Two or three weeks ago I saw on Facebook one of those irritating little “Quotes in a Box” attributed to USA President Calvin Coolidge. I realized I know very little about him but figured that, if he rates a Facebook Box Quote, whether accurate and correctly attributed or not, I should probably learn a bit more. A quick search revealed that his autobiography, personally written and highly personal, is available on Kindle for $1.99, and that is my main source. The Calvin Coolidge Wikipedia article seems to be a pretty good source of less personal information, none of it inconsistent with the autobiography.
Coolidge was our thirtieth president, stepping up from Vice President upon the 1923 death of Warren Harding and then being re-elected in 1924. He chose not to run for re-election in 1928 because, “I felt it was not best for the country that I should succeed myself.” A more extensive explanation of his decision is included in the book, but rest assured it was not because of failures on his part, of poor prospects of winning, or of a desire to enter private life and make some real money.
Coolidge was a quiet, unassuming, humble, intelligent, well educated, solidly middle-class Republican lawyer of modest means, both before and after his presidency, with ambition only for service. His demeanor earned him the nickname, “Silent Cal.” Not everybody agreed, of course, with his conservative small government and personal responsibility themes, but since there were no obvious disturbing and trust destroying inconsistencies between his philosophies and his personal or political behaviors and actions, he was generally assumed to be both trustworthy and admirable. He entered office, enjoying popularity and without wealth, and left the same way, moving to a modest rented Northampton, MA, home to write his autobiography. He died suddenly in 1933, after what would have been the end of his second full term. We can only wonder what his response to the 1929 stock market crash would have been.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the autobiography:
“When we come into the world the gate of gifts is closed behind us…So far as each individual is concerned all he can do is to take the abilities he has and make the most of them.”
“The study of it (U.S Constitution) which I then (in high school) began has never ceased, and the more I study it the more I have come to admire it, realizing that no other document devised by the hand of man ever brought so much progress and happiness to humanity.”
“It is much better not to press a candidacy (for governor of Massachusetts) too much, but to let it develop on its own merits without artificial stimulation. If the people want a man, they will nominate him. If they do not want him, he had best let the nomination go to another.” - In the 21st century, I believe it is personal ambition and expensive “artificial stimulation” that rule.
“There is no dignity quite so impressive, and no independence quite so important, as living within your means. In our country a small income is usually less embarrassing than the possession of a large one.” (Well, we have seen some deterioration of that principle.)
(On his duty as Vice President of presiding over the Senate) - “If the Senate is anything it is a great deliberative body and if it is to remain a safeguard of liberty it must remain a deliberative body.” Oops!
(On becoming President) “While I felt qualified to serve, I was also well aware that there were many others who were better qualified. It would be my province to get the benefit of their opinions and advice.”
“The words of the President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately. It would be exceedingly easy to…foment hatreds and jealousies which…would help nobody and harm everybody.”
On his campaign for President: “…I did not attend any partisan meetings or make any purely political speeches during the campaign.” What?
The description of his education which “began with a set of blocks which had on them the Roman numerals and the letters of the alphabet” and “…is not yet finished” could well be used to establish a “Common Core” for the 21st century public schools.
What a shame that a man with such attributes and principles, such ability and confidence combined with self-effacing humility, could never be elected president today. Now we are all looking for a savior who will fight for US. Read the book. Whatever your political philosophy, you will enjoy it.