During these days of transition in government, temperance in expectations is a wise policy based on experience. Calvin Coolidge said, “It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know he is not a great man.” The Yankee farmer was frugal with words, but they were not cheap. No fawning reporters claimed that his sober speeches sent a tingle up their legs. Magazines did not hail him as “The Second Coming,” and he would have thought it absurd to promise that his presidency was “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Thus, he did not disappoint.
In his own instance, Coolidge’s competence was as great as his humility. True to his dictum that “One of the greatest favors that can be bestowed upon the American people is economy in government,” the nation during his administration enjoyed unprecedented prosperity, decreased income tax (he thought that the national average income tax of $300 was outrageous), a federal budget surplus, unemployment down to 3 per cent, a decline in racial strife, and a boom in technological patents and progress.
Coolidge became president at the unexpected death of Warren G. Harding, who thought of himself as a significant orator. But that splendid curmudgeon, H.L. Mencken, said of Harding’s rhetoric: “It reminds me of a string of wet sponges, it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it.”
On the other hand, Coolidge spoke very well indeed. He was the last president to write his own speeches. Though the media caricatured him as “Silent Cal,” he gave more press conferences than any president before or since.
On the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Coolidge said that equality, liberty, popular sovereignty and the rights of man “belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish.”
Our nation has been given a remarkable chance, through all its government branches, to set what is right, and to fix what is wrong. The prayer of our nation’s first bishop, John Carroll, in 1791 is offered again in this new year:
“We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality.”