Wednesday, August 4, 2010


A review of Robert Sobel’s Coolidge: An American Enigma (1998)

(Rating 4 of 5)

Robert Sobel does a very good job depicting one of our least known presidents. Calvin ‘Silent Cal’ Coolidge presided over one of the most prosperous times in our nation’s history, but like many other successful presidents they get over shadowed by larger ones. Coolidge is described in this book as the ‘last nineteenth century president’ and that is a fair title. Coolidge was admired by President Ronald Reagan and by libertarians today, although whether Coolidge would acknowledge any of them is an open question.

John Calvin Coolidge grew up in Vermont but as an adult he moved to Massachusetts to be a lawyer. He would marry Grace Goodhue and have two children together. Starting a career in local politics that would see him rising all the way to mayor; he moves up to the state senate where he is elected that body's president. He then earned the Republican nomination for Lt. Governor of Massachusetts where he would serve for three one-year terms under Samuel McCall.

(Grace and Calvin Coolidge)

(The whole Coolidge gang)

In 1918, he ran for governor as a candidate against prohibition and for women’s suffrage. He won the election and took office as Governor. His most famous action was when the Boston’s police when on strike, Governor Coolidge declared it illegal and fired the strikers. This would inspire President Reagan during the air traffic controllers' strike.

(President Reagan greatly admired Coolidge)

“Now Coolidge took center stage. Meeting with reporters, he called the strike ‘desertion of duty’ and he indicated complete support for Curtis, whose next step was to declare that the now vacant positions on the force would be filled by new recruits. The Central Labor Union petitioned Coolidge to reconsider and reinstate the strikers, talking vaguely of the possibility of a general strike. Important Boston businessmen who may have feared violence from the dismissed strikers supported this position. When they observed that the strike might cost him his office, Coolidge snapped back, ‘It is not necessary for me to hold another office.’ But Coolidge having carefully considered his actions, knew that his position was quite popular, and bound to win rather than lose votes.” p.142

In 1920, the Republicans nominated Governor Coolidge for vice president. He and Warren G. Harding prevailed over the team of Cox and Roosevelt. Coolidge became the first Vice President to attend Cabinet meetings but still had very little to do. Which turned out not to be a bad thing, for when President Harding’s administration was rocked by scandal the Vice President remained untouched. Coolidge was visiting his father when the news came of Harding’s death, his father, a public notary, swore his son in as president.

(President Warren G. Harding, Coolidge's corrupt boss and predecessor)

(Sworn into office by his own dad)

As, president Calvin Coolidge would almost get rid of the entire income tax—except to the richest one percent—, increased the estate tax, and establish the gift tax. His presidency was one of the most prosperous on record, and he was elected president in his own right in 1924, defeating John Davis. He was, unfortunately, the first president since Lincoln to lose a child in the White House. Calvin Jr., died of blood-poising due to an infected blister. Coolidge would unsuccessfully try to get an anti-lynching bill passed.

(President Calvin Coolidge)

(President Herbert Hoover, Coolidge's Secretary of Commerce and failed successor)

After the presidency he spent four years in retirement watching the country sink into the Great Depression under his successor Herbert Hoover. He would die shortly after the 1932 presidential election of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Sobel presents are very human Calvin Coolidge an unconventional politician who had unconventional success. Sobel presents not only Calvin Coolidge but his world, where Babe Ruth his sixty runs and Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic solo.

{Video is the first presidential film ever!}

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