to become the Governor of Massachusetts. He came to the nation’s attention when in 1919 the Boston Police went on strike. Boston’s Police Commissioner, Edwin Curtis had threatened to suspend any officers who organized in a union. He ultimately carried out his promise. As a consequence, three quarters of the force walked off the job.
Samuel Gompers then the President of the AFL stated that the Commissioner acted inappropriately in denying the Boston Police’s right to form a union. Several days of rioting and lawlessness ensued in the absence of law enforcement. Coolidge responded to Gompers via telegram:
“Your assertion that the Commissioner was wrong cannot justify the wrong of leaving the city unguarded. That furnished the opportunity, the criminal element furnished the action. There is no right to strike against the public safety by anyone, anywhere, any time.”
As Governor, Coolidge signed into law a reduction in the number of hours that women and children were allowed to work; presented the State Legislature with a balanced budget by trimming expenses without raising taxes and vetoed a bill that would have provided state legislators a fifty percent pay increase. He also vetoed a bill that would have allowed beverages with low levels of alcohol to have been sold in the state, although he personally opposed Prohibition:
“Opinions and instructions do not outmatch the Constitution…”
In 1920 Coolidge was surprisingly nominated to be Vice-President on the ticket headed by Warren G. Harding. Harding’s administration was plagued with scandal and it was largely through Coolidge’s efforts and reputation that faith was restored in the White House when President Harding passed away suddenly in 1923 and Coolidge succeeded him.
Coolidge was nominated the Republican candidate for President at that party’s convention in 1924. Despite the sorrow he experienced because of the unexpected death of his younger son, he conducted his re-election campaign in a dignified manner, without speaking poorly of his opponents, preferring to express his opinion on his theory of how government should be conducted.
The Coolidge administration, guided by its Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon, the third highest taxpayer in the country after John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford, lowered the rate of Federal taxation while reducing spending so that by the end of his first elected term in office, one quarter of the national debt was retired. The only Americans who paid income taxes as a result of their policies were the top two percent of income earners.
Coolidge was adamant in his support of equal civil rights for all Americans and signed into law the “Indian Citizenship Act” granting all Native Americans full citizenship.
“Our Constitution guarantees equal rights to all our citizens, without discrimination on account of race or color. I have taken my oath to support that Constitution.”
Perhaps the most often repeated, if perhaps apocryphal exchange, which highlighted Coolidge’s moniker as “Silent Cal” was reported to have occurred between the President and writer, satirist, Dorothy Parker.
Parker was supposedly seated next to the President and said,
“I have a bet with a friend that I can get you to say more than two words.”
Coolidge reportedly turned to her and said,
Perhaps the essence of Coolidge’s view on the office to which he had been elected was best expressed in his statement:
“The words of a President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately.”
As this man of few words believed, less is more. Words for all of us to remember.