Calvin Coolidge

The Politics of Calvin Coolidge

Referred to as “Silent Cal”, Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of United States of America, is a modern-day enigma. In retrospective, a conservative politician, for the time being, Coolidge remained the silent torchbearer of a welfare system in conservative America. The two spectrums of thought that have followed Coolidge after his demise in 1933 have been that of extreme derision and a cult following from those who opposed to political propaganda.

Born on 4th July 1872, Coolidge was the farmer’s son from Vermont who climbed the ladder rungs of politics. His political career confuses both progressives and conservatives. With his support for laissez-faire economics and social regulation of businesses, Coolidge’s policies were to shape the American attitudes to political campaigning.

the picture of The Coolidge Homestead in Plymouth Notch, Vermont

To The White House 

Before being sworn in as the 30th president of the United States, Coolidge took a steady rise towards the public office, starting from the bottom. In 1898, he was elected to the Northampton, Massachusetts City Council. A lawyer by profession, Coolidge occupied a number of public offices, including City Solicitor and Clerk of Courts. By this time, Coolidge was a well-respected member of the Republicans, and they nominated him for the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1906; a slide victory for him against the incumbent Democrat.

During his term, Coolidge was known to be a progressive Republican, vying for women’s suffrage and direct election for senators. Calvin Coolidge was to carry this progressive state of mind to the White House, years later. In 1911, when Coolidge was the State Senator of Hampshire, he was chosen to be on the committee for arbitration of “Bread and Roses” strike, in which women labor unions demanded fair wages and better working conditions. Coolidge showed his mettle as a politician by remaining loyal to the Republican party even as it went against his ideology, refusing to side with the Democrats in tow of progressive Republicans.

Strikers marching down the street in Lawrence, Massachusetts during the 1912 strike.

Supporting fiscal conservatism, women’s suffrage, and American involvement in World War I, proved decisive factors in his victory against the Democrat candidate. The victory was a landslide.

Coolidge’s profile gained traction as he emerged as the hero of Boston Police strikes of 1919. Nearly 80% of the Police force in Boston went on a strike in order to unionize. While the police force held back its security from the city, shops were looted and the crime rate increased manifold.

A company of Massachusetts Militia awaiting assignment to police duty during the Boston Police strike

As a progressive man, Coolidge was reluctant to interfere until the last minute, yet with the city’s safety in shambles, he personally assumed the charge of the Police Department. Coolidge took the risky decision of firing all striking officers and ordering recruitment of new police force. He was seen as the hero of the incident by many conservative people fearing the spread of communism in America. According to Steven Pearlstein (a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post), Coolidge later spent time looking for jobs for those who were fired during the strike. How the incident played out established Calvin Coolidge as a seasoned yet empathetic politician.

A Very Lucky Man

There has been much debate on Coolidge’s success in the election for Vice President during the 1920 election. For those who have been opposed to Coolidge’s silent leadership style, it was by luck and chance that Coolidge got considered as a candidate for Vice President. At the time when names for tentative candidates were proposed, Coolidge was not even nominated. However, a candidate who had read Coolidge’s book, “Have Faith in Massachusetts”, proposed his name and the suggestion gained popularity. It was thus by chance that Coolidge’s name was proposed for the position of Vice President.

Coolidge ran against Franklin Delano Roosevelt and won. Therefore, those who argued that Coolidge seemingly won by chance, ignored the fact that he had won against the person who had to his disposal the social strength of being associated with Theodore Roosevelt as his fifth cousin and a nephew-in-law.

It was during his term as Vice President that Coolidge gained the nickname “Silent Cal” for his dry wit and silent humor. His silence was so famous that upon his death, Dorothy Parker, an American poet, is said to have joked “How can they tell?”

Coolidge was uncomfortable at parties and official dinners, and when asked why he still chose to attend, his answer had been “Got to eat somewhere.” While his quiet charisma grew, he did not engage in any extraordinary acts of political decision making.

Another Chance in Office

While visiting his childhood home in Vermont during 1923, Coolidge was informed via a messenger that President Harding had died. Coolidge came downstairs his nightgown, was sworn in as President by his own father by an oil lamp, and then he went back to sleep. Calvin Coolidge has been the only President to have been sworn in by his own father, to-date. His two oaths to office were taken without any ceremony.

Upon holding the office, Coolidge went on to deal with the Teapot Dome scandal, which involved the administration of Warren G. Harding. Instead of clamping down on the culprits and driving for punishment, Coolidge let the Senate make the investigations that resulted in resignations of those involved. Coolidge’s leadership style remained as non-interventionist as it had been during his term as Vice President.

a black and white picture of the official committee of the Teapot Dome scandal

Coolidge’s politics was more about vying for moral and progressive ideas than re-election. Well, at least in terms of his social policies. Coolidge granted citizenship to Native Americans, who were born in the United States. However, those who have seen it as more of a shrewd political move than actual concern for Native Americans point, out that more than half of Native Americans had gained access to citizenship through marriage, military service, or land allotments.

Prior to running for President in 1924, Coolidge lost his sixteen-year-old son, Calvin, in White House. Despite this, he ran his standard short speeches and campaign. It was the most subdued campaign since the year 1896, yet Coolidge won the elections because of his naturally non-confrontational style.

Economics

Calvin Coolidge believed in a laissez-faire style of economics. During his presidency, the U.S. experienced rapid economic growth, also referred to as the “Roaring Twenties.” The revival and later boom in construction and the production and consumption of consumer goods brought about economic prosperity. Income taxes were further reduced and federal spending remained flat during his time.

However, in terms of agriculture, Coolidge found opposition and in the eyes of future analytics, derision. A proposed bill for subsidies for the farmer was introduced, which included a clause for doing extra production in high-yield years and hold it for some time to sell it to other countries. However, Coolidge opposed it with the same laissez-faire ideology. His motto was that the agriculture business must stand on its own. He instead preferred to modernize agriculture.

Foreign Policy

Coolidge’s late decision to enter the League of Nations proved decisive in its ultimate failure as a tool for preventing another World War. For this Coolidge has been criticized much. However, as a former lawyer, he did consent to become a member of the World Court, given that the U.S. would not be bound by advisory decisions. Instead of taking an aggressive approach to countries that had experienced communist revolution, the Coolidge administration took a case by case approach. Efforts were made to pacify the ties with post-revolution Mexico.

Coolidge’s administration did continue to maintain the occupation of Haiti and Nicaragua. In addition to this, they put an end to the occupation of the Dominican Republic in the year 1924 due to the withdrawal agreements finalized during Harding’s administration. Moreover, he also continued the previous administration’s policy to withhold recognition of the Soviet Union officially.

Post-President (Retirement and Death)

After serving as the 30th president of the United States of America, Coolidge went back to the non-descript, hard-working life of being a lawyer. He died in 1933 from coronary thrombosis, and his grave in Vermont remains as nondescript as his life.

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