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This 4th of July will mark 147 years since the birth of Calvin Coolidge. The reputation of our nation’s 30th president has undergone a quiet revolution in the past few decades: once described as the “puritan” in the “Babylon” of the 1920s, Coolidge has recently emerged as a favorite president among many conservatives.
His popularity today owes a good deal to Amity Shlaes, whose 2013 biography of Coolidge seemed almost singlehandedly to resurrect his reputation. But Coolidge has been the subject of several other recent works, in addition to several very good existing studies of his life and career.
Coolidge - Press - Reputation - Cal - Characterizations
Despite all of Coolidge’s good press, the reputation of “Silent Cal” has been subjected to distorted characterizations and sometimes outright falsehoods. Some are merely casual errors, such as the assertion in George Will’s newest book that Coolidge translated Dante as a wedding present for his wife (the evidence indicates merely that Coolidge was reading Dante around the time of his marriage), while others are more damaging to Coolidge’s reputation. A common college history textbook, for example, asserts that Coolidge stated that “wealth is the chief end of man” (which he never said).
In light of such ongoing confusion about Coolidge and in honor of his birthday, this article addresses four of the biggest myths about his life, ideas, and presidency.
Myth - Coolidge - Mute - Lifetime - Coolidge
The myth of Coolidge as a nearly mute politician emerged during his lifetime. While Coolidge was likely an introvert by personality, his reputation as a say-nothing president couldn’t be more off.
The truth is that Coolidge cultivated the habit of silence in the presence of strangers. He explained his reason for intentional silence in his autobiography. Coolidge’s political mentor, Murray Crane, confirmed for him what he already suspected: maintaining a prudent silence “avoids creating a situation where one would otherwise not exist.” Why stir up trouble...
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