Born on the 4th of July

30 06 2011

PRESIDENT CALVIN COOLIDGE, the only president born on the 4th of July, said:

“About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. … No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress.”

That quote alludes to a movement that had great gains in the early 1900′s known as “Progressivism”, who’s chief advocate of that time was the Harding/Coolidge administration’s predecessor Woodrow Wilson (D). Wilson believed the United States had outgrown the Constitution and he was a founding member of the League of Nations (predecessor to UN) which the Republican dominated Congress refused to allow the US to join. Exponential government expansion and increased taxation (gave us the first Income Tax) and oversight marked Wilson’s presidency, only being overshadowed by WW1, after Wilson was narrowly elected for a second term. Wilson also brought us the Federal Reserve banking system and advocated nationalized health care.

Wilson’s successor Warren Harding was a “moderate” Republican who died after 2 years in office leaving his conservative VP Coolidge in the Oval Office. Coolidge was a true conservative, believing that issues not addressed in the U. S. Constitution were better left up to the states. This was proved out during his tenure as Governor of Mass. when he signed into law measures that opposed child labor, reduced hours for women (to 48 or less) and raised pay in the factories, stating “we must humanize industry”. He also pushed the legislature to give a $100 bonus to WW1 Veterans in that state.

Conversely, on the Federal level, as President he believed that labor unions were a skid to socialism, and opposed them at every turn. He also fought Congress on government subsidization of agriculture stating that “government control cannot be divorced from political control“. He believed that taxes should be lower and fewer people should have to pay them.

Coolidge is not without his warts, and many blame lack of controls on Wall Street for the “Crash of ’29″. I believe this criticism is warranted. Hindsight is always better than foresight and commentary easier than commission, but I would contend that policies of his successor Herbert Hoover (moderate Rep) followed by FDR (another Progressive) contributed to the duration of the Great Depression.

Hoover was not Coolidge’s VP but Commerce Secretary, and after Coolidge announced he was not going to run in ’28 the Republicans nominated Hoover. Coolidge once said of Hoover, “for six years that man has given me unsolicited advice—all of it bad”. However, he did not want to split the party and quietly went back to private life. Known as “Silent Cal” someone at a dinner party once challenged him, “I have a bet with someone that I can get you say more than 2 words”. He replied, “You lose.” When this same person was informed of his death years later, she asked, “How could you tell?”

Coolidge’s presidency is now largely forgotten along with the unprecedented economic growth during that time. Few people know who he was, let alone his politics. He was a Republican yes, but more than that he was a conservative who realized the bounds of the US Constitution, and the restraints that must be applied to government. He was very popular and after the landslide victory won with Harding in ’20, Coolidge went on to win his own landslide in ’24.

I believe that without this conservative tempering between Wilson and FDR, we may very well have had a similar type of revolution as experienced in Germany and Russia as the Socialists and Communists struggled for power. They were very present here in America. They’re back.

In my reading of this era of American History I realized that there is a pendulum swing in American politics from left to right and usually the swing matches the distance marked on the opposite side. We have recently been witness to a drastic swing to the left. However, with the 2010 sweeping victory in the House of Representatives, and the “re-awakening” of grassroots America, it seems the momentum has become static. As we move into the next election cycle, look for continued retaking of Congressional seats and a shift in the Senate, along with Obama returning to Chicago, or Honolulu, or maybe Nairobi to look for new digs.

So while you celebrate the “4th” and this great country we have been given, maybe give a passing thought to “Silent Cal” Coolidge on his birthday. Then have another hotdog…God Bless America!

(Revised-Previously published 7/4/2010 under title “Happy Birthday America!”)

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2 responses

30 06 2011
Enzo Nahum

A very interesting and well written essay. Bravo Kirk, it was a pleasure reading it. Enzo

20 03 2013
ingrafted

Well, the problem with writing out your predictions is they are for all to see and use against you! I misjudged the American voters in 2012.

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