2010 JFK Symposium

Calvin Coolidge: An Inquiry into the Man, his Character and his Politics

Robert P. Kirby

As we reflect on the heritage of Calvin Coolidge, it serves us well to remember the words of United States Supreme Court Justice David Davis who in 1866 warned that, “the nation . . . has no right to expect that it will always have wise and humane rulers, sincerely attached to the principles of the Constitution.”   Understanding the pitfalls and potential of the presidency is a responsibility of a caring citizenry.  

Calvin Coolidge played a significant role in the growth and success of our country.  A star on the world stage, he did so by inspiring public confidence in him through his “straight talk” as well as by delivering on his promises.  His special ability to lead our Nation through a dynamic era of unprecedented growth stemmed from his deliberate, levelheaded, moral and thoughtful leadership style.  Guided by an unshakable belief in the Constitution, ethical behavior and the free enterprise system, Coolidge showed his character and courage as well as an ability to assess, guide, and give expression to the mood of the American people. 

Coolidge brought the basic American values back to public life—patriotism, faith, humility, hard work and thrift.  He took satisfaction in the nation’s transformation into a consumer society and had a strong desire to show American free enterprise as the “surest method of administering to the general welfare.” He explained that, “Wealth comes from industry and from the hard experience of human toil.  To dissipate it in waste and extravagance is disloyalty to humanity.”  Coolidge quickly understood that radio was his powerful ally in communicating directly with the people.   He became a most popular president and used that popularity to lead a fractious Congress to embrace a legislative program that led to unparalleled prosperity.

Coolidge returned the nation to “normalcy” following the trauma of World War I.   As President during the “Roaring Twenties,” the disciplined Coolidge shepherded the emergence and growth of such basic industries as electrical power generation, automobiles, broadcasting, housing and transportation.  He established fiscal order and prosperity through carefully considered debt and tax reduction.  His programs assisted in restoring war-damaged nations.  He understood the need for strong military even during peacetime; however he reached this goal through wisely restrained spending.  Coolidge believed in self reliance and personal freedom.  He cautioned against moral decay. “Material resources . . . are the product of spiritual resources.”  His deep reverence and reserve came from family values.  Of his mother, who died when he was 12, he reflected, “It seemed as though the rich green tints of the foliage and the blossoms of the flowers came for her in the springtime, and in the autumn it was for her that the mountain sides were struck with crimson and with gold.” –She was his inspiration.

Coolidge oversaw major steps forward in America’s social development and pursuit of knowledge by holding our culture and learned debate in high regard.   Coolidge was never tempted to flaunt or abuse his power as President. “It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know that he is not a great man.”  Within him there was no class distinction and by visibly living his beliefs, he restored respect for the American presidency.  He was a quiet and gifted leader.

Formed in 1960 by John Coolidge, the son of President and Mrs. Coolidge, the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation, Inc. safeguards and fosters the legacy of President Coolidge.  The Foundation has an opportunity, and an obligation, to promote scholarship and a deeper understanding of the contributions of Calvin Coolidge to public service, the Constitution, economy in government and ethical governance.  It provides support so that scholarship and research may flourish. 

Calvin Coolidge lived a life of high character, duty and example.  We ask your help in fulfilling our mission: to open the eyes of the world to Calvin Coolidge, and to achieving our vision: to become the gateway to all things Coolidge.