Skip to comments.Calvin Coolidge Gets New Deal in Revisionist History
Posted on 02/25/2013 4:10:30 AM PST by Kaslin
For years, most Americans' vision of history has been shaped by the New Deal historians. Writing soon after Franklin Roosevelt's death, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and others celebrated his accomplishments and denigrated his opponents.
They were gifted writers, and many of their books were bestsellers. And they have persuaded many Americans -- Barack Obama definitely included -- that progress means an ever bigger government
In their view, the prosperous 1920s were a binge of mindless frivolity. The Depression of the 1930s was the inevitable hangover, for which FDR administered the cure.
That's one way to see it. But there are others, and no one is doing a better job of making a counter argument than Amity Shlaes, whose 2008 book "The Forgotten Man" painted a different picture of the 1930s.
Shlaes agrees that Roosevelt's initial policies seemed to end the downward deflationary spiral. But then bigger government, higher taxes and aggressive regulation led to further recession and years of achingly slow growth. Sound familiar?
Now Shlaes has produced a book tersely titled "Coolidge." It shows the 30th president in a far different light than the antique reactionary depicted by the New Deal historians.
Calvin Coolidge began his political career during the Progressive era, a time of expanding government. But he came to national notice when that era was ending in turmoil.
It was a time of revolution in Russia and attempted revolutions elsewhere in Europe, a time of continuing war in parts of the world even after the armistice formally ended World War I.
At home, it was a time of unemployment and inflation, of bombs set off before the attorney general's house and on Wall Street, of labor union strikes in coal and other basic industries.
Coolidge was governor of Massachusetts and in charge of the Boston police when they went on strike in September 1919. The cops had legitimate grievances. But the strike was followed by nights of violence and murder, looting of department stores and shops.
Coolidge fired the striking policemen. He explained why in a telegram to labor leader Samuel Gompers. It concluded, "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime."
"The time for disruption was over; in order for the next day to be better," Shlaes writes, "law must be allowed to reign now."
Coolidge became a national celebrity. The Republican bosses in the smoke-filled room picked someone else to be Warren Harding's running mate. But the convention delegates stampeded and nominated Coolidge.
That made Coolidge president on the sudden death of Harding (who comes off much better here than in the New Deal histories) in August 1923.
Shlaes tells how he settled into a routine of meeting regularly with the director of the new Bureau of the Budget, paring down spending any way he could.
Coolidge's Republicans had small majorities in Congress, and many favored big new spending programs -- veterans' bonuses, farm subsidies. Coolidge said no, with vetoes that were sustained.
At the same time, he pressed Congress for tax cuts. After Coolidge won a full term in 1924, the top income tax rate was reduced from the wartime 70 percent to 25 percent.
An economy that lurched from inflation to recession between 1918 and 1922 suddenly burst into robust economic growth.
That helped Coolidge achieve budget surpluses ever year -- surpluses that he used to pay down the national debt.
In the summer of 1927, while vacationing in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Coolidge announced, "I do not choose to run for president in 1928."
All the political indicators -- random sample public opinion polls had not yet been invented -- suggest he would have won a second full term. And would have been in office when the stock market crashed in October 1929.
The New Deal historians depict the prosperity of the Coolidge years as illusory. In their view, the binge would inevitably be followed by the hangover.
More recent economic historians have suggested that policy mistakes by the Federal Reserve were the prime cause of the deflationary downward spiral. The onerous Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930 may have been a culprit, too.
In any case, the standard of living of millions of Americans improved in the Coolidge years. Automobiles, refrigerators and radios became commonplace possessions.
Shlaes doesn't argue that Coolidge's policies could or should be replicated today. But she does establish that the 30th president is worthy of more respect than previous historians have accorded him.
Production should have been driving them down, but they were being kept 'stable'.
This led to the inflationary effect of malinvestment in higher goods, since the distortion of the price system and interest rate led investors to think there was more savings to support capital investment, then there was.
Prices don't have to rise for inflation to accomplish it's destructive work.
Cool Cal Ping!
I nominate him as the patron saint of the tea party.
Hoover and the Federal Reserve made poor choices engineering economic fixes to the economy.
Coolidge had been reluctant to choose Hoover as his successor; on one occasion he remarked that “for six years that man has given me unsolicited adviceall of it bad.”
Coolidge was emotionally devastated by the sudden death of his young son, John, in 1923. His dead pan concealed a man in anguish. His long hours sleeping, which began a kind of joke in the public mind, show evidence of a deep depression that sapped his energy and probably led him not to seek nomination, although he probably wished to be drafted, and when he was passed over for Hoover, made him feel worse. Then by implication, much of it coming from Hoovers supporters tried to put the blame for the crash on his shoulders and justify Hoovers progressive interventionism, which certainly failed. This must have weighed on Coolidge and led to his early death. Considering that his father lived to be a ripe old age. it is not too much to say that he died of a broken heart. At least this is my take.
Hoover the progressive became, in the politics of the thirties, Hoover the conservative. But hoover was a big government man, who like FDR after him, cranked up a national mobilization approach, involving of course, the big rich. FDR tried a more government centered approach with a much more inspiring style. Hoover had, unfortunately for him, the same down at the mouth public manner as Jimmy Carter, matched with a total lack of the common touch. Mrs. Coolidge was probably one of the most pleasant and approachable First Ladies, but Mrs Hoover was a entirely different sort.
Had Coolidge been President during the 1929 crash, I don’t think there would have been a depression.. Maybe a recession..
“Had Coolidge been President during the 1929 crash, I dont think there would have been a depression.. Maybe a recession..”
I suspect you are correct. I recall reading someone, explaining when the depression actually ended, and they said, “when Roosevelt’s heart stopped beating.” The more I considered it, the more sense it made.
Roosevelt just loved to change laws unexpectedly and without any rational basis. He was essentially a dictator. No one can make reasonable economic forecasts under such a system, so few invested.
It is much like the “system” Barack Obama is working hard to implement and keep in place today.
A couple years ago I was doing some research on American Presidents and Coolidge stood out in ways I’d never expected. As a kid of course George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson, Lincoln, and JFK were some of the Presidents that had stood out. Out of those only Washington and Jefferson survived further scrutiny and even Washington though without doubt a good man indulged the counsel of Hamilton on the strength of a centralized govt to a fault. Coolidge became an immediate favorite for me particulary because I instantly recognized the congruencey of his message to that of Reagan though Coolidge succeeded in ways Reagan could have only hoped to.
Coolidge was the anti-politician in many ways and he was principled much as Tyler(another unappreciated President) had been in opposing bad policy even when it was his party’s bad policy. The real history of the 1920s has been distorted by New Deal historians so vigorously because it is a stark example of the strength of having a small govt and an empowered free market economy. It was during this time that the middle class emerged and real wages grew at an astonding rate for all classes. Calvin Coolidge is a President I would rank in position #1 for doing exactly what he said he would do and not wavering. Was he perfect? No but that is something that made him great, he was not an inflated man believing himself fit to be a king or one set on ensconcing his name in great gimmicks and programs to puff up his name in history. He was in essence the embodiment of the “Humble Servant” and he served America well and set an example that if it had been followed would’ve kept America far from the economic cliff upon which it now stands.
Obama isn’t a believer in big government. He’s a leftist who believes that society must be changed by a cadre of elitists.
I have Coolidge at 1 as well for the same reasons you cite. Coolidge, Washington, Jefferson, Reagan and Eisenhower. Eisenhower just keeps creeping up on my list as time goes on.
I like the fact that he was a man of few words, unlike our glib political weasels today.
Why were genuine conservatives Coolidge and Reagan succeeded by big-government Republicans Hoover and George Bush Sr. and then by far-left Democrats Roosevelt and Clinton (who only tacked right after the 1994 midterms)? Why aren’t successful conservatives replaced by conservatives?
“Why were genuine conservatives Coolidge and Reagan succeeded by big-government Republicans Hoover and George Bush Sr. and then by far-left Democrats Roosevelt and Clinton (who only tacked right after the 1994 midterms)? Why arent successful conservatives replaced by conservatives?”
Reagan beat George H.W. Bush for the nomination in 1980. In order to unify the party (i.e. get the establishment/moderate support), he made Bush his running mate. Reagan’s big failure was not replacing Bush in 1984 with a conservative VP candidate. He placed party unity over ideology. As soon as Bush became president he pushed conservatives out, even though he ran as a conservative.
In hindsight if Reagan had run with a conservative in 1984 and won, then focused on filling the key party positions with conservatives, there is a chance the conservative revolution would have been consolidated and perpetuated.
Coolidge made Washington and Jefferson look like comparatively big spenders.
I could see Coolidge having Burger King cater state dinners because it was taxpayer money.
Cater? He spent his whole term attending private dinner parties he was invited to by the high society in Washington. :)
thank you. This is the first I remember hearing about George Bush engineering a purge of the party after he was elected in 1988. Who were the victims?
Reagan had a portrait of Coolidge hung in his office. Ed Rollins stated that he never could figure out why. Ed Rollins is an idiot.
For George H.W. Bush firing Reagan people see:
Wow! I considered myself politically aware in the 1980s, and yet I don’t remember a thing about this putsch. Thank you.
It goes back further. Reagan surrounded himself with Bushies and Country Club pubbies from Day 1. The conservative movement was betrayed and screamed bloody murder, but most of us couldn't understand why. We were blinded by a personality cult and we got used by The Establishment, as always.
I think I understand Reagan’s move. He had run for President in 1976 and lost after he was portrayed as too extreme for the electorate. 1980 was only 16 years after Barry Goldwater lost in a landslide, and the common wisdom was that he lost because he was portrayed as a conservative extremist. Reagan’s likeability came through strongly in his 1980 campaign, but I think he felt that he had to bring in Bush and some of the Country Club Republicans (I regard them as today’s RINOs) in order to close the deal.
He may have been right in 1980; he was too much of a gentleman to dump Bush in 1984, and unfortunately by 1988 I understand that he was fading mentally and not in a position to back another successor.
When you look at Pappy (George H.W.) Bush’s record it isn’t inspiring with respect to conservatism.
The S&L bailout.
Failure to prosecute Democrat Speaker of the House Jim Wright and House Majority Whip Tony Coehlo who resigned from office. Both were heavily implicated in the S&L scandals.
Failure to prosecute the Keating Five, five US Senators deeply involved in influence peddling and accepting questionable contributions from actors in the S&L scandals. Four of the Keating Five were Democrats. The fifth was John McCain. McCain’s political career should have ended then but the Republican establishment protected him.
Breaking his “No New Taxes” pledge. Essentially he was forced to do this because of the increase in deficit spending cause by the S&L bailout. If he had let the S&L’s go through normal bankruptcy, instead of pouring billions of taxpayer dollars into bailing out the investors and Wall Street banks holding the bad loans, raising taxes would not have been an issue.
Failure to secure the southern border. The “one time” amnesty during the Reagan administration was supposed to have been followed with tight border enforcement. Pappy Bush, like his son George W. later, failed to aggressively seal the border allowing millions of illegals to stream across the border and effectively giving Bill Clinton and excuse for lax border enforcement during his 8 years.
NAFTA and WTO. Bush, the globalist, was a big proponent of opening up the US market to other nations by ending tariffs and quotas. NAFTA negotiations began in the Bush administration and the agreement was signed under Clinton. Ross Perot was proved correct in talking about the “great sucking sound” these trade agreements would cause as US jobs were sucked out of the country. We’ve seen the deindustrialization of the US, and skyrocketing trade deficits, since Pappy Bush’s vision of free trade was implemented. The transfer of US manufacturing to China, resulting from the elimination of tariffs and quotas, has also funded the rise of China to superpower status and a great future strategic threat to the US. Since the Bush I administration millions of US jobs have been lost, the US industrial infrastructure has been gutted, and the disposable income of the average American household has declined, while income disparity has increased. All-in-all his trade policies were a disaster for the nation and the average working person.
Desert Storm. The US provided the mercenary army to force Sadaam Hussein’s troops out of Kuwait and protect Saudi Arabia from invasion. The Saudi’s repaid us by funding Al Qaeda, and other Islamic terrorist organizations committed to destroying the US. The Saudi’s have also funded the building of thousands of mosques in the US and Muslim outreach efforts to convert prisoners in US prisons to Islam.
He signed the Immigration Act of 1990 which increased legal immigration by 40%, most of these immigrants from 3rd would countries.
He signed the extension of the Clean Air Act. He signed the Americans with Disabilities Act. He appointed David Souter to the Supreme Court.
Bush I was a corporatist globalist statist having more in common with the Democrats in Congress than the conservatives in his own party.
Tariffs went to historically high levels, then Hoover raised reserve requirements and popped the stock bubble. Coolidge was indeed the good old days.
[snip] His wife, Grace Goodhue Coolidge, recounted that a young woman sitting next to Coolidge at a dinner party confided to him she had bet she could get at least three words of conversation from him. Without looking at her he quietly retorted, “You lose.” [/snip]
Coolidge never really chose Hoover as his successor. After Coolidge announced over a year before the 1928 election that he would not be running for another term, he essentially kept hands off the GOP nomination process, while Hoover worked at getting that nomination. Coolidge made it clear that he supported Hoover during his campaign vs. Democrat Al Smith, but his role was small. During his last year in office, as he sensed that Hoover would succeed him, Coolidge fretted privately that a Hoover administration would lead to bigger government, deficit spending, and an economic downturn, reversing the achievements of Coolidge's administration. In that, Coolidge was absolutely right.
Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon would’ve been a better successor to Coolidge, although ultimately I wish Coolidge could’ve served one last term.
I don't think Mellon was ever interested in the presidency. By 1928, he was rather elderly, especially for that era when life expectancy was much lower than it is today. Mellon did a good job as the long-time Treasury secretary, spanning the terms of Harding, Coolidge, and (partly) Hoover. He can be considered as the father of what later became "supply side economics."
As it turned out, BTW, Coolidge died of natural causes three months before Hoover's term was completed, and very concerned about the future of the country under President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Having someone not interested in the Presidency is precisely the person you want in service. Considering that Mellon continued serving at Treasury under Hoover, and concluding as Ambassador to the Court of St. James (England) showed that he was able to serve (and he lived until 1937, so could’ve served 2 terms, had 1929 been a Panic instead of a Depression).
-— I recall reading someone, explaining when the depression actually ended, and they said, when Roosevelts heart stopped beating. ——
Years ago I was talking to a neighbor who grew up in the thirties. He remembered his dad saying that someone should finish Roosevelt’s career. It must have been intensely frustrating then, as it is today.
Coolidge was the best POTUS of the 20th Century.
If it wasn’t for that RINO POS Hoover it WOULD have been a Panic. Still would’ve taken a beating in 1930 but things would have been looking up by ‘32.
And that bastard FDR would be an obscure former NY Governor and his fugly dyke wife probably wouldn’t even have her own wikipedia page.
“Coolidge was the best POTUS of the 20th Century.”
Have to disagree with you on that one, FRiend.
Reagan was the best POTUS ever.
Not on shrinking the government, unfortunately. One wonders if Reagan had a GOP House if spending would’ve been controlled. Dubya had it, and we know how that turned out.
Have to disagree with you on that one, FRiend. Reagan was the best POTUS ever. <<
I have to agree with Impy on this one.
No doubt Reagan was the greatest President of my lifetime, but Coolidge was the best President of the 20th century, hands down. Reagan was a terrific champion for conservative values but he made some mistakes like buying into the Democrats 1986 "one time only amnesty that will secure the border" BS, created another mammoth federal agency (Dept. of Veterans Affairs), and signed bills that had too much wasteful spending, ultimately growing the federal government after 8 years.
Coolidge was almost an excellent champion of conservative values (sadly forgotten by history), but didn't have those negatives in his presidency. Coolidge closed the immigration floodgates with the Immigration Act of 1924, and during his Presidency from 1923-1929, he greatly reduced the size and scope of the federal government. Federal spending remained flat during Coolidge's administration, allowing one-fourth of the federal debt to be retired. The Revenue Act of 1924 reduced income tax rates and eliminated all income taxation for some two million people. Coolidge also represents a now long forgotten time (even during Reagan's day) where the President and the executive branch saw their role as executing the laws of the land, not making them. Coolidge said it his job first and foremost to use his veto to stop bad legislation from becoming law, not to lobby for new federal laws.
A model conservative. Reagan based many of his policies on Coolidge, but was never able to go far enough (partly because the RATs controlled the House in the 80s and partly because Reagan bought into too many broken promises from Congress)
All valid points, BB.
I’ll just say this: I would gay marry Ronald Reagan.
Don’t forget that Reagan won the Cold War, which would still be going if he hadn’t been elected, given his successors.
You're not far off. Coolidge used to buy food for state dinners at the nearest Piggly Wiggly grocery store to save taxpayers money.
I like Burger King. A Whopper with cheese and large fries and that’s a hearty dinner for me.
BK > McDonalds, no contest
Fries, shakes, everything. I don’t eat fast food meat but most people I know like their burgers better.
That is, totally boss.
Both Hoover and George H.W. Bush ran on a platform of continuing the policies of their predecessors.
The GOP platform of 1928 was mostly about praising the Coolidge administration and pledging to continue doing the same: cutting taxes and reducing government debt. Hoover campaigned as being a part of that administration for 8 years and believing in "the American system of rugged individualism". He ran to the right of the generally centrist Al Smith, saying Smith and the Democrats believed in "the doctrines of paternalism and state socialism" that were popular in Europe at the time. (of course, the modern day Democrats, liberal media, and useful idiot neo-confederates will ignore history and make up BS that the Democrats were "the conservative party back then", and "the two parties switched sides" in the 1960s)
60 years later, in 1988, we essentially had the same thing. George H.W. Bush got the nomination because he had the name ID and had been part of the Reagan administration for 8 years. He essentially campaigned as Reagan's third term and ran well to the right of Dukasis, going after him as a bleeding heart peacenik Massachusetts liberal, attacking Duke's "revolving door prison system" in Mass, campaigning as a hardliner on crime and the death penalty, and giving a John Wayne type "read my lips, no new taxes" speech at the Republican National Convention. Idiot Dukakis actually ran against Reaganism when Reagan was still enormously popular with the public. Reagan also campaigned extensively for Bush.
Basically, Coolidge and Reagan weren't replaced with conservatives because moderates in their administration happened to be in the right place at the right time, to take advantage of their popularity and win the office on their coattails by talking like they were clones of their predecessor. There was no actual conservative "heir apparent" in the position to succeed them.
Reasonable minds can disagree on this one.
Reagan certainly had more significant accomplishments but that isn’t what I was basing it on.
Every President since Coolidge, other than Reagan, has been a wanker. Ike, a moderate Republican, is the next best/least wankerish, that says a lot. Hoover, Nixon, Ford and the Bushes, yikes. In that group POPPY Bush seems to look good, that’s just sad.
Tells us why Reagan dusted off the painting of Coolidge, and gave it a special place in the White House. Good read!
” Had Coolidge been President during the 1929 crash, I dont think there would have been a depression.. Maybe a recession..”
100% spot on!
Very well written, and I include in this, your home page!
” Coolidge was almost an excellent champion of conservative values (sadly forgotten by history), but didn’t have those negatives in his presidency. Coolidge closed the immigration floodgates with the Immigration Act of 1924, and during his Presidency from 1923-1929, he greatly reduced the size and scope of the federal government. Federal spending remained flat during Coolidge’s administration, allowing one-fourth of the federal debt to be retired. The Revenue Act of 1924 reduced income tax rates and eliminated all income taxation for some two million people. Coolidge also represents a now long forgotten time (even during Reagan’s day) where the President and the executive branch saw their role as executing the laws of the land, not making them. Coolidge said it his job first and foremost to use his veto to stop bad legislation from becoming law, not to lobby for new federal laws. “
I agree with all of this. Reagan’s biggest mistake was the 1986 amnesty.
What's impressive is that the most prominent issues during his presidency are the same as those of today: taxes, spending, deficits and surpluses, national debt, and size of government. Coolidge met regularly with his Cabinet and Budget Director. The Budget Director's main emphasis was keeping tabs on federal agencies to keep their expenditures in line. By holding the line on spending like this, and vetoing a bunch of what he considered budget-busting bills (including veterans' bonuses), he made his share of adversaries in Republican-controlled Congresses, but he was able to keep the federal government in surpluses and pay down the national debt. As this was going on, the economy on the whole did very well, with the exception of agriculture.
I am in the process of reading that work now, it is excellent.