2017 Writing Contest
Could Coolidge Win Today?
We made the mistake of talking too much about the deficiencies of our opponents and not enough about the merits of our own candidates. I have never again fallen into that error.
– Calvin Coolidge on an early campaign
We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once. – Calvin Coolidge
The 2016 presidential campaign highlighted deep divisions in the United States. A recent report from the Pew Research Center finds that Republicans and Democrats now have more negative views of the opposing party than at any point since the organization starting surveying Americans on this subject in 1992. Of course disagreements between political parties are nothing new, and differences tend to be highlighted during presidential campaigns. Even so, many sense a breakdown in civility, with the Pew Center report suggesting political differences have an increasingly personal element to them.
But there is a president who, to this day, continues to be applauded for his record of civility and for his ability to work across the aisle. That president is Vermont’s own Calvin Coolidge, who served as America’s thirtieth president from 1923 to 1929. Coolidge eschewed ad hominem attacks. Even when campaigning he thought it more important to tell voters about the merits of his own candidacy rather than smear his opponents. Coolidge was able to accomplish much in office, often working with members of the opposing political party.
Yet much has changed from the 1920s. After all, in Coolidge’s day, radio was just emerging as the main form of mass media. Today the 24-hour news cycle and social media dominate. Furthermore, presidential campaigns were much shorter in Coolidge’s day and the candidates themselves did not engage in nearly the level of direct campaigning that they do now.
President Calvin Coolidge was known for his civility and his ability to work across the aisle. Do you think Coolidge could win the presidency today? What lessons from President Coolidge might help heal our political divisions? What can you do in your own life to encourage civility in America’s political dialogue while still advocating for the things in which you believe? Please prepare a written submission of 800 words or fewer that addresses these questions.
About the Calvin Prize for Vermont Youth
The Calvin Prize for Vermont Youth is a prize named after President Calvin Coolidge and his son, Calvin Coolidge Jr. It is for writers ages 13 to 19 currently living or attending school in the state of Vermont. The first-place prize of $1,500 and the runner-up prize of $500 are awarded for the article, essay, or poem under 800 words that best answers the prompt of this year’s prize. The winners will be invited to attend and be honored at the Coolidge Foundation’s annual summer gala in Plymouth Notch, Vt. on July 1, 2017. The Coolidge Foundation is grateful to the Young Writers Project for its partnership in the Calvin Prize contest.
- The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge (available online here)
- Why Coolidge Matters: How Civility in Politics Can Bring a Nation Together
- “What Coolidge Teaches Us,” Speech by former Governor, Jim Douglas, 2 Sept. 2014: https://coolidgefoundation.org/blog/what-coolidge-teaches-us/
- “Partisanship and Political Animosity in 2016,” Pew Research Center: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/06/22/key-facts-partisanship/
- Deadline to submit: May 19, 2017
- To be eligible to compete, the contestant must be a current resident of the state of Vermont or attend school in Vermont.
- Contestants must be between 13 and 19 years old on May 19, 2017.
- Writing submissions must contain fewer than 800 words.
- Writing submissions may be an essay previously submitted as a school assignment or a new writing submission altogether. The submitting author may have a teacher or mentor provide feedback on a draft, but the submission must reflect the author’s own original thinking and writing.