Amity Shlaes

90 Years Ago Today, The First Conservative President Of The 20th Century, Calvin Coolidge, Became President!

On August 2, 1923, the short, tragic, scandal ridden Presidency of Warren G. Harding came to an end with the death of Harding in San Francisco, and Calvin Coolidge, his Vice President, became the sixth Vice President to succeed to the Presidency, due to the death of the incumbent.

Coolidge went on to an easy victory over John W. Davis and Robert La Follette, Sr. in the Presidential Election of 1924, and then chose not to run in 1928, therefore avoiding the oncoming Great Depression faced by his successor, Herbert Hoover.

The five and a half years of Coolidge’s Presidency, the first conservative President of the 20th century (with Ronald Reagan being the second one), has been judged by most scholars as mediocre at best, including scholars Donald McCoy, Robert Sobel, Robert Ferrell, and David Greenberg.

But just this year, Amity Shlaes has published a massive biography of Coolidge, attempting to redeem him as a reform oriented President, who has been overlooked and misjudged by historians.

What seems clear for sure is that Coolidge was a different President in his first year, much more activist and outgoing, than in his full term, and it seems as if the death of his son Calvin, Jr, of a blood infection from a leg blister while playing tennis, a truly tragic event, created a sense of depression and sadness in Coolidge, which he never really overcame, and within four years of his leaving the Presidency, he died at the young age of 60, probably of a broken heart.

Coolidge certainly deserves more historical analysis, but to make him out to be a reform oriented President seems a bit of a stretch, but the old quest for further interpretation of any President, his life, and his impact on the nation will always continue, and might be spurred further by Shlaes’s book and the 90th anniversary of Coolidge becoming President!

The Rehabilitation Of President Calvin Coolidge: Is It Legitimate?

In an age of conservative talk radio and Fox News Channel, and the constant conservative attempt to transform our law, our science, our history, our politics, our economics, our educational system, the charge is on to rehabilitate a hero of conservatives, including Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Michael Savage, and many others.

That “hero” is our 30th President, Calvin Coolidge, who served five and a half years in the White House, from August 1923 to March 1929, succeeding President Warren G. Harding, and winning an easy victory over Democratic nominee John W. Davis and Progressive Party nominee Robert La Follette, Sr. in the 1924 Presidential Election.

Calvin Coolidge can be given credit for several things:

His administration paid off the national debt by the time he left office, a debt built up by our involvement in the First World War.

His Presidency was a clean one, and the corruption of the Harding Administration, the greatest since Ulysses S. Grant, was fully prosecuted, leading to convictions and prison terms for some of the Harding personnel.

Coolidge picked a distinguished Vice President, Charles G. Dawes, who would have made an outstanding President.

Coolidge selected Harlan Fiske Stone as his Attorney General, and then appointed him to the Supreme Court, and Stone was later elevated to Chief Justice in 1941 by Franklin D. Roosevelt, turning out to be one of the all time, outstanding Supreme Court Justices in American history.

However, Coolidge also was responsible for:

The promotion, by his tax policies under Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, an earlier version of “Reaganomics” and “Bushonomics”.

The raising of protective tariffs to their all time high, leading to the revival of monopoly capitalism in America, harming small business, labor and consumers alike.

The refusal to regulate big business in any form, by his appointments to the Federal Trade Commission and the Interstate Commerce Commission, and his decision NOT to use the Clayton Anti Trust Act and Sherman Anti Trust Act in lawsuits against corporations.

His refusal to help depression ridden farmers, by his veto of the McNary Haugen plan, which was desired by farm state Republicans.

His criticism of organized labor set back the labor movement until the time of FDR.

A new book by Amity Shlaes, is the most detailed and strong defense of Calvin Coolidge, but it fails to recognize that the Great Crash of the stock market, eight months after Coolidge left the Presidency, and Herbert Hoover became President, is not due only to Hoover, but much more to Coolidge and his policies in office.

Herbert Hoover has taken too much blame for the Great Depression. He can be blamed for his slow reaction to the collapse of the economy, but it is clear that Coolidge, with his doctrinal belief in “Laizzez Faire”, would not have been willing to take even the belated actions that Hoover took in 1931-1932, for which conservatives condemn him, by saying Hoover was the forerunner of the New Deal of FDR!

Just because Amity Shlaes, who is connected to the George W. Bush Institute, loves Calvin Coolidge does not make Coolidge, suddenly, a great or near great President. And neither does the fact that Ronald Reagan displayed his portrait, in place of Thomas Jefferson, add to Coolidge’s appropriate rating as, at the best, a below average, or even, a mediocre President.

In fact, to put Herbert Hoover lower really is a miscarriage of justice, as Hoover became the victim of the short sighted Coolidge policies!