If you’re into biographies, one well worth your time is Coolidge, written by Amity Shlaes.
Shlaes, who also wrote another must-read titled The Forgotten Man, might be the best of the conservative historians focusing on the first decades of 20th Century America. She came away from her research with the belief that the socialist policies of the Woodrow Wilsons and FDR’s of the world, from which the modern welfare and regulatory states arrived to put the country on the path to economic destruction, were what turned a bad recession from 1929-1932 into the Great Depression.
But in between Wilson, who gave us not just war (after winning re-election on the boast he’d kept America out of World War I) but War Socialism, complete with political prisoners and thugs in the streets to beat political dissidents, and FDR’s Bolshevik-inspired New Deal was Calvin Coolidge – the antithesis of the modern politician. Coolidge actually shrank the federal government in his six years in office. He didn’t reduce the size of growth in government – he reduced the size of government itself. And Coolidge fiercely resisted involving the office of the presidency in daily American life – he kept the space for civil society clear for civil society to take place.
And as a result, Coolidge begat the Roaring 20’s, perhaps the single most dynamic decade of American growth – technological, cultural, economic – in the nation’s history. The space he opened, and kept open, was filled by inventors, entrepreneurs, artists, engineers, writers, philosophers and others. America in 1929 before the stock market crash was nearly unrecognizable from America in 1919.
Coolidge occupied the White House from 1923, when he ascended to the presidency from the vice-presidential chair after his 1920 running mate Warren G. Harding died, until January of 1929. He could have run for re-election in 1928 but refused of his own volition.
America badly needs another Calvin Coolidge. Our political culture, shaped as it has been by the Wilsons and FDR’s and not, unfortunately, the Coolidges, does not make for fertile territory to reap another like him.
Shlaes offers a video tribute to Coolidge in this installment of Prager University.