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Amity Shlaes stops by for interview to discuss “Coolidge”, her new sequel — or perhaps prequel is the better word — to “The Forgotten Man”

Interview: Amity Shlaes Discusses Coolidge (With Transcript)

February 11th, 2013 – Columnist and author Amity Shlaes stops by for a half-hour interview to discuss Coolidge, her new sequel — or perhaps prequel is the better word — to The Forgotten Man, her best-selling look at the 1930s. The latter book shed new light on the Depression, by exploring its “Forgotten Men” — the entrepreneurs and employees whose lives were up-ended by the destructive “Progressive” policies of first Herbert Hoover, and then FDR.

Coolidge places the Roaring ‘20s into context by focusing on the man who helped make them possible, by getting out of the way. Silent Cal was the only president who ever said, “Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business.” And along the way, as Amity mentions in our interview, “He was in office more than one presidential term.  And when he left that office, the federal budget was lower than when he came in.  Real, nominal — with vanilla sprinkles on top.  Wow, how’d he do that?”

How indeed? During our wide-ranging interview, Shlaes discusses such topics as:

● Recovering a sense of traditional America after Woodrow Wilson’s oppressive administration and collectivism during WWI. ● The real version of Coolidge’s “the business of America is business” quote. ● The surprising modernity of the 1920s and Coolidge himself. ● The tragic and untimely death of Coolidge’s son, and how it impacted Coolidge himself. ● Coolidge’s fear of where the unending expansion of government could lead. ● Who best fits the model of Coolidge today.

And much more. Click here to listen: (30 minutes long; 27.4MB file size. Want to download instead of streaming? Right click here to download this segment to your hard drive. Or right click here to download the 5.14MB lo-fi edition. And for our earlier podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.)

If the above Flash audio player is not be compatible with your browser, click below on the YouTube player below, or click here to be taken directly to YouTube, for an audio-only YouTube clip. Between one of those versions, you should find a format that plays on your system.

Transcript of our interview begins on the following page. Incidentally, I first interviewed Amity for an early segment of PJM Political, which ran on Sirius-XM satellite radio from 2007 through the end of 2010, not too long after The Forgotten Man was released. Fortunately, that episode is still online; Shlaes’ interview begins at about the 25:50 mark.

To finish reading, the interview, which contains additional commentary and links to other books on Coolidge, click here.

30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, and lessons for today

June 24, 2010 

August 3: The Most Important Day in America

by Josie Wales

No, not because this is the day that the 30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, was sworn into office; although the words of “Silent Cal” lend credence to the modern movement in opposition to progressive-statism.  Take a gander:

Civilization and profit go hand in hand.

Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.

There is no dignity quite so impressive, and no one independence quite so important, as living within your means.

Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery.

Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business.

To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.


President Coolidge may be the most under-rated president in American history, but his words do little to roll back the progressive machine now.  The beginning of that roll-back does not occur on November 2, but much earlier.  On August 3, 2010, Missouri voters will be tasked with the responsibility of taking the first stand against Obamacare, the progressive panacea, by voting for the Missouri Health Care Freedom Act (MHCFA) in a public referendum.

(more…)

May 16, 2010 

In Honor of a President Few Remember

by Alan Snyder

Ronald Reagan admired him  a lot. In fact, when Reagan was looking over his new house—the White House—shortly after his inaugural in 1981, he entered into the Cabinet Room.

Ronald Reagan 3On the wall were portraits of Truman, Jefferson, and Lincoln. The White House curator commented at the time, “If you don’t like Mr. Truman, you can move Mr. Truman out.” Even though Reagan, a former Democrat, had voted for Truman back in 1948, he made his decision: Truman’s portrait was removed and one of Calvin Coolidge was dusted off and put in its place.

Nowadays, in all the “right” circles [to be found primarily among the academic elite], the person of Coolidge is a source of amusement, if not outright derision. Why, he was a do-nothing president, someone who didn’t use the power of the office as he should have. Probably his most grievous sin, in their view, was the way he put the brakes on destiny: he was a foe of the progressive movement that was intended to reshape American government and culture.

Calvin CoolidgeCoolidge, whose administration spanned a good part of the 1920s, was a throwback to an earlier time. He was not a Woodrow Wilson; rather, he believed in the vision of the Founding Fathers and their concept of limited government. He remained true to the principles of self-government and the sanctity of private property. The rule of law was paramount in his political philosophy. No one was above the law, a belief that, if followed, would keep the people safe from the power of an overextended government.

During the 1920s, the continent of Europe experimented with socialism. What might larger government be able to accomplish? What vistas await us once we unleash the full power of government intervention? Coolidge stood opposed to this false vision of the future.

Historians also like to make fun of his approach to speechmaking. Coolidge preferred to say as little as possible. As he once noted, he never got in trouble for things he didn’t say. Yet when he did speak, he made some very significant pronouncements. His words conveyed key ideas for American success. Meditate on this paragraph, for instance:

In a free republic a great government is the product of a great people. They will look to themselves rather than government for success. The destiny, the greatness of America lies around the hearthstone. If thrift and industry are taught there, and the example of self-sacrifice oft appears, if honor abide there, and high ideals, if there the building of fortune be subordinate to the building of character, America will live in security, rejoicing in an abundant prosperity and good government at home and in peace, respect, and confidence abroad. If these virtues be absent there is no power that can supply these blessings. Look well then to the hearthstone, therein all hope for America lies.

Notice Coolidge’s stress on what he called the “hearthstone,” which is a designation for the family. He saw the family as the cornerstone of  society, the place where character should be developed. Note also his subordination of financial fortune to the building of character. Fortune may come, but only if character comes first: thrift, industry, and honor—qualities in short supply at the moment.

America was prosperous during the Coolidge years. The Great Depression was just around the corner, but it didn’t occur as a result of Coolidge’s policies of tax cuts and economic liberty. The Depression was more a result of misdirection from the Federal Reserve [low cash reserves in banks; easy credit]; its continuation throughout the 1930s was due to government actions of the New Deal.

If there’s one thing most historians can agree on with Coolidge, it’s that he easily would have won reelection in 1928 had he chosen to run again. Yet he voluntarily stood down. Why? What prompted that decision? He tells us what led him to do so in his autobiography.

It is difficult for men in high office to avoid the malady of self-delusion. They are always surrounded by worshipers. They are constantly, and for the most part sincerely, assured of their greatness. They live in an artificial atmosphere of adulation and exultation which sooner or later impairs their judgment. They are in grave danger of becoming careless and arrogant.

Coolidge saw the problems associated with elected office. He knew that men often developed what might be called the “swelled-head syndrome.” He wanted nothing to do with that. If for no other reason, Coolidge should be honored for his willingness to set aside power and maintain his good character. Where are the politicians willing to do that today?

Coolidge administration was the true high tide of conservative, limited government (Acton Institute) / the foundational truths of government / the Spirit of Federalism

Coolidge administration was the true high tide of conservative, limited government (Acton)

The ‘High Tide of American Conservatism’ and Where We are Today

by on Tuesday, December 11, 2012 ACTON Institute

Given all the reassessment going on today about conservatism and its popularity and viability for governing, I recommend picking up a copy of The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election by Garland Tucker, III.

The author is Chief Executive Officer of Triangle Capital Corporation in Raleigh, N.C. Over the years, I’ve highlighted how Coolidge’s ideas relate to Acton’s thought and mission. And while I’ve read and written a lot about Coolidge, I knew next to nothing about John W. Davis. Davis was a lawyer, ambassador, and Solicitor General of the United States who hailed from West Virginia. He argued 140 cases before the Supreme Court. As the Democratic presidential nominee in 1924, he was also Coolidge’s election opponent.

Davis believed strongly in limited government and economic freedom. He criticized the policies of the New Deal saying, “Whether business is better today than it was yesterday, or will be better or worse tomorrow than it is today, is a poor guide for people who are called upon to decide what sort of government they want to live under both today and tomorrow and for the long days after.”

I reached out to the author to ask him some questions about his book and about the ideas and significance of Coolidge and Davis. Below is the interview: Why is Calvin Coolidge so important for conservatives to understand today and what are modern conservative leaders missing from the vision he put forward?

Modern conservatives need to understand Calvin Coolidge because he is the only modern president who actually implemented the complete conservative agenda. Coolidge sharply reduced taxes, while also sharply reducing government spending, the national debt, and the regulatory scope of government. At the same time, he earned the approbation of a huge majority of the American electorate. In the face of a severe postwar recession in 1920, the Harding administration began to implement conservative policies, but the major implementation came under Coolidge (and Mellon) in 1923-1928. The result of lower tax rates and reduced government spending was the greatest sustained decade of economic growth in U. S. history.

Coolidge had a very deep understanding of the connection between morality and the economy. Why do you think this was the case and why was it essential in his view?

Coolidge once said, “I favor economy in government not just to save money, but to save people.” He not only believed strongly in the economic efficacy of free markets, individual initiative, and limited government , but he understood these economic principles were undergirded by moral principles. He saw the debilitating dependency created when citizens depend on the government rather than on themselves and their fellow citizens. The Washington Post commented, “Few persons, probably, have considered economy and taxation as moral issues. But Mr. Coolidge so considers them, and his observations give a fresh impression of the intensity of his feeling on this subject. He holds that economy, in connection with tax reduction and tax reform, involves the principle of conservation of national resources. A nation that dissipates its resources falls into moral decay.”

Your book The High Tide of American Conservatism talks about the 1924 presidential race as really the pinnacle of modern American conservatism for good reason. What did you learn most from writing this book?

I learned three important things from writing the book: First, from an historical perspective, 1924 was “the high tide” of American conservatism in that it was the last time a conservative was nominated by both of the major political parties. The results of this watershed election have been lasting. From 1924 till the present, the Democratic Party has been always well to the left of the Republican Party. Post 1924, progressive Republicans began to migrate to the Democratic Party, while conservative Democrats migrated to the GOP.

Secondly, the two candidates, Coolidge and Davis, were exemplary public servants. No hint of scandal ever touched either man. The personal integrity of these two men was never questioned. They conducted what was arguably the most gentlemanly campaign in U. S. presidential history. And, in addition, they were both men of exceptional ability.

Finally, from a political perspective, the policies that were affirmed in this election and implemented in the decade of the 1920s provide a convincing argument for the efficacy of conservatism. There is a sharp contrast between both the government policies and the strength of the economic recoveries following the recessions of 1920 and 1980 as compared with those following the recessions of 1930 and 2008. Conservatism has the weight of history on its side!

Coolidge’s challenger, John W. Davis, is largely forgotten in American political history. What’s his lasting political legacy and why is it important today?

John W. Davis left an historical and a personal legacy. He was the last conservative to capture the nomination of the Democratic Party. Davis was a direct philosophical descendent of Thomas Jefferson. This line of Jeffersonian small government conservatism in the Democratic Party ended with Davis. His personal legacy was one of character, integrity, professional excellence, graciousness, and intellectual brilliance.

I believe Davis’ lasting political legacy was his brilliant advocacy before the Supreme Court in challenging – often successfully- the New Deal legislation of the 1930s and 1940s. Davis argued over 140 cases before the Supreme Court over his long career – more than any American except Daniel Webster. Probably his crowning achievement was successfully arguing the steel seizure case in 1952 at age 79, whereby an overreaching President Truman was forced to abandon his seizure of the American steel industry – confirming the bounds of constitutional restraint.

Coolidge and Davis had a lot of very similar views when it came to the role of government, the economy, and personal character. Who are a few of the people who shaped these two men?

Coolidge and Davis held virtually identical views of the role of government, which they defined in the narrowest of terms. Davis held, “the chief aim of all government is to preserve the freedom of the citizen. His control over his person, his property, his movements, his business, his desires, should be restrained only so far as the public welfare imperatively demands. The world is in more danger of being governed too much than too little.” Similarly, Coolidge offered a very limited role, “The government can help to maintain peace, to promote economy, to leave the people in the possession of their own property, and to maintain the integrity of the courts. It is our theory that the people make the government, not that the government makes the people.”

These two men were both lastingly influenced by their parents and the communities in which they were raised. Coolidge was the quintessential New Englander, a reflection of his parents and his native Vermont. It was once said of Coolidge that he “never wasted any words, any time, or any of the people’s money.” He was a man of few words, but above all a man of his word. Thrift, hard work, and complete lack of pretense were his hallmarks. In addition to the influence of his parents and community, Coolidge’s college, Amherst, also reinforced these New England virtues. Amherst Professor Charles Garman was the greatest philosophical influence on Coolidge.

Similarly, Davis was very much a product of his parents, community, region and college. His father was a leading West Virginia lawyer and devotee of Jeffersonian principles. His mother inculcated in young Davis a life – long love of learning. At his college, Washington & Lee, he was greatly influenced by conservative law professors, John Randolph Tucker and Charles Graves. It was from these sources that Davis’s integrity, character, and innate graciousness were formed and nurtured.

Related posts:

  1. Calvin Coolidge, Excessive Taxation, and the Moral Economy
  2. Acton Commentary: Calvin Coolidge and the foundational truths of government
  3. Acton on Tap: Calvin Coolidge and the Spirit of Federalism
    1. Calvin Coolidge and the Commercial Spirit
    2. Samuel Gregg: The Problem with Compassionate Conservatism
    3. The Death of ‘Conservatism’
    4. Orsini on “Principled Conservatism”

Category: Interviews, News and Events Related Tags:  1920s, calvin coolidge, conservatism, conservative, economics, electionshistory, morality

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The ‘Simple’ Solution to America’s Complex Problems: by President Calvin Coolidge

The ‘Simple’ Solution to America’s Complex Problems:

We do not need more material development,
we need more spiritual development.
We do not need more intellectual power,
we need more moral power.
We do not need more knowledge,
we need more character.
We do not need more government,
we need more culture.
We do not need more law,
we need more religion.

We do not need more of the things that are seen,
we need more of the things that are unseen.
It is on that side of life that it is desirable
If that side is strengthened,
the other side will take care of itself.
It is that side which is
the foundation of all else.
If the foundation be firm,
the superstructure will stand.

–Calvin Coolidge

h/t http://gardenofliberty.com/