In every history or civics class, the same general characters are often used to describe the heroism of freedom that brought forth the America of today. There are, of course, the forefathers: Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Washington, and the like. Great thinkers such as Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek, and Adam Smith may occaissionaly be mentioned in an economics class, though their respective contributions are invaluable. But rarely is any time spent discussing perhaps one of the most underrated presidents in our nation’s history. This might be because he is remembered by most for the things he didn’t say rather than the things he did; however, there is no doubt one of the greatest forefathers of free-market thinking in American history is our 30th President Calvin Coolidge.
Born on July 4th (the only president to claim this birthdate), “Silent Cal” was already off to a good start. His calm, calculated demeanor earned him this nickname early in his political career. Ironically, Coolidge loved studying famous speakers and learning languages. He was an avid reader of Cicero in his high school years and especially gifted in Italian and French. One foreign diplomat gibbed that Coolidge could be quiet in five languages. His seemingly contradictory nature of wordsmithing and introvert was no doubt a great asset in his political pursuits. For when Coolidge did speak, people listened.
For example, if you think the rise of Progressivism is a modern creation, Coolidge was battling its ideals all the way back in 1926. In one of his speeches, he turned Progressivism on its head by arguing with precision and eloquence that Progressivism was actually nothing of the sort. Since the ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence are final ends (such as inalienable rights, equality for all, the origination of government’s power, etc.), the only direction to go from them is backwards. The progress has already been made and agreed upon, it must now be upheld and defended.
Coolidge set out to defend his Conservative paradigm with three simple goals for his presidency: cut spending, lower taxes, reduce regulation. It doesn’t get a whole lot more conservative than that. The product of these statutes resulted in what we now call the “Roaring Twenties,” where the stock market saw unprecedented highs and the middle class was booming. Federal spending was reduced by 43 percent, the highest tax bracket fell 49 percent over 8 years, and the national debt was reduced by $8 billion, which is around $150 billion today. While the crash of ‘29 gives some cause to speculate about the effectiveness of these maneuvers, there is no doubt that a build up of policies from previous administrations and the freshness of Wall Street were significant factors.
For Coolidge, his personality mirrored his politics in the wise, refined, and people-first manner that seems to be a lost art in the Washington of today. As he once famously said, “I have noticed that nothing I never said ever did me any harm.” This mindset coupled with his dedication to individual responsibility, property rights, and combating Progressivism during its inception make Coolidge a true icon for free-market economics. Perhaps the administration of the present and those of the future should take heed of the words said and unsaid from one of the greatest champions of not only free markets, but freedom as a whole.