Calvin Coolidge: Humility at the Highest Office


Posted by Nathaniel Rome on Monday, August 3rd, 2015, 4:31 PM PERMALINK

Ninety-one years ago today in the small town of Plymouth Notch, Vermont, something remarkable was taking place. In the early hours of the morning, a man stood in silence, staring at a recently delivered letter. “This is serious, isn’t it?” he whispers. Shortly after, the man stood in a room lit only with a kerosene lamp, with his hand on his mother’s Bible, and repeated after his father: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States…"

And just like that, at 2:47am on August 3rd, 1923, Calvin Coolidge became the 30th president. Coolidge’s five and a half years as President would – like the story of his inauguration – be marked by humility and restraint.

The Coolidge administration was notably frugal and sought to reduce the size and scope of government. Whereas Harding was a yes man, Coolidge was just the opposite. Coolidge would issue more vetoes than all but 4 of his predecessors. He succeeded in cutting the size of government, not just slowing its growth. And he led by example, pushing for cutbacks within his own executive agencies. He once expressed dismay at the amount the federal government spent on pencils.

He did not just reduce spending; he reduced taxes commensurately. He slashed rates across-the board and simplified the code by cutting the number of rates in half. The top income rate plummeted from 70% to 28%. Coolidge made his support of tax relief clear when he said “Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery.”

His fiscal restraint and tax reductions lead to a booming economy and shrinking national debt. Coolidge, addressing the nation in the first film recording ever of a US President, said “I want the people of America to be able to work less for the government -- and more for themselves. I want them to have the rewards of their own industry. This is the chief meaning of freedom.”

President Coolidge believed that the Government should work for the people, not the other way around. He fought against spending any dollar that was not crucial and taxing any dollar that was not absolutely necessary. When asked who lives in the White House, President Coolidge famously answered “Nobody, they just come and go.”

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