30. Calvin Coolidge: Does anyone really know who Calvin Coolidge was? He was a very smart man. He could keep his mouth shut. People liked to tell him secrets. He had been a lawyer for Massachusetts banks and large companies. Calvin Coolidge knew how to keep things out of court and therefore out of the public eye. He was like a magic man–a super effective guy who rarely said anything and always seemed to be terminally sad.
Coolidge’s roots in America are some of the deepest of any US President in history. His ancient relative, John Coolidge, had left England in 1630 to settle in Watertown, Massachusetts. In 1638 his mother’s side of the family arrived in Watertown. The family resume really is a sight to behold. King Philip’s War generals, Revolutionary War Generals. The War of 1812. First selectmen. The first congressman from Massachusetts in the 1789 election. On and on and on, all of them getting higher and higher in the political hierarchy until Calvin became vice-president, and finally president when his predecessor unexpectedly died.
Calvin Coolidge was a terrible president, but it wasn’t entirely his fault. Warren G. Harding had left an unkempt mess and the fussy Coolidge spent years trying to clean it all up. And then the economy collapsed. There was nothing he could do to save his reputation, even if he had devised an economic plan to pull America out of The Great Depression (he did not). These were the early days of Hitler in Germany, of Mussolini and Franco. Of Joseph Stalin, and every other monster from years gone by that made World War II such a horrorshow. Coolidge didn’t like any of them. He thought they were all dangerous lunatics. But he had bigger concerns than the fate of the world at that time. How can we keep America from going broke?
The stock market crash occurred at the end of his second term, the one he was elected into. Coolidge had mismanaged everything. Calvin Coolidge made mistakes. He was wrong. And although he would never admit it, even he knew that decisions he had made while violent revolutions were erupting all around the world, and technology was growing increasingly deadly, most of the ideas he but forward on how to rescue America were mistakes. Calvin Coolidge was wrong about everything. He did not understand America.
Coolidge is considered in the bottom rung of Presidents, although not in that rarefied level of the absolute worst. He was a boring guy and I guess America needed that after the generation of scandals they had all grown up in.
The literature on Coolidge is slim. The only notable books are the very silly The Legend of Calvin Coolidge by Cameron Rodgers, which is a mythic interpretation of the nothing Coolidge accomplished, and Robert Sobel’s Coolidge: An American Enigma (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9780895264107&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used), which is the only worthwhile book I could find. The remainder are either very boring presidential history series additions, or children’s books and novels that came out while Coolidge was in office to instill patriotic citizenship in the generation that wound up fighting in World War II.
Calvin Coolidge was quiet. He was very serious. Intense. He followed the straight and narrow. Coolidge wasn’t interested in drama.
And no one was to be able to tell what he actually believed, even after all these years.