The adoration of political figures is a commonplace tradition amongst both sides of the political spectrum. This sense of reverence for significant figures within our nation’s history is not to the extent of idolatry. Instead, it is the avocation of influential individuals, those who are believed to embody the true meaning behind particular political ideologies. For the political left, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt are just a few of the individuals they look to for the promotion of social liberalism and governmental progressivism. The political right often venerates the service of Barry Goldwater, or the presidencies of both Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. These individuals epitomized constitutional conservatism, and they displayed the proper respect that all politicians should have for our foundational values.
But, there is another person who personifies these traits as well, an individual who is often ignored in regards to our nation’s history just as much as he is forgotten amongst the majority of the political right.
Calvin Coolidge was a Republican lawyer from Vermont. His political career began when he rose through the rankings of Massachusetts state politics to become the governor of the state. Coolidge eventually moved away from state politics in favor of national politics. He was elected as the twenty-ninth Vice President of the United States, where he served alongside President Warren G. Harding from 1921 to 1923. In 1923, Warren G. Harding died unexpectedly while in office, and Coolidge was sworn in as the President for the remainder of the term. He was re-elected in the 1924 presidential election, and he served until 1929.
Calvin Coolidge’s tenure in office not only serves as an advancement for proper constitutional conservatism and classic economic theory, but it also represents how successful these ideologies can be when applied in policy. He spent a majority of his first term rejuvenating a sense of trust and sincerity in the executive branch that was depleted as a result of Warren G Harding’s tenure. In a way, he effectively “drained the swamp”, as he removed the corrupt members of the presidential cabinet and replaced them with men of credibility. In regards to legislation, he signed into law the Immigration Act, a bill designed to limit the seemingly uncontrollable levels of immigration that were occurring at the time. He also signed into law the Revenue Act of 1924, a bill that reduced the top marginal tax rates, as well as the overall levels of the personal income tax rates.
Coolidge’s second term in office can be described as an era of small government.
He spent a majority of his time trying to restore the concepts of federalism and constitutional authority. He cut down on unnecessary federal spending: Coolidge spent countless hours in his office going over the details of the budget, cutting anything unnecessary and unconstitutional. He limited the involvement of the federal government in regards to private businesses and state governments by appointing commissioners to the Federal Trade Commission and the Interstate Commerce Commission who would not try to abuse their powers and issue unscrupulous regulatory practices. He also reduced the overall federal debt by signing into law the Revenue Acts of 1926 and 1928. In fact, federal spending was so low during Coolidge’s tenure that about one-fourth of the federal debt was retired. The state and local governments grew at such a significant rate that their annual budget exceeded that of the federal government in 1927.
The economic policies imposed by Coolidge promoted laissez-faire ideals, which is why there was a significant level of economic growth during his administration. His reduction in the consumer income tax rates, as well as his reduction in the level of the government’s regulatory control allowed the consumers and private businesses to have a renewed sense of freedom. Coolidge continuously stayed dedicated to the notion that a free economy is the best economy. For example, he rejected the attempts of Congress to pass legislation that would impose subsidies for farmers. These bills would have basically given the government the power to purchase excess crops from farmers in order to sell at lower prices. Coolidge understood that these policies would degrade the process of natural selection in the economy by providing an unfair advantage for farmers, which would result in the depletion of quality and efficient crops for the American consumers. He also recognized that the policies would enhance the involvement of the federal government in the economy, which was something that actually needed to be prevented.
So, the question is, why should we care about a guy in a top hat from the 20’s? Calvin Coolidge was not the perfect president, nor was his administration free of flaws. But, he was a man that understood the true purpose of constitutional conservatism and classic economics, which is the advancement of our inalienable rights and civic freedoms. More so, he was able to successfully act upon these ideals, as his policies: reduced the size of the federal government, decreased the high levels of government spending, and imposed economic growth, and the American people loved him for it. When Coolidge announced that he would not seek reelection, his successor, Herbert Hoover, won election by promising to continue the policies of President Coolidge (unfortunately, Hoover lied). Calvin Coolidge was a man who is glossed over in American history today. His administration was one that should be given more credibility by historians, and it was one that should be commended by the members of the political right.