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July 7, 2010

The Wisdom of “Silent Cal”

Kevin E. Dayhoff

The Fourth of July has come and gone. The fireworks exclaimed its last hurrah along with the Ooos and Ahhhs. The remains of the day include a few partially eaten hot dogs, a half-bag of potato chips, and the sticky, syrupy goo that we can call Maryland’s heat and humidity that clung to your skin and followed you home.


The flag that flew proudly on the rickety pole attached to the front of the house like a patriotic necktie has been retired for the day.


For those who enjoy historical trivia, there may have been a mention that two of the framers of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, and his colleague in history, John Adams, both died on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the signing the famous document we celebrate every year.


In my household, there are two celebrations that take place every 4th of July. There is a celebration of the excitement that we live in, what remains a somewhat, a free country. We have a moment of reflection for those who have gone before us so that we may continue to fight for our freedoms and, of course, a celebration of “Silent Cal Day.”


Those of us who celebrate Silent Cal Day are part of a small, but enthusiastic lot, but our numbers are growing – perhaps you’ll join us in the future. He very well may be my favorite president.


On July 4, 1872, John Calvin Coolidge, Jr., our 30th president of the United States (1923-1929) was born in Plymouth Notch, Windsor County, VT. He is our only president to have been born on the Fourth of July.


Now I can only be sure that you share my excitement at this point in time, and you feel a profound increase in your dopamine levels. Please understand that this is a normal reaction known as the “Coolidge Effect.”


However, before you feel a subsequent effect on your limbic system, get a grip on yourself and read on about this great man.


It seems I share my excitement for President Coolidge with Gregory Kane of The Washington Examiner, who recently wrote:


“That would be my main man ‘Silent’ Cal Coolidge … one of the most underrated wits and sages ever to occupy the Oval Office. Of all our presidents, Coolidge is the one I enjoy hearing anecdotes about the most…”


The White House presidential history page gives us a primer in President Coolidge: “Coolidge was the son of a village storekeeper. He … entered law and politics in Northampton, Massachusetts. Slowly, methodically, he went up the political ladder from councilman in Northampton to Governor of Massachusetts, as a Republican. En route he became thoroughly conservative.”


Mr. Kane shares a number of Coolidgisms. “Coolidge was governor of Massachusetts before he became vice president under President Harding... One day a state senator came to him and complained that another senator had told him to ‘go to hell.’ Coolidge's response? ‘I've read the law carefully, senator, and you don't have to go.’


“Many people are no doubt familiar with Coolidge's well-deserved reputation for taciturnity and with the tale of the woman who said she had bet someone that she could get him to say more than two words. President Coolidge's response? ‘You lose.’”


How many politicians do you know who could learn from this wise quote? “I have never been hurt by what I have not said.”


The Bennington Banner, a Vermont newspaper, wrote last Monday, “The wisdom of Calvin Coolidge.”


The Banner observed, President Coolidge “has never been a favorite of modern historians, who seem to prefer more activist presidents. Nonetheless, he is quickly becoming popular among those who understand the roles large, powerful government and unwise economic policy play in restricting liberty.


President Coolidge, who “brought the traditional Vermont (and American) values of independence, hard work, and self-reliance to Washington … (once) said: ‘To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.’”


According to The Banner, President Coolidge’s father, a wise mayor, taught him (what the Maryland General Assembly has never learned,) “It is more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones...”


President Coolidge demonstrated, says The Banner, “a keen understanding of the connection between prosperity and liberty. He said: ‘Ultimately, property rights and personal rights are the same thing.’


“He cautioned … in his presidential inaugural address .... ‘The wise and correct course to follow in taxation and in all other economic legislation is not to destroy those who have already secured success, but to create conditions under which everyone will have a better chance to be successful.’”


The Banner also notes that “he recognized government’s obligation to fiscal responsibility. ‘I favor the policy of economy, not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people. The men and women of this country who toil are the ones who bear the cost of government. Every dollar that we carelessly waste means that their life will be so much more meager. Every dollar that we prudently save means their life will be so much more the abundant…’”


Mr. Kane shares that “Coolidge was also fond of the self-deprecating style of humor. About his presidency, Mr. Coolidge said, ‘I believe the American people want a solemn ass as president, and I believe I'll oblige them.’ When pressed by reporters to give a reason why he didn't run for re-election in 1928, he said that the job of president of the United States ‘had no room for advancement.’ ”


However, one of the wisest things Silent Cal ever said was: “Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery.”


Perhaps now you understand why it is appropriate to celebrate the birthday of this great president on Independence Day.


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