On America’s Source of Power

President Coolidge receiving labor leaders at the White House, September 1, 1924.

President Coolidge receiving labor leaders at the White House, September 1, 1924.

Leader and founder of the American Federation of Labor, the great American Samuel Gompers, who also once said, "The worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit," 1908. Cited by Rothschild in Bionomics: Economy as Business Ecosystem. Washington, D.C.: BeardBooks, 1990, p. 115.

Leader and founder of the American Federation of Labor, the great American Mr. Samuel Gompers, who also once said, “The worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit,” 1908. Cited by Rothschild in Bionomics: Economy as Business Ecosystem. Washington, D.C.: BeardBooks, 1990, p. 115.

“The power to preserve America is in the same hands to-day that it was when the German army was almost at the gates of Paris. That power is with the people themselves; not one class, but all classes; not one occupation, but all occupations; not one citizen, but all citizens. During the past five years we have heard many false prophets. Some were honest, but unwise; some plain slackers; a very few were simply public enemies. Had their counsels prevailed, America would have been destroyed. In general they appealed to the lower impulses of the people, for in their ignorance they believed the most powerful motive of this Nation was a sodden selfishness. They said the war would never affect us; we should confine ourselves to making money. They argued for peace at any price. They opposed selective service. They sought to prevent sending soldiers to Europe. They advocated peace by negotiation. They were answered from beginning to end by the loyalty of the American workingmen and the wisdom of their leaders. That loyalty and that wisdom will not desert us now. The voices that would have lured us to destruction were unheeded. All counsels of selfishness were unheeded, and America responded with a spirit which united our people as never before to the call of duty.

     “Having accomplished this great task, having emerged from the war the strongest, the least burdened nation on earth, are we now to fail before our lesser task? Are we to turn aside from the path that has led to success? Who now will set selfishness above duty? The counsel that Samuel Gompers gave is still sound, when he said in effect, ‘America may not be perfect. It has the imperfections of all things human. But it is the best country on earth, and the man who will not work for it, who will not fight for it, and if need be die for it, is unworthy to live in it.’

     “Happily, the day when the call to fight or die is now past. But the day when it is the duty of all Americans to work will remain forever. Our great need now is for more of everything for everybody. It is not money that the nation or the world needs to-day, but the products of labor. These products are to be secured only by the united efforts of an entire people. The trained business man and the humblest workman must each contribute. All of us must work, and in that work there should be no interruption. There must be more food, more clothing, more shelter. The directors of industry must direct it more efficiently, the workers in industry must work in it more efficiently. Such a course saved us in war; only such a course can preserve us in peace. The power to preserve America, with all that it now means to the world, all the great hope that it holds for humanity, lies in the hands of the people. Talents and opportunity exist. Application only is uncertain. May Labor Day of 1919 declare with an increased emphasis the resolution of all Americans to work for America” — Governor Calvin Coolidge, speech at Plymouth, Massachusetts, September 1, 1919.

Those calling for the boycott of businesses like Burger King for an “unpatriotic” move out of America due to crushing government penalties are the same ones expecting the golden goose will keep right on laying despite an incessant effort to strangle it. It is by virtue of the few working to support the idle many that government grows while the individual’s power shrinks proportionately. On this Labor Day 2014, it is a reminder of the enduring necessity of an individual’s work, the effort expended by all Americans together, not a truly selfish system of incentivized indolence and rewarded dependence.

Half-length Portrait of President Calvin Coolidge

On the New Willard Hotel

A view of the Willard Hotel during the 1920s. Note the flag out front identifies that the President is staying there.

A view of the Willard Hotel during the 1920s. Note the flag out front identifies that the President is staying there.

“It had been our intention to take a house in Washington, but we found none to our liking. They were too small or too large. It was necessary for me to live within my income, which was little more than my salary and was charged with the cost of sending my boys to school. We therefore took two bedrooms with a dining room, and large reception room at the New Willard where we had every convenience” — Calvin Coolidge, writing of their arrival in Washington in the spring of 1921, The Autobiography, pp.157-8.

Known today as the Willard InterContinental, the hotel which the Coolidges called home from the spring of 1921 through much of August 1923, already enjoyed an illustrious reputation before their arrival. It would continue to function as a central location for several events throughout the Coolidge Era. It had been the host of every president since Franklin Pierce, who staged here before leaving for his inauguration in 1853. It was here that Pinkerton hid President-elect Lincoln, thwarting more than one assassination attempt in the weeks leading up to formal inauguration and subsequent history. Lincoln met leaders in the lobby and carried out business from his room, not unlike what the thirtieth President would do throughout August 1923. It was said that Grant, in his time, frequently sat down in the lobby to enjoy a cigar and drink. Established in 1816, the New Willard had many a story to be told. It would go on to make several occasions in history, such as the place where Martin Luther King composed his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial across from the Washington Monument. Yet, some of the hotel’s most dramatic moments happened during the stay of Calvin and Grace Coolidge. The best known of these is the fire that raged on the tenth floor, seven above the Coolidge’s rooms, on April 23, 1922. Incurring over $3.5 million in damage (by 2014 values), the danger was seen too late to avoid demolishing the ballroom on the top floor. Mistaken for the Vice President of the Hotel, Coolidge was first allowed to pass the fire marshal and begin to walk upstairs. Quickly confirming that Cal was the Vice President of the United States, he was kindly told to come back and wait from a safe distance, which he calmly did. The following day, he dispatched a gracious thank you to the officials who handled this unfortunate event so capably.

The ballroom on the top floor, after the fire, April 1922.

The ballroom on the top floor, after the fire, April 1922.

As the fire is put out, the Coolidges and some of their fellow guests watch from below. L to R: Miss J. Letley, A.H. Duerno, of Springfield Mass., O.H. Wigley of New York, Mrs. Coolidge and Vice President. Coolidge. Courtesy of Corbis Images.

As the fire is put out, the Coolidges and some of their fellow guests watch from below. L to R: Miss J. Letley, A.H. Duerno, of Springfield Mass., O.H. Wigley of New York, Mrs. Coolidge and Vice President. Coolidge. Courtesy of Corbis Images.

Another instance, kept from public knowledge for many years, concerned the new President and a burglar, who had sneaked into their room during the night on August 23, 1923. What happened, told by Coolidge to a reporter named Frank MacCarthy who relayed it confidentially years later to Richard C. Garvey, the editor of The Daily News, out of Springfield, Massachusetts, was finally published fifty years later in 1983. MacCarthy would die soon after Mrs. Coolidge in 1957, but not before writing the incident down and passing it on to Mr. Garvey. Garvey brought the incident to light to mark the memory of Coolidge’s passing and remembrance week that year. The account goes like this: Coolidge awoke to see a figure in the room, having climbed through the window, searching through the President’s clothes. Finding his wallet, a watch and a charm, it seemed the thief would obtain what he was seeking with ease. “I wish you wouldn’t take that,” Cal said regarding the charm. Startled, the intruder was told to read the inscription on the piece, “Presented to Calvin Coolidge, Speaker of the House, by the Massachusetts General Court.” “Are you President Coolidge?” the young man asked with astonishment. “Yes…if you want money, let’s talk this over,” the President said coolly. Discovering that the youngster was there to get money for a train fare so that he and his schoolmate could get back to college, the President opened his wallet and gave him a $32 loan, exactly enough to cover the fare. As Garvey recounts, Coolidge called it a loan so that the young man would not have obtained the money by theft. The young man later paid back the amount in full.

The Coolidges in their reception room at the Willard, August 4, 1923.

The Coolidges, in their reception room at the Willard, August 4, 1923. Courtesy of the Everett Collection.

The Coolidges look through some of the correspondence sent to them in recent days. Courtesy of Shorpy.

The Coolidges look through some of the many letters sent to them over the previous two days. Courtesy of Shorpy.

The final instance concerns another night visitor, this time a small bat which flew in through the open window one night, followed quickly by an owl. The bat was “herded” to the bathroom while the owl took up a perch on the mantel. There was no small excitement on the part of Mrs. Coolidge, whose stalwart hero, Cal, took care of their guests without much ado. It certainly brings an interesting element to the 1883 poem placed over their mantel back in Northampton, which read:

“A wise old owl lived in an oak
The more he saw the less he spoke
The less he spoke the more he heard.
Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird?”

On the Election Day Duties of Citizenship

President Coolidge filling out his own absentee ballot to vote in his hometown elections, 1924.

President Coolidge filling out his own absentee ballot to vote in his hometown elections, 1924.

“The right action of all of us is made up of the right action of each one of us. Unless each of us is determined to meet the duty that comes to us, we can have no right to expect that others will meet the duties that come to them. Certainly we cannot expect them so to act as to save us from the consequences of having failed to act. The immediate and pressing obligation for tomorrow is that each one of us who is qualified shall vote. That is a function which cannot be delegated, which cannot be postponed. The opportunity will never arise again. If the individual fails to discharge that obligation, the whole nation will suffer a loss from that neglect…

“If the time comes when our citizens fail to respond to their right and duty, individually and collectively, intelligently and effectively at the ballot box on election day, I do not know what form of government will be substituted for that which we at present have the opportunity to enjoy, but I do know it will no longer be a rule of the people, it will no longer be self government. The people of our country are sovereign. If they do not vote they abdicate that sovereignty, and they may be entirely sure that if they relinquish it other forces will seize it, and if they fail to govern themselves some other power will rise up to govern them. The choice is always before them, whether they will be slaves or whether they will be free. The only way to be free is to exercise actively and energetically the privileges, and discharge faithfully the duties which make freedom. It is not to be secured by passive resistance. It is the result of energy and action.

“To live up to the full measure of citizenship in this nation requires not only action, but it requires intelligent action. It is necessary to secure information and to acquire education. The background of our citizenship is the meeting house and the school house, the place of religious worship and the place of intellectual training. But we cannot abandon our education at the school house door. We have to keep it up through life. A political campaign can be justified only on the grounds that it enables the citizens to become informed as to what policies are best for themselves and for their country, in order that they may vote to elect those who from their past record and present professions they know will put such policies into effect. The purpose of a campaign is to send an intelligent and informed voter to the ballot box. All the speeches, all the literature, all the organization, all the effort, all the time and all the money, which are not finally registered on election day, are wasted.

“We are always confronted with the question of whether we wish to be ruled by all the people or a part of the people, by the minority or the majority; whether we wish our elections to be dominated by those who have been misled, through the presentation of half truths, into the formation of hasty, illogical and unsound conclusions; or whether we wish those to determine the course of our Government who have through due deliberation and careful consideration of all the factors involved reached a sound and mature conclusion. We shall always have with us an element of discontent, an element inspired with more zeal than knowledge. They will always be active and energetic, and they seldom fail to vote on election day. But the people at large in this country are not represented by them. They are greatly in the minority. But their number is large enough to be a decisive factor in many elections, unless it is offset by the sober second thought of the people who have something at stake, whether it be earnings from in vestment or from employment, who are considering not only their own welfare, but the welfare of their children and of coming generations. Our institutions never contemplated that the conduct of this country, the direction of its affairs, the adoption of its policies, the maintenance of its principles, should be decided by a minority moved in part by self-interest and prejudice. They were framed on the theory that decisions would be made by the great body of voters inspired by patriotic motives. Faith in the people does not mean faith in a part of the people. It means faith in all the people. Our country is always safe when decisions are made by a majority of those who are entitled to vote. It is always in peril when decisions are made by a minority…

“But the right to vote is conferred upon our citizens not only that they may exercise it for their own benefit, but in order that they may exercise it also for the benefit of others. Persons who have the right to vote are trustees for the benefit of their country and their countrymen. They have no right to say they do not care. They must care! They have no right to say that whatever the result of the election they can get along. They must remember that their country and their countrymen cannot get along, cannot remain sound, cannot preserve its institutions, cannot protect its citizens, cannot maintain its place in the world, unless those who have the right to vote do sustain and do guide the course of public affairs by the thoughtful exercise of that right on election day. They do not hold a mere privilege to be exercised or not, as passing fancy may move them. They are charged with a great trust, one of the most important and most solemn which can be given into the keeping of an American citizen. It should be discharged thoughtfully and seriously, in accordance with its vast importance.

I therefore urge upon all the voters of our country, without reference to party…that they approach the ballot box in the spirit that they would approach a sacrament, and there, disregarding all appeals to passion and prejudice, dedicating themselves truly and wholly to the welfare of their country, they make their choice of public officers solely in the light of their own conscience. When an election is so held, when a choice is so made, it results in the real rule of the people…” — President Calvin Coolidge, over radio hookup from the White House, November 3, 1924.

 

Presenting the Roosevelt Medal, June 2, 1924

The Roosevelt Memorial Association Medal, bronze by renowned sculptor James Earle Fraser, 1920.

The Roosevelt Memorial Association Medal, bronze by renowned sculptor James Earle Fraser, 1920.

Presenting that year’s foremost award of the Roosevelt Memorial Association, the ceremony began in the East Room of the White House. President Coolidge honored the three men chosen by their service in the areas of law, statesmanship and education who most exemplified the tenacious spirit and tireless sense of service embodied by the late Theodore Roosevelt. They were Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Harvard University’s President-Emeritus Charles W. Eliot, and elder statesman-diplomat Elihu Root. President Eliot, unable to attend, was represented by his friend, philanthropist and financier Jerome D. Greene.

The President first turned to Justice Holmes, saying, “In peace and in war, as a soldier and as a jurist, you have won the gratitude of a nation by your uniformly gracious and patriotic devotion of great talent to its service. One can but well feel very confident that President Roosevelt would have been peculiarly gratified to know that this distinction was to be conferred upon you. This medal will be to you as a testimony to the universal recognition of your great public contributions.”

Presenting the next medal to Mr. Greene, President Eliot’s representative, Coolidge reflected on the great educator’s work, “In making its selection the Committee of Awards has but vindicated the judgment that your countrymen everywhere would have pronounced, if as a body they could have been permitted to make this award. Yours has been a true and an especially impressive conception of the great business of living. Premier for many years among educational leaders, you have maintained standards in which in that field we cannot imagine the future will have reason to question or alter. You have been a guide in your time, and a prophet of our future.”

Turning at last to the final recipient of the award, the President spoke to Elihu Root, “Your career of public service has been among the longest, most noted and varied in our American public life. It has made you known as a scholar, lawyer, statesman and a patriot. You have made America more American and humanity more humane. You have made more secure the peace of nations, and more certain justice among men.”

For a man not given to effusive praise, these are high commendations indeed. Coolidge’s words reflect more than just a politician’s pursuit of favor, they rest upon sober observations of men and what makes for authentic greatness. For Coolidge, it rested eternally on the principle of service.

When the ceremony was done, the party stepped outside to mark the occasion with photographs. Here the gathered fills the White House steps as they descend to the President and the three exceptional Americans honored on that day.

When the ceremony was done, the party stepped outside to mark the occasion with photographs. Here they fill the White House steps as it descends to the President and the three exceptional Americans honored on that day. The late Teddy Roosevelt’s son, also a Theodore, stands second from left in the second row from the bottom.

On the First Great Communicator

Calvin Coolidge with PallophotophonePresident Coolidge Being Filmed  10635805_10201795485843742_4774895272329756774_n

Here is one of the earliest official uses of the pallophotophone, which recorded the voice for playing in conjunction with film, Vice President Coolidge on December 13, 1922. The second photo depicts then-President Coolidge being filmed for news reels. Together with his masterful use of the medium of radio, adept handling of the press, and potent talents as the last President to compose all of his own speeches, Coolidge is genuinely the first Great Communicator. It is readily apparent where a young teenager named “Dutch” in Dixon, Illinois, would derive profound inspiration in the years to come.

On Industriousness

Portrait of Calvin Coolidge

“It is a very old saying that you never can tell what you can do until you try. The more I see of life the more I am convinced of the wisdom of that observation. Surprisingly few men are lacking in capacity, but they fail because they are lacking in application. Either they never learn how to work, or, having learned, they are too indolent to apply themselves with the seriousness and the attention that is necessary to solve important problems. Any reward that is worth having only comes to the industrious. The success which is made in any walk of life is measured almost exactly by the amount of hard work that is put into it” — Calvin Coolidge (The Autobiography, p.171).

Father and son at Camp Devens, August 30, 1925

President Coolidge Saluting Soldier

Photographed here is a father returning the salute of his son, Corporal John Coolidge, at the Civilian Military Training Corps out of Camp Devens, Massachusetts. When asked about his eldest, and only remaining, son’s academic future in one of his weekly press conferences, the President responded with a characteristic mixture of fatherly protectiveness and unyielding self-effacement, the latter quality he expected of both his boys. “I have already suggested to the press that I didn’t regard his actions as necessarily to be reported in the press, but of course if the press wants to report them there is nothing I can do about it. I don’t object to it especially, but I don’t think it is particularly a good thing for the boy. I don’t think it is a particularly good thing for the other boys in the country. There isn’t the slightest foundation for the report that appeared the other day that he is going to West Point.

PRESS: Annapolis, Mr. President?

PRESIDENT: No, No. There was a report that made a categorical statement that he was going to West Point. That was followed in the course of two or three days by another that he was going to the Naval Academy. Either one of those could have been verified by simple inquiry at the office, if there was a desire to find out the truth. There was no foundation that I know of for either suggestion. He is going to Amherst College. I don’t think that that is a matter of enough public importance to justify any newspaper notice. He is doing the same as some hundreds of thousands of other young men that are going to take up their studies again when school opens” (The Talkative President, p.43).

Coolidge seems to have regretted his decision early in life not to have enlisted in the service during the brief war with Spain (letter to Colonel Coolidge on September 9, 1898, cited in Your Son, Calvin Coolidge, p.94). He would not allow his sons to rest on family name or privilege, however. Freedom, like responsibility, carries a price, Coolidge knew, and John would have the benefit he never had, receiving a basic military training, strengthening the young man’s sense of prepared citizenship. Still, it was not easy being John. To paraphrase President Coolidge, it costs a great deal to be a President’s family.