A cool president: what you might not know about Calvin Coolidge
By Elyse Turr
The 3rd of August marked the 90th anniversary of Calvin Coolidge swearing in as the 30th President of the Unites States following the sudden death of Warren G. Harding. Calvin Coolidge won re-election in 1924. In The Forgotten Presidents: Their Untold Constitutional Legacy, Michael Gerhardt uncovers the overlooked vestiges of his presidency, highlighting five interesting things you may not have known about Calvin Coolidge.
(1) He supported lower taxes and smaller government.
“[Calvin Coolidge] was the first President to champion the need for ‘lower taxes, less government, and more freedom.’ [Ronald] Reagan admired Coolidge because he, ‘cut taxes 4 times. We had probably the greatest growth and prosperity that we’ve ever known. [I have] taken head of that, because if he did nothing, maybe that’s the answer [for] the federal government.’”
“’The functions which the Congress are to discharge are not those of local government. The greatest solicitude should be exercised to prevent any encroachment upon the rights of the states or their various political subdivisions. Local self-government is one of the most precious possessions. It is the greatest contributing factor to the stability, strength, liberty, and the progress of the Nation.’”
(2) He spoke pointedly and understood the power of the press in spreading his words.
“Coolidge was the last President to write his own speeches and he deliberately kept them short. The average length of Coolidge’s sentences was 18 words — by comparison Lincoln’s average was 26.6 words and George Washington’s was 51.5.”
“In spite of his distaste for interacting with the press, he recognized the institutional advantage of a president’s using the press to bypass Congress and to speak directly to the American people. Hence, Coolidge held press conferences twice a week, regularly made off-the-record comments to the press, and generally tried to use the press to facilitate public awareness of — and support for — his administration. Indeed Coolidge was the first president to have his State of the Union broadcast nationally.”
(3) He fought corruption.
“Because he inherited Harding’s scandal-ridden administration, Coolidge became the first twentieth- century president to address the constitutional and political fallout from the misconduct of high-ranking, executive branch officials whom he had not appointed.”
“Coolidge became the first president who appointed special prosecutors to investigate a single scandal and allowed them to complete their mission with no interference at all on his part.”
(4) He enforced the power of the presidency.
“Coolidge’s strong exercises of his veto and pardon authorities belie his image as Silent Cal. The statistics along underscore how much he embraced these powers: He issued 1,545 pardons, the second most pardons (after Wilson) issued by a president before Franklin Roosevelt; and he cast fifty vetos, the fourth largest number cast by any president before Franklin Roosevelt and the most cast by any president, except for Teddy Roosevelt, from 1900-1933.”
(5) He regulated radio broadcast frequencies.
“Coolidge signed into law the nation’s first federal regulation of radio broadcasting. Initially commercial broadcasting was a small part of the industry, and the stations broadcasting often aired on overlapping frequencies. The industry lobbied the federal government for support, but it got none until Coolidge became president. As he declared, ‘This important public function has drafted into such chaos as seems likely, if not remedied, to destroy its great value.’ Coolidge signed the Radio Act into law in 1927. It declared the airwaves public property and therefore subject to federal control pursuant to Congress’s Commerce Clause power. Over the next few decades, the Radio Act erected a foundation for modern broadcast regulation.”
Elyse Turr joined Oxford University Press in May 2006. She is the marketing manager for Oxford’s esteemed History list.
Michael Gerhardt is Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. A nationally recognized authority on constitutional conflicts, he has testified in several Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and has published five books, including The Forgotten Presidents and The Power of Precedent.