On the Giving of Thanks

“The season approaches when, in accordance with a long established and respected custom, a day is set apart to give thanks to Almighty God for the manifold blessings which His gracious and benevolent providence has bestowed upon us as a nation and as individuals.

“We have been brought with safety and honor through another year, and, through the generosity of nature, He has blessed us with resources whose potentiality in wealth is almost incalculable; we are at peace at home and abroad; the public health is good; we have been undisturbed by pestilences or great catastrophes; our harvests and our industries have been rich in productivity; our commerce spreads over the whole world, and Labor has been well rewarded for its remunerative service.

“As we have grown and prospered in material things, so also should we progress in moral and spiritual things. We are a God-fearing people who should set ourselves against evil and strive for righteousness in living, and observing the Golden Rule we should from our abundance help and serve those less fortunately placed. We should bow in gratitude to God for His many favors.

“Now, therefore, I, Calvin Coolidge, President of the United States do hereby set apart Thursday, the twenty-sixth day of November next as a day of general thanksgiving and prayer, and I recommend that on that day the people shall cease from their daily work, and in their homes or in their accustomed places of worship, devoutly give thanks to the Almighty for the many and great blessings they have received, and to seek His guidance that they may deserve a continuance of His favor.

“In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

“Done at the City of Washington this 26th day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and twenty-five, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and fiftieth.”

Coolidge SignatureSeal of United States 1925

By the President:

      Frank B. Kellogg, Secretary of State

A Review of Horace Green’s “The Life of Calvin Coolidge”


Horace Green’s fast-paced and even incisive perspective on Mr. Coolidge has a welcome review over at The Best Presidential Biographies. Though, as our friend notes, the book was written early in the Coolidge administration, before it had been properly tested, Green’s take lacks neither the incoherence nor the datedness that sometimes accompanies old biographies. It lacks none of the clarity or snap of any good writer’s work. It is unfortunate that the book is so difficult to find because it deserves a far better place in public consciousness not only as an honorable part of understanding Coolidge but also as good reading. It is unfortunate that Mr. Green never went back and expanded on this work after the completion of the Coolidge Era. Check out our friend’s review here.

Calvin Cooldge

“Glinda” visits the Coolidges, November 10, 1927


As the White House Historical Association features the Coolidges this year, they recall for us the day great stage and silent film actress, Billie Burke, came to visit President and Mrs. Coolidge at the White House. Here she is, pausing for a picture on the White House grounds. Having seen her wonderful performance the previous night at the National Theatre in Noel Coward’s comedic play, “The Marquise” (based in eighteenth century France) she arrived to thank them for being there and to wish them well. A Washington D. C. native, she was keenly aware of both worlds, political and cultural. She is, of course, best known for her role twelve years later as “Glinda the Good Witch” in The Wizard of Oz. This small occasion encourages us to widen our gaze and understand how with the Coolidges there is more than initially meets the eye.

Billie Burke 1940

A Review of Robert A. Woods’ “The Preparation of Calvin Coolidge”

Prep of CC Woods

Our friend over at The Best Presidential Biographies has offered his review of Robert A. Woods’ campaign biography of Calvin Coolidge. It is refreshing not only that fascinating contributions in the Coolidge corpus are being reviewed once more but also that the reviewer is reminding us of a work that treats its subject with respect and candid appreciation. This is noteworthy because so many biographies approach their subject with an ingrained hostility as if to say to the world this is someone I want you to dislike and despise rather than learn from and admire. It is enjoyable, for all its limitations, that the late Mr. Woods’ book approached Coolidge with this frank appraisal. It is an approach that would glean much more from Coolidge than he has undeservedly received in ninety years. Mr. Woods’ point, that Coolidge’s level of preparation before entering the office of President was exceptional and set him apart from most, though we agree, not all our Presidential leaders, has merit. He was immensely trained to take up the office and reminds us, in many ways, of the virtues of being ready to serve the nation. The current candidates for the Presidency would do well to examine this book.

Coolidge in Dorothy M. Brown’s “Mabel Walker Willebrandt: A Study of Power, Loyalty, and Law”

Willebrandt cover 001

Dr. Dorothy M. Brown, alumna of Notre Dame and former Provost and Professor of History at Georgetown until 2002, has made an impact not only in Catholic higher education for nearly forty years but in the historiography of the 1920s. Dr. Brown has written three books relating to her specialty in the Progressive Era: Mabel Walker Willebrandt being her first work, published in 1984. Three years later she completed American Women in the 1920s: Setting a Course and in 2000, collaborated on The Poor Belong To Us: Catholic Charities and American Welfare.

Willebrandt oath of office

Coolidge, in this fascinating and definitive biography of Willebrandt, makes a regular appearance, since Mrs. Willebrandt served as Assistant Attorney General, in charge of Prohibition enforcement, during both the Harding and Coolidge years. Born in 1889 on the Kansas prairie, she would remain a Westerner in heart and outlook all her life, even through the trying and dreary years in Washington. Her loyalty, meticulous nature, and determination had great influence on the policy of these administrations and are all brought forward in this fascinating biography. It is quickly realized what an incredible life she lived. Her accomplishments in so many areas of the law and in public service are all the more impressive considering her hearing disability and other obstacles.


It is all the more noteworthy that she was the highest ranking woman in the administration long before it was politically fashionable to name women to important federal posts. Coolidge stood by her even with the collapse of the Harding tenure, and through the upheaval, controversy, and transition under three more Attorneys General. She was ever the faithful and tenacious public servant, helping clean up the Justice Department with Harlan Stone and then to help the work return to proper proportions under John Sargent. It was out of Coolidge’s careful study of issues in the fall of 1923 that he came to collaborate so effectively with Willebrandt. This political partnership ensured the prison reforms she identified, and proposed by President Coolidge, saw completion, shepherding the separate reformatory systems for women at Alderson, young men serving their first sentence at Chillicothe, and the earning program for prisoners at the shoe factory in Leavenworth.

Mabel Willebrandt in office

Her progressive politics never lured her away from the Republican Party and she would be one of the most steadfast supporters of Robert A. Taft through the dark days of the 1940s until his final effort ended unsuccessfully in 1952. Even her sympathies for the Progressive candidate in 1924 did not lessen her respect for Coolidge’s integrity and strength of purpose. Nor did it compromise Coolidge’s backing. He defended her even with her efforts to keep the discordant U.S. District Attorneys on task, enforcing Prohibition. While Dr. Brown subscribes to the opinion that Attorney General Stone was “kicked upstairs” to the Supreme Court, we know that Coolidge would not have selected Stone with so self-serving or flippant a reason. Coolidge had nothing to hide and knew Stone was doing exactly what he needed to do after the previous administration had wrought so much harm to law enforcement. While Coolidge never disclosed what he thought of his one Supreme Court nominee in later years, he retained Stone’s regard and friendship. For all that Stone would become, it can be said that he lived up to Coolidge’s intention that judges see above the heads of the parties and decide independently of the particular interests involved. The facts and the law were not to be secondary before predetermined sympathies for one side or the other. It is likely that Willebrandt, who held the highest admiration for Justices Holmes and Stone, would have been the same kind of judge.

Willebrandt’s lifelong desire to become a federal judge never happened, even after the numerous occasions afforded during the Coolidge and Hoover administrations. The patronage rivalry between California’s two U.S. Senators was too unyielding to ever “close the deal” for Willebrandt. Neither was willing to budge on their power to select candidates. We again must respectfully disagree with Dr. Brown that Coolidge was hesitant to name a woman to the bench out of some kind of political chauvinism, for he was the first to name a woman to the federal courts: Genevieve Cline to Customs. His hesitancy had to come from other reasons, foremost being his general commitment to keeping good subordinates in the jobs they do best. He understand it was people like Mabel Willebrandt who were the real reason things got done in any department. Willebrandt’s relationship with Hoover is much less harmonious. After virtually sacrificing herself during the 1928 campaign on his behalf, she never received the kind of appreciative acknowledgment either personally or professionally from him. Even years later, in her last plea that Hoover exercise his influence on Truman to name her to the bench, it seems he did nothing. Of course, the politics at the time were particularly volatile for Truman but her last attempt met with defeat.

Willebrandt and the Mayer family meeting President Coolidge at the White House, February 3, 1927.

Willebrandt (far right) and the Mayer family meeting President Coolidge at the White House, February 3, 1927.

Following her resignation from Hoover’s Justice Department, Willebrandt’s legacy as a superlative advocate at the bar is recounted over the course of some thirty years. She would be instrumental in the development of the California grape and wine industries, an irony not lost on her who had been the #1 enforcement officer of Prohibition. She virtually defined both aviation and radio law in their early development. Her pivotal role as the legal counsel in Hollywood aided many of the names we now know as legends, from Louis B. Mayer to Frank Capra to Clark Gable to many others. Willebrandt would leave her mark everywhere she went. Defending Hollywood from wholesale charges of complicity with Communism, she also substantiated the real threats discovered by Senator McCarthy and defended him when few were brave enough to do so publicly.


Her closing years, full of her legal and political work, continued into the 1960s. She never trusted Nixon and found him to be a dangerous prospect for the White House in 1960 as well as the California Governor’s mansion in 1962. Ultimately exhausted by her work, she finally hung up her law practice and stepped into a reluctant retirement which even her lifelong rebelliousness found odious. She died of lung cancer on April 6, 1963, just short of her 74th birthday. She, like Coolidge friend Frank W. Stearns, would come to Catholicism during the 1930s after a faith that started from childhood, passed through Christian Science but never abandoned her favorite passage, II Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and sound mind.” Dr. Brown has accomplished a great task in retelling her life, especially when she steps out of the limelight upon leaving government service in 1931. To reapply a phrase from her friend Frank Capra, she really had a wonderful life. With all her triumphs and also failures, she remains one from which to learn and with qualities to admire even now.


On Keeping Out of the Cross-Currents

So many politicians, including candidates for President, often find their campaigns bogged down and themselves distracted by political peripherals — those inconsequential matters that neither warrant comment nor merit involvement. Consequently, they find the national debate of issues neglected and the interests of the nation not served. Instead, they should learn from Calvin Coolidge, who demonstrated the focus on what is essential in public service and in a vibrant and ongoing discussion of the principles and policies that nourish a sound, constitutional government.

On Armistice Day

Washington Auditorium, 1926, two years before Coolidge's speech marking the tenth anniversary of the Armistice.

Washington Auditorium, 1926, two years before Coolidge’s speech marking the tenth anniversary of the Armistice.

“Every dictate of humanity constantly cries aloud that we do not want any more war. We ought to take every precaution and make every honorable sacrifice, however great, to prevent it. Still, the first law of progress requires the world to face facts, and it is equally plain that reason and conscience are as yet by no means supreme in human affairs. The inherited instinct of selfishness is very far from being eliminated; the forces of evil are exceedingly powerful.

“The eternal questions before the nations are how to prevent war and how to defend themselves if it comes. There are those who see no answer, except military preparation. But this remedy has never proved sufficient. We do not know of any nation which has ever been able to provide arms enough so as always to be at peace. Fifteen years ago the most thoroughly equipped people of Europe were Germany and France. We saw what happened. While Rome maintained a general peace for many generations, it was not without a running conflict on the borders which finally engulfed the empire. But there is a wide distinction between absolute prevention and frequent recurrence, and peace is of little value if it is constantly accompanied by the threatened or the actual violation of national rights.

“If the European countries had neglected their defenses, it is probable that war would have come much sooner. All human experience seems to demonstrate that a country which makes reasonable preparation for defense is less likely to be subject to a hostile attack and less likely to suffer a violation of its rights which might lead to war. This is the prevailing attitude of the United States and one which I believe should constantly determine its actions. To be ready for defense is not to be guilty of aggression. We can have military preparation without assuming a military spirit. It is our duty to ourselves and to the cause of civilization, to the preservation of domestic tranquility, to our orderly and lawful relations with foreign people, to maintain an adequate Army and Navy…

“So long as promises can be broken and treaties can be violated we can have no positive assurances, yet every one knows they are additional safeguards. We can only say that this is the best that mortal man can do. It is beside the mark to argue that we should not put faith in it. The whole scheme of human society, the whole progress of civilization, requires that we should have faith in men and in nations. There is no other positive power on which we could rely. All the values that have ever been created, all the progress that has ever been made, declared that our faith is justified.

“For the cause of peace the United States is adopting the only practical principles that have even been proposed, of preparation, limitation, and renunciation. The progress that the world has made in this direction in the last 10 years surpasses all the progress ever before made…

“We have heard an impressive amount of discussion concerning our duty to Europe. Our own people have supplied considerable quantities of it. Europe itself has expressed very definite ideas on this subject. We do have such duties. We have acknowledged them and tried to meet them. They are not all on one side, however. They are mutual. We have sometimes been reproached for lecturing Europe, but probably ours are not the only people who sometimes engage in gratuitous criticism and advice. We have also been charge with pursuing a policy of isolation. We are not the only people, either, who desire to give their attention to their own affairs. It is quite evident that both of these claims can not be true. I think no informed person at home or abroad would blame us for not intervening in affairs which are peculiarly the concern of others to adjust, or when we are asked for help for stating clearly the terms on which we are willing to respond..

“For the United States not to wish Europe to prosper would be not only a selfish, but an entirely unenlightened view. We want the investment of life and money which we have made there to be to their benefit. We should like to have our Government debts all settled, although it is probable that we could better afford to lose them than our debtors could afford not to pay them. Divergent standards of living among nations involve many difficult problems. We intend to preserve our high standards of living and we should like to see all other countries on the same level. With a whole-hearted acceptance of republican institutions, with the opening of opportunity to individual initiative, they are certain to make much progress in that direction.

“It is always plain that Europe and the United States are lacking in mutual understanding. We are prone to think they can do as we can do. We are not interested in their age-old animosities, we have not suffered from centuries of violent hostilities. We do not see how difficult it is for them to displace distrust in each other with faith in each other. On the other hand, they appear to think that we are going to do exactly what they would do if they had our chance. If they would give a little more attention to our history and judge us a little more closely by our own record, and especially find out in what directions we believe our real interests to lie, much which they now appear to find obscure would be quite apparent.

“We want peace not only for the same reason that every other nation wants it, because we believe it to be right, but because war would interfere with our progress. Our interests all over the earth are such that a conflict anywhere would be enormously to our disadvantage. If we had not been in the World War, in spite of some profit we made in exports, whichever side had won, in the end our losses would have been great. We are against aggression and imperialism not only because we believe in local self-government, but because we do not want more territory inhabited by foreign people. Our exclusion of immigration should make that plain. Our outlying possessions, with the exception of the Panama Canal Zone, are not a help to us, but a hindrance. We hold them, not as a profit, but as a duty. We want limitation of armaments for the welfare of humanity. We are not merely seeking our own advantage in this, as we do not need it, or attempting to avoid expense, as we can bear it better than anyone else.

“If we could secure a more complete reciprocity in good will, the final liquidation of the balance of our foreign debts, and such further limitation of armaments as would be commensurate with the treaty renouncing war, our confidence in the effectiveness of any additional efforts on our part to assist in further progress of Europe would be greatly increased.

“As we contemplate the past ten years, there is every reason to be encouraged. It has been a period in which human freedom has been greatly extended, in which the right of self-government has come to be more widely recognized. Strong foundations have been laid for the support of these principles. We should by no means be discouraged because practice lags behind principle. We make progress slowly and over a course which can tolerate no open spaces. It is a long distance from a world that walks by force to a world that walks by faith. The United States has been so placed that it could advance with little interruption along the road of freedom and faith.

“It is befitting that we should pursue our course without exultation, with due humility, and with due gratitude for the important contributions of the more ancient nations which have helped to make possible our present progress and our future hope. The gravest responsibilities that can come to a people in this world have come to us. We must not fail to meet them in accordance with the requirements of conscience and righteousness” — Calvin Coolidge, Excerpt of Address at the Observance of Tenth Anniversary of the Armistice, hosted by the American Legion at the Washington Auditorium in Washington, D. C., 9PM, November 11, 1928.

Thank you to all who have worn the uniform and borne sacrifices in America’s defense of peace!

President Coolidge placing the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, November 11, 1927.

President Coolidge placing the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, November 11, 1927.