Historians have trivialized Calvin Coolidge as a do-nothing President nave enough to believe that “the business of America is business,” and many have rated him as one of the worst of all time. However, he produced remarkable results without sacrificing our freedoms. And given that he was born on the 4th of July, there is no better time than our Independence Day to remember him.
Under Coolidge, the top income tax rate of 65% under Wilson was eventually cut to 20%. The stock market began its unprecedented “roaring 20s” climb as it became clear through 1924 that Coolidge’s tax reduction bill would pass.
In both his first and last year in office, federal receipts were $3.8 billion and expenditures were $3.1 billion, and in between, he cut the national debt from $22.3 billion to $16.9 billion.
His policies took more than a million people off the income tax rolls, and 98% of Americans paid no income tax at the end of his term. As a result, America prospered under Coolidge. Real economic growth averaged 7% per year while he was in office (the highest growth on record), while inflation averaged only 0.4%. Investment, manufacturing output, and disposable income rose dramatically, and unemployment averaged 3.3%.
That remarkable record explains why, after Coolidge outpolled his Democratic opponent by nearly 2 to 1 in 1924, he would have won in another landslide if he had run again in 1928.
But unfortunately for America, he did not. So why is there such a disconnect between Coolidge’s success and his reputation? In large part, it is because he advocated individualism, as clearly spelled out in his speeches (which he composed himself), and the newspaper column he wrote after leaving the Presidency.
But while that seems appropriate for someone born on the Fourth of July, it is so distant from the modern mindset that many now cannot understand why someone who, as Senator, Governor, Vice-President, and President viewed government intervention in broad areas of life as a problem rather than a panacea.
Further, people have attributed to Coolidge the origins of the Great Depression under Herbert Hoover, his Vice-President. But they have not done so because of any evidence that his policies were responsible.
Along with monetary policy blunders, the Great Depression was triggered by Hoover’s abandonment of Coolidge’s policies, in favor of disasters ranging from erecting monumental trade barriers to sharply raising tax rates.
Never was this divide between the policies of the two made clearer than when Coolidge said of Hoover: “That man has offered me unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad.”
Calvin Coolidge may have been called “Silent Cal,” but his record brags for him, if people would bother to look honestly. Further, he closely reflected our founders’ insight in what he wrote and said, which we would truly profit from, given how far we have deviated from those ideas in modern America.