Coolidge Silent No More

, Malcolm A. Kline, 1 Comment

calvin coolidge photoClearly we have to reach beyond academia if we want to reclaim our history.

“Calvin Coolidge had four percent growth which candidates today only talk about as a goal,” Amity Shlaes, the former Wall Street Journal reporter turned Coolidge biographer, said of the much-maligned former president. Shlaes, who has also written critically of FDR, was the luncheon speaker at the annual national meeting of the Philadelphia Society, a group of conservative intellectuals, formed in the wake of the Goldwater defeat of 1964.

Seventy-three percent was the top tax rate in 1923, Shlaes noted at the Philadelphia Society’s meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. “They got the top rate down to 25 percent and the number of millionaires (in the United States) jumped from 74 to 511.”

As you can see, Shlaes has a predilection for using the real numbers that academics avoid like the plague, but her research goes well beyond the numerical.  She has extensively gone deep into the Coolidge record.

“Coolidge liked the pocket veto (in which a bill is considered vetoed if the president doesn’t sign it within 10 days of Congress’s adjournment) because you don’t have to write a veto message and it cannot be overridden,” Shlaes pointed out. “Coolidge’s vetoes were overridden often.”

“He was a maestro of the pocket veto,” Shlaes averred. “He was the Isaac Stern of the pocket veto.” (By the way, Shlaes notes that Coolidge’s Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, was even less of a chatterbox than his boss, although he shared Silent Cal’s outlook.)

Yet and still, although he devoted much time to “drafting tax plans to thwart the progressives,” Coolidge was hardly an economic determinist. “Coolidge believed that you push back the state in place of something and that something was spiritual fulfillment or fulfillment of the spirit,” according to Shlaes. “Coolidge called it ‘things of the spirit.’”

Indeed, Shlaes noted, one of the few speeches Coolidge gave was a Fourth of July address in Philadelphia (Coolidge was the only president born on that day). Nevertheless, he elected to give it the day after because in that particular year July 4 fell on a Sunday and Coolidge was in church.

So what’s next for Shlaes, now the chair of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation? “The revisionism on Warren G. Harding starts next year,” she cheerfully announced.

Photo by The U.S. National Archives

Photo by The U.S. National Archives