Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Coolidge's Lasting Contributions

Calvin Coolidge accomplished feats which proved to strengthen the United States long after he left office. In matters of domestic policy, his victories were in the matter of race relations and in the matter of carefully managing the money which belonged to the citizens; in matters of foreign policy, he eased tensions among the nations by means of the Dawes Plan and the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

Long before occupying the White House, Coolidge was an acknowledged expert at fiscal policy. He was resourceful at finding ways to reduce government spending. Historian Amity Shlaes writes:

It was as president that Coolidge's saving proved so exceptional. Coolidge hacked away at the federal budget with a discipline tragically missing in his well-intentioned predecessor, Warren G. Harding. Coolidge vetoed fifty bills and turned down new spending, even for projects such as farm subsidies and construction of rural roads that would have immensely benefitted the region from which he hailed.

By foregoing the short-term gains which might arise from federal funds for agriculture or road-building, Coolidge made possible larger and longer-term gains which were reaped when these sectors were allowed to grow organically. Likewise, the growth of electrification under Coolidge was greater precisely because he did not enact something like the Rural Electrification Act. While many citizens obtained electrification under Coolidge between late 1923 and early 1929, relatively few people gained electrification after March 1933, despite Congress's approval of Roosevelt's Rural Electrification bill.

Coolidge was constantly working to reduce the nation's debt. The result was that taxpayer dollars were not being used to pay interest. Coolidge understood that having a debt reduced the nation's productivity, and that paying interest was a waste of money. During Coolidge's administration, unemployment was low and went lower.

Between August 1923 and March 1929, the economy encouraged invention and growth. Inventors found opportunities to bring new technologies to market. Average citizens were able to obtain these new goods and the standard of living increased for Americans of all classes.

Coolidge served for sixty-seven months, finishing out Harding's term after Harding died in early August 1923 and remaining until March 1929. Under Coolidge, the federal debt fell. Under Coolidge, the federal budget was always in surplus. Under Coolidge, unemployment was 5 percent or even 3 percent. Under Coolidge, Americans wired their homes for electricity and bought their first cars or household appliances on credit. Under Coolidge, the economy grew strongly, even as the federal government shrank. Under Coolidge, the rates of patent applications and patents granted increased dynamically. Under Coolidge, there came no federal antilynching law, but lynchings themselves became less frequent and Ku Klux Klan membership dropped by millions. Under Coolidge, a man from a town without a railroad station, Americans moved from the road into the air.

Perhaps Coolidge's one regret was Congress's refusal to pass the antilynching bills which he encouraged. He worked around this partisan opposition by finding other ways to advance African-American civil rights. He was the first incumbent president to give a commencement address at a historically Black college when he spoke at Howard University in 1924.

In sharp contrast to Woodrow Wilson, who was an enthusiastic supporter of the KKK, Coolidge made fun of the Klan, and was clear in his speeches that would support the right of African-Americans to vote, even as he supported their other civil rights.