On “Alanson B. Houghton: Ambassador of the New Era” by Jeffrey J. Matthews

Houghton Book Cover

Eleven years ago Dr. Jeffrey J. Matthews, currently Professor of Business and Leadership at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, launched out on the first of what have since become three fascinating books on leadership. His first work, published in 2003, ventured into previously untraversed territory with a biographical study of Alanson B. Houghton, America’s foremost ambassador during the Harding and Coolidge Era. Up to that time, there had never been an attempt so focused on reacquainting Americans not only with Ambassador Houghton but with his perspective on the “conservative internationalism” of the 1920s. Harding appointed him America’s first post-War envoy to Germany, Coolidge promoted him to the preeminent diplomatic post in Great Britain, and Hoover, whose disdain for Houghton was no secret, let him retire to anonymity after seeing him lose his race for U.S. Senator from New York.


Dr. Matthews, making diligent use of Houghton’s papers and never-published diary, reveals more than the competent entrepreneur of Corning Glass Works but also the dedicated public servant and conscientious critic who exercised pivotal influence on every major foreign policy accomplishment of that most active of decades. The Washington Disarmament Conference, the Ruhr Crisis, the Dawes Plan, the Locarno Treaties, the Geneva Conference, the Young Plan, and the Kellogg-Briand Pact are all explained and Houghton’s part in preparing the ground for their development and implementation each feature a central place in the book. The author includes a very useful timeline of Houghton’s life and career from his birth in 1863 to the attack on Pearl Harbor, less than three months after his death. The outbreak of World War II in Europe, a travesty Houghton not only predicted years before but strove mightily to prevent, shattered his spirit. It seemed to a repudiation of all he had tried to accomplish, an undoing of all he had worked for over the course of thirty years in business and public service. By then, of course, a much different policy had been adopted and the “first steps” taken to protect peace in the 1920s had long been rejected. It was not because his generation had somehow failed to do enough or try enough to avoid them. Peace is only ever as secure as each new generation resolves to attain it and build upon it. The prevention of war all through the 1920s into the early 1930s is a testament to something resilient, something worth learning from in what Houghton, President Coolidge and the rest of his administration built.


Dr. Matthews’ work is written from what historians have come to call the “revisionist” view, which largely means the body of scholarship that has challenged the accepted narrative that the Twenties were naively isolationist, Coolidge never did anything besides sleep and crack jokes while the laissez-faire policies of Mellon and company led directly to the Great Depression and, by extension, World War II. As such, Dr. Matthews makes an invaluable contribution to restore proper scholarship and a long-overdue correction of the record. However, Matthews’ book has limits. He makes a recurring case for the sharp differences between Ambassador Houghton and the Coolidge administration. Yet, each conflict, when examined more closely, must admit that President Coolidge really had no substantial disagreement with Houghton at any point. The author, along with Houghton himself, seems to need regular reminder that he is the administration. Coolidge chose him to do the job, knowing his talents and judgment would equip him for articulating the policy of the administration. The President expected this of all his appointments, delegating responsibility for the details while he set the overall goals and objectives. The best case Dr. Matthews can make is for the divergence between Coolidge and his ambassador in policy priorities at the Geneva Conference, but even then Coolidge tactfully decides what direction policy will take. In fact, Coolidge promoted him to the most prestigious diplomatic post for this very reason: Houghton was competent and thought for himself. Consequently, Coolidge consistently backed him against the meddling of Secretary Hoover, the blusters of Secretary Kellogg and the tempestuous attitudes of Britain, France, and Germany. Hoover did not set foreign policy. As Matthews later points out, Coolidge once opined, Hoover “had given him unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad.” Not so with Houghton. The prudent Ambassador was a loyal and reliable subordinate. His one major blunder of holding the press conference that aired his dissent with Kellogg being the exception to the rule.

"Begins to look as if we never would get out of this jerkwater town" cartoon by "Ding" Darling, The Des Moines Register, May 26, 1924.

“Begins to look as if we never would get out of this jerkwater town,” cartoon by “Ding” Darling, The Des Moines Register, May 26, 1924. Courtesy of the Ding Darling Foundation.

Matthews’ book is, for the most part, very readable. His style is meticulous but not dry. His major fault surrounds his summaries at the end of each chapter. It is as if Matthews forgets some of the crucial details he has covered beforehand and omits them in his rush to harp on those pesky differences between Houghton and the administration the ambassador represented. He seems to forget where he was going with the points being made at times. Still, he has the talent of narrating a compelling life story with plenty of insight on the challenges and triumphs of Coolidge’s foreign policy. The essential difference between Houghton and Coolidge rested on whether Europe constituted a “vital” role in America’s national interests. The experiences of the late War had convinced both of the historic obligation the United States now possessed as a world power, yet Coolidge, who held a far better sense on the temperament and needs of the country, disagreed that we shared had to assume Europe’s burdens as our own. Both Houghton and Coolidge agreed that Latin America was a different story. Other differences from debt cancellation to disarmament negotiation were matters Houghton deferred to Coolidge, as his Chief and the final authority on administration policy.


His excellent rapport with the President makes it all the more fascinating when it comes to Hoover’s nomination and election in 1928 in Matthews’ book. Houghton, seeking to block the selection of Hoover, found the camp too divided between multiple “anti-Hoover” candidates that the eventual victory of Hoover was decisive despite Coolidge’s unenthusiastic response to his successor’s rise. Coolidge’s effusive commendation of Houghton, upon his resignation as British ambassador, was a distinction not lost on contemporaries. Houghton, virtually drafted into running for United States Senator from New York, found defeat not because of some deficiency in his credentials or personality but due to the overconfidence of his managers and the Republican Party in New York. Houghton did make the mistake of agreeing to campaign for Hoover in the Midwest, as he had so ably done for Coolidge in 1924, despite an already abbreviated campaign schedule. As such, he helped Hoover win while losing his own bid. It is telling as well that Hoover never attempted to reward Houghton with any of the positions he clearly merited after serving so ably in Europe through some of the most difficult problems following the War. Houghton and his wife would finally step out of the limelight and into the quiet of private life. Watching the events of the 1930s, however, was anything but restful. When a new war finally came at the close of that decade, Houghton felt a depth of sorrow for his country and the nations of Europe he had never known before. He was gone before the Japanese attacked.


The push to publish his diary, honoring his crucial part in crafting a coherent and principled foreign policy, was quickly swept aside when his sympathetic views of Germany opposed to the reckless pressures of France and Belgium in 1922 came to light. Unfortunately, Houghton’s impressions, accurate as they were at the time, ran up against current events in Germany and the rest of Europe in 1941. Houghton was regrettably shoved into the shadows by events over which he and his contemporaries from President Coolidge on down had no part and no control. Sadly, a very insightful life with all its lessons learned conflicted with the times as they now stood. It would be left to Dr. Matthews to finally return to this most neglected of central figures in American foreign policy during the Coolidge Era.



On October 27, 1964

Courtesy of http://jayforde.com/in-other-news/those-voices-dont-speak-for-the-rest-of-us/.

Courtesy of Jay Forde (jayforde.com)

Fifty years today Ronald Reagan stepped up to the podium and delivered one of the greatest speeches encapsulating both the enduring importance of America’s system of self-government and the abiding decision before Americans which direction we are taking our future: not left or right but up or down. As former Democrat voter Reagan put it,

“You and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left or right. Well I’d like to suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There’s only an up or down—[up] man’s old—old-aged dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. And regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course…

“In this vote-harvesting time, they use terms like the ‘Great Society,’ or as we were told a few days ago by the President, we must accept a greater government activity in the affairs of the people. But they’ve been a little more explicit in the past and among themselves; and all of the things I now will quote have appeared in print. These are not Republican accusations. For example, they have voices that say, ‘The cold war will end through our acceptance of a not undemocratic socialism.’ Another voice says, ‘The profit motive has become outmoded. It must be replaced by the incentives of the welfare state.’ Or, ‘Our traditional system of individual freedom is incapable of solving the complex problems of the twentieth century.’ Senator Fullbright has said at Stanford University that the Constitution is outmoded. He referred to the President as ‘our moral teacher and our leader,’ and he says he is ‘hobbled in his task by the restrictions of power imposed on him by this antiquated document.’ He must ‘be freed,’ so that he ‘can do for us’ what he knows ‘is best’…

“Last February 19th at the University of Minnesota, Norman Thomas, six-times candidate for President on the Socialist Party ticket, said, “If Barry Goldwater became President, he would stop the advance of socialism in the United States.” I think that’s exactly what he will do. But as a former Democrat, I can tell you Norman Thomas isn’t the only man who has drawn this parallel to socialism with the present administration, because back in 1936, Mr. Democrat himself, Al Smith, the great American, came before the American people and charged that the leadership of his Party was taking the Party of Jefferson, Jackson, and Cleveland down the road under the banners of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. And he walked away from his Party, and he never returned til the day he died—because to this day, the leadership of that Party has been taking that Party, that honorable Party, down the road in the image of the labor Socialist Party of England.

“Now it doesn’t require expropriation or confiscation of private property or business to impose socialism on a people. What does it mean whether you hold the deed to the—or the title to your business or property if the government holds the power of life and death over that business or property? And such machinery already exists. The government can find some charge to bring against any concern it chooses to prosecute. Every businessman has his own tale of harassment. Somewhere a perversion has taken place. Our natural, unalienable rights are now considered to be a dispensation of government, and freedom has never been so fragile, so close to slipping from our grasp as it is at this moment.

“Our Democratic opponents seem unwilling to debate these issues. They want to make you and I believe that this is a contest between two men—that we’re to choose just between two personalities…

“Those who would trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state have told us they have a utopian solution of peace without victory. They call their policy ‘accommodation.’ And they say if we’ll only avoid any direct confrontation with the enemy, he’ll forget his evil ways and learn to love us. All who oppose them are indicted as warmongers. They say we offer simple answers to complex problems. Well, perhaps there is a simple answer—not an easy answer—but simple: If you and I have the courage to tell our elected officials that we want our national policy based on what we know in our hearts is morally right…

“You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin—just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard ’round the world? The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn’t die in vain. Where, then, is the road to peace? Well it’s a simple answer after all.

“You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, ‘There is a price we will not pay.’ ‘There is a point beyond which they must not advance.’ And this—this is the meaning in the phrase of Barry Goldwater’s ‘peace through strength.’ Winston Churchill said, ‘The destiny of man is not measured by material computations. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we’re spirits—not animals.’ And he said, ‘There’s something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.’

“You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.

“We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.

“We will keep in mind and remember that Barry Goldwater has faith in us. He has faith that you and I have the ability and the dignity and the right to make our own decisions and determine our own destiny.

“Thank you very much.”

– Ronald Reagan

This speech not only underscores Reagan’s grasp of current events exposited with a mastery of expression but also a confident conviction in the rightness of individual liberty. For Reagan, the choice staring each American in the eye was not a question of moderating this or that policy, reforming or replacing programs that had simply gone too far with “smarter ones” established by Republicans. This was an ideological war and both parties had to choose on what side they would be. Either with the self-governing people of this country or against them. We faced then what we must unavoidably confront now: In what direction is America to go? By what set of ideals will we choose to navigate the future? Up to the dignity of human freedom in harmony with law or down to the depraved darkness of totalitarianism enslaving whoever exists within its ever-expanding reach.

Courtesy of Leslie Jones Photography.

Courtesy of Leslie Jones Photography.

Readily visible in Reagan’s oratory is the persistent influence of Calvin Coolidge. Reagan made no attempt to hide his admiration for the thirtieth president, despite what the elites of his day thought of his marginalized teacher and leader. Reagan referred to and quoted amply from the man he considered the most underrated of modern Presidents. Reagan, addressing a town meeting held by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, March 3, 1982, observed that Coolidge “was known more for his silence than his rhetoric. But when silent Cal had something to say, it was usually worth hearing. ‘Our country,’ he once said, ‘was conceived in the theory of local government. It has been dedicated by long practice to that wise and benevolent policy. It is the foundation of our system of liberty.’ ” Reagan wanted to do more than just tweak the system, he wanted to reverse the power flow back out of Washington into the hands of the American people at the most local level. But here, in this speech, Reagan never mentions Coolidge, yet he does allude to him, channeling Cal without overtly saying so. Some examples of Coolidge’s oratory demonstrate this point.

“Who can fail to see in it [America] the hand of destiny? Who can doubt that it has been guided by a Divine Providence? …You know that America is worth fighting for…A growing tendency has been observed of late years to think too little of what is really the public interest and too much of what is supposed to be class interest. The two great political parties of the nation have existed for the purpose, each in accordance with its own principles, of undertaking to serve the interests of the whole nation. Their members of the Congress are chosen with that great end in view. Patriotism does not mean a regard for some special section or an attachment for some special interest, and a narrow prejudice against other sections and other interests; it means a love of the whole country. This does not mean that any section or any interest is to be disproportionately preferred or disproportionately disregarded, but that the welfare of all is equally to be sought. Agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, and all the other desirable activities should serve in accordance with their strength and should be served in accordance with the benefits they confer…

“A division of the people or their representatives in accordance with any other principle or theory is contrary to the public welfare. An organization for the purpose of serving some special interest is perfectly proper and may be exceedingly helpful, but whenever it undertakes to serve that interest by disregarding the welfare of other interests, it becomes harmful alike to the interest which it proposes to serve and to the public welfare in general. Under the modern organization of society there is such a necessary community of interests that all necessarily experience depression or prosperity together…There can be no peace with the forces of evil. Peace comes only through the establishment of the supremacy of the forces of good. That way lies only through sacrifice. It was that the people of our country might live in a knowledge of the truth that these, our countrymen, are dead. ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ This spirit is not dead, it is the most vital thing in America. It did not flow from any act of government. It is the spirit of the people themselves. It justifies faith in them and faith in their institutions”  — May 30, 1923.

“We need a broader, firmer, deeper faith in the people–a faith that men desire to do right, that the Commonwealth is founded upon a righteousness which will endure, a reconstructed faith that the final approval of the people is given not to demagogues, slavishly pandering to their selfishness, merchandising with the clamor of the hour, but to statesmen, ministering to their welfare, representing their deep, silent, abiding convictions. Statutes must appeal to more than material welfare. Wages won’t satisfy, be they never so large. Nor houses; nor lands; nor coupons, though they fall thick as the leaves of autumn. Man has a spiritual nature. Touch it, and it must respond as the magnet responds to the pole. To that, not to selfishness, let the laws…appeal. Recognize the immortal worth and dignity of man. Let the laws…proclaim to [the] humblest citizen, performing the most menial task, the recognition of his manhood, the recognition that all men are peers, the humblest with the most exalted, the recognition that all work is glorified. Such is the path to equality before the law. Such is the foundation of liberty under the law. Such is the sublime revelation of man’s relation to man–Democracy” — January 7, 1914.

There are only two main theories of government in the world. One rests on righteousness, the other rests on force. One appeals to reason, the other appeals to the sword. One is exemplified in a republic, the other is represented by a despotism. The history of government on this earth has been almost entirely a history of the rule of force held in the hands of a few. Under our constitution, America committed itself to the practical application of the rule of reason, with the power held in the hands of the people” — October 15, 1924.

“Yet people are given to thinking and speaking of the National Government as ‘the Government.’ They demand more from it than it was ever intended to provide; and yet in the same breath they complain that Federal authority is stretching itself over areas which do not concern it…The individual, instead of working out his own salvation and securing his own freedom by his own industry and his own self-mastery, tends to throw himself on some vague influence which he denominates society and to hold in some way responsible for the sufficiency of his support and the morality of his actions. The local political units likewise look to the States, the States look to the Nation, and nations are beginning to look to some vague organization, some nebulous concourse of humanity, to pay their bills and tell them what to do. This is not local self-government. It is not American. It is not the method which has made this country what it is…There is no other foundation on which freedom has ever found a permanent abiding place. We shall have to make our decision whether we wish to maintain our present institutions, or whether we wish to exchange them for something else. If we permit some one to come to support us, we can not prevent some one coming to govern us. If we are too weak to take charge of our own morality, we shall not be strong enough to take charge of our own liberty. If we can not govern ourselves, if we can not observe the law, nothing remains but to have some one else govern us, to have the law enforced against us, and to step down from the honorable abiding place of freedom to the ignominious abode of servitude” — May 30, 1925.

To adequately honor the author of The Speech given fifty years ago today, we must first appreciate the unassuming inspiration and guiding force of Calvin Coolidge. Reagan’s words still summon us to recognize that now is our time to choose whether freedom from or servitude to government will define our future. In a very real sense, Coolidge was Reagan’s intellectual ancestor. To wisely appraise the crossroads at which we stand, the worldview of both men must be reckoned with and assessed anew. Nothing less will suffice to restore the primacy of self-government.


On Thomas A. Edison, an American contribution to World Progress

The Congressional Gold Medal presented to Thomas Edison, 1928.

The Congressional Gold Medal presented to Thomas Edison, 1928.

President Coolidge, having approved House Joint Resolution 243 on May 29, 1928, set wheels in motion to formally recognize Thomas Alva Edison for his life of innovative accomplishments. Presented the Congressional Gold Medal on October 20, 1928 by Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, Edison would be honored with the highest civilian award available up to that time. The Medal of Freedom, the Executive Branch equivalent, would be another seventeen years in the future. Addressing those gathered in Edison’s West Orange laboratory in New Jersey to recognize more than forty years of determined effort and industry on the part of the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” President Calvin Coolidge spoke through radio hookup from the White House. He said:

“Fellow Countrymen:

“A person of high character and remarkable achievement holds a fascination for all mankind. It is literally true that the world will make a beaten path to his door. Such persons are the leaders who by their example and their wisdom stimulate their fellow men to better things and are in the main responsible for human progress. They are the pioneers in opening up new territory in our physical surroundings and in the domain of thought. Not only the United States but other regions in the far-off ends of the earth are pausing to-night to pay their tribute of respect and reverence to such a figure, while he is still with us, in appreciation of what he has done to advance the cause of civilization.

“The life of Thomas Alva Edison, master of applied science, has been represented as a romance. He has been called a genius, a wizard. While these terms may well be used to describe his great abilities, yet this remarkably modest man has constantly refused to attribute such qualities to himself. In his blunt and homely way he is quoted as having said that genius is made up of 1 per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration. Even if not literally true, this expresses an important idea, which he has not failed to apply. Carrying on the same thought he is said to have made an adaptation of the well-known maxim to the effect that everything comes to him who hustles while he waits. Rather than to any mysterious power, he attributes his success to intelligent and persistent hard work along the practical lines of applied science.

Secretary Mellon presenting Edison the Congressional Gold Medal, accompanying recognition by President Coolidge over radio hookup from the White House. L to R: Ronald Campbell (British Embassy, present to return the original phonograph lent by Edison to the British Science Museum 45 years earlier), Mellon, Mina and Thomas Edison, with John Hibben, President of Princeton University. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

Secretary Mellon presenting Edison with the Congressional Gold Medal approved by President Coolidge, whose remarks were carried by radio to mark this occasion. L to R: Ronald Campbell (British Embassy, present to return the original phonograph lent by Edison to the British Science Museum 45 years earlier), Mellon, Mina and Thomas Edison, with John Hibben, President of Princeton University. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

“That Edison was endowed at birth with that rare intellect and wisdom given to those who have helped shape our destinies, few will deny. But, when asked on his seventy-seventh birthday for his philosophy of life, the reply was: ‘Work – bringing out the secrets of nature and applying them for the happiness of man.’ His goal always has been some useful objective. Rarely has he wasted his energies. Having carefully determined what needed to be accomplished, he has gone ahead with the unerring instinct of a seeker after truth, with an indomitable spirit for accurate research, with an infinite capacity for taking pains. Temporary failure has only spurred him to renewed activity. Few men have possessed to such a striking degree the blending of the imagination of the dreamer with the practical, driving force of the doer. In the record of his inventions and improvements rests the unimpeachable testimony that he has brought things to pass.

“I have been interested in his account of a visit to the White House in 1878 to exhibit his newly developed phonograph. He relates that he came at 11 o’clock in the evening upon the invitation of President Hayes, who, with Mrs. Hayes and their guests, became so engrossed in the marvelous device that the inventor did not get away until 3.30. But we know that Edison has never made a practice of retiring early.

Edison with his phonograph at Washington, April 1978. Photograph by Matthew Brady.

Young Edison with his phonograph at Washington, April 1978. Photograph by Matthew Brady.

“The field of electricity will be most closely associated in future years with the name of Edison. It has been asserted somewhere that there is scarcely an electrical process or instrument of to-day which does not reflect in some way changes wrought by his researches. Steinmetz, who should be an authority, said Edison had done more than any other man to promote the art and science of electrical engineering. In his invention of the incandescent lamp and in the perfection of means for developing and distributing electrical energy he literally brought light to the dark places of the earth. Through these and other products of his genius old industrial processes have been revolutionized, new ones developed, and our daily lives have been made easier, our homes pleasanter and more comfortable.

“Although Edison belongs to the world, the United States takes pride in the thought that his rise from humble beginnings and his unceasing struggle to overcome the obstacles on the road to success well illustrate the spirit of our country. We are happy to share his achievements as our contribution to progress. He represents the finest traditions of our citizenship. At the request of the Secretary of the Navy in 1915 he became president of the Naval Consulting Board, which looked into inventions and devices designed to aid us in preparedness and later in our participation in the World War. From 1917 to 1919 his entire time was at the disposal of the Government. Not only by his own discoveries, but by training in his laboratories men who have gone out to important places in the scientific and industrial world and by encouraging countless others to renewed efforts in applied science and invention, he has made a notable contribution to education.

“This is my message to Mr. Edison:

“Noble, kindly servant of the United States and benefactor of mankind, may you long be spared to continue your work and to inspire those who will carry forward your torch.”

Edison in 1911. Color by Laiz Kucynski.

Edison in 1911. Courtesy of Machina Ex Spiritus/Laiz Kuczynski.

Government did not build Edison. He, like the rest of us, built and continues to sustain our Government. Confusion over this natural order of importance, frankly, is why under our “global” economy, no Edison exists today. America, and the world, is poorer for that fact. Though Edison appropriated the ideas of others on occasion just as government does sometimes serve as patron to great achievers, the exceptions do not make the rule. There can be no quantifying the number of jobs Edison created in his lifetime through many hours of hard, even menial, work. Candidates, with all their election time rhetoric, would do well to remember this next time they presume to take credit for the number of jobs created or when they assert that businesses are built by government outlay, not people free to dream, dare and do.

Statesmen from Hayes to Coolidge understood that most self-evident of realities — economic growth comes through our freedom to keep the rewards of our labor, to take risks, to succeed and to fail, to work more for ourselves than at Washington’s gracious allowance. Businesses, even Edison himself, still needed to understand and cherish that truth as much as government does now. Keeping that environment robust and strong through maximized opportunity under consistently observed laws, government is supposed to function not as an active participant in allocating labor, capital, production or wages but as an advocate for capitalism prevailing on all parties alike, without favor, prejudice or hostility. Greater opportunities, higher standards of living and progress for everyone materialize when this balance is preserved.

Getting off the field of play and observing budgetary economy accomplishes infinitely more than anything else government could ever do to help this process perpetuate, and self-regulate. Government inserting itself continually in the reward of friends, arbitrary suspension of market rules, and punishment of those who refuse to make special application to the public Treasury stunts and infects a healthy, growing marketplace. Yet, the leverage of government’s power as middle-man never diminishes but only increases and cements itself as long as we continue to petition it and allow intervention. We know why, then, too many candidates seem utterly, and willfully, clueless when it comes to what built Edison and how our economic system, when properly constituted and fueled, operates.

Coolidge and Edison during the inventor's visit to Plymouth Notch, August 1924.

Coolidge and Edison during the inventor’s visit to Plymouth Notch, August 1924. Courtesy of Leslie Jones Photography.

On Refusing the Temptations of Power

Political illustration depicting Coolidge, in the tradition of Roman republicans from Cincinnatus onward, after his steadfast refusal to extend his executive powers for another four years. Coolidge resolved instead to leave public office, lay down the mantle of authority and step out of the limelight for others chosen by the American people to succeed him. Cartoon by Rollin Kirby appearing in The New York World, March 24, 1928.

Political illustration depicting Coolidge, in the tradition of Roman republicans from Cincinnatus onward, after his steadfast refusal to extend executive powers for another four years. Coolidge resolved to leave Washington behind when his term ended, laying down the mantle of authority and stepping out of the limelight so that others chosen by the American people could lead without the meddling interference of a former President. He held true to that honorable precedent whatever it cost him personally or his legacy historically. What a profound reaffirmation of America’s great institutions. Little can anyone fully appreciate the strength of character and devotion to country this took. Cartoon by Rollin Kirby appearing in The New York World, March 24, 1928. Courtesy of Fine Art America.

On General Meade

The George Gordon Meade Memorial before highway construction required its removal and relocation to its current location in front of the Federal Courthouse in Washington. Sculpted by Charles Grafly, the statue of General Meade is flanked by six allegorical figures, with Loyalty to his right and Chivalry to his left, they include Fame, Progress, Military Courage, and Energy, what the artist believed comprised greatness in a general. The gold finial above Meade's head bears the seal of the state of Pennsylvania. Courtesy of Histories of the National Mall.

The George Gordon Meade Memorial, dedicated here by President Coolidge on October 19, 1927, before highway construction in the 1960s required removal and relocation to its current location in front of the Federal Courthouse in Washington. Sculpted by Charles Grafly, the statue of General Meade is flanked by six allegorical figures, with Loyalty to his right and Chivalry to his left (both removing his battle cloak), and also including Fame, Progress, Military Courage, and Energy, what the artist believed comprised greatness in a general. The gold finial above Meade’s head bears the seal of the state of Pennsylvania. Courtesy of Histories of the National Mall.

Appointed a mere three days before the scouts of armies north and south would encounter each other in the fields around Gettysburg, General George Gordon Meade would go on to deliver defeat to the great forces of Robert E. Lee after three days of intense fighting. Criticized for failing to pursue the honorable armies of the South to crush them once for all, Meade allowed their solemn retreat. Yet, General Meade retained his responsibilities as commander of the Army of the Potomac, when lesser men had seen Lincoln’s wrath and been summarily dismissed. Meade would continue leading the Army under the direction of Lieutenant General Grant through the Overland Campaign, the fight to Richmond and through Lee’s final surrender at Appomattox, less than two years later.

Known as “Old Snapping Turtle” for his quick temper, Meade remained in the fight and at the helm because of his unique measure of character, focus, and perseverance. Unfortunately disparaged by the onslaught of politics that ensued between the army and Washington following the tide turned at Gettysburg, Meade would barely live to see his old commander, Ulysses Grant, elected to the Presidency in 1872. Calvin Coolidge was then barely over four months old. It would be President Coolidge, however, who agreed to dedicate the memorial given to the United States by Meade’s adopted home of Pennsylvania in October of 1927. The ground had been broken in the presence of Coolidge’s predecessor, President Harding, and was finally completed after five years. Though many had passed on, some remained from those dark yet honor-graced times to be present on that day to finally recognize and remember a worthy fellow soldier and honorable American.

Of General Meade, Coolidge said, “The more we study the history of the war in which he fought, the more General Meade stands out as a responsible and reliable commander. Others may have had more dash, though none surpassed him in courage. He did not engage himself in leading hopeless charges. He was, rather, a general who kept himself sufficiently informed as to the movements of his enemy and made such preparation and wise disposition of his own troops that hopeless charges were not necessary. It can not be said that he always won, but he experienced very little of defeat. His personality was well rounded out. If it appeared to possess no lofty peaks, it was not marred by any deep depressions. If he was sometimes quick of temper, he was eminently sound of judgment. He was a solid and substantial man, one who inspired confidence, one who could be trusted. The victor of Appomattox assigned to him the second place among his generals. History has revealed that the estimate was none too high. General Lee is reported to have ranked him even higher, saying, ‘Meade, in my judgment, had the greatest ability. I feared him more than any man I ever met upon the field of battle.’

Throughout his life General Meade was a man of deep religious conviction. When he entered the service he said, ‘I go into the field trusting to God to dispose of my life and actions in accordance with my daily prayer that His will, not mine, shall be done.’ Throughout his entire military career he constantly acted in harmony with that sentiment. Time and again, in his letters and statements, he acknowledged his dependence upon Divine Providence. Like most great soldiers he was devoted to peace, not war. He even hesitated to regard those who supported the southern cause in the light of enemies, even reproving his own men for glorying in their defeat, which he would reserve for the case of a foreign foe.”

Quite a eulogy for the man who did his duty when occasion called for him and yet held tenaciously to peace as his foremost ambition. Could there be a better representation of true patriotism?

General George G. Meade by Matthew Brady

General George G. Meade by Matthew Brady


On What Cal Believed

President Coolidge captured by photographer Addison Scurlock, 1924.

President Coolidge captured by photographer Addison Scurlock, early 1924. While certain candidates of all stripes are evading what they believe, hiding who they are from voters, concealing what principles they support and what their vision is for local neighborhoods, counties, states, and the country, Coolidge boldly outlined his policy principles in less than two minutes. In this recording, Coolidge cements his ideals for all time in the crisp record of radio. Instead of hiding who he was and what he sought to accomplish, he freely volunteers it for voters to choose. 1924 shattered conventional wisdom with Coolidge and the Republican Party sweeping to victory in landslide proportions despite being a three-way race. The points he makes still resonate these ninety years later and serve a necessary reminder that the way to decisive victory is not through subterfuge, deception, obfuscation or timidity. Coolidge believed the Republican Party stood for very specific principles and it had better keep its commitments to the electorate on that basis. Talking about what kind of government and set of principles we should have, giving Americans something to vote for as opposed to merely vote against, is vastly neglected these days. Not so with Coolidge. The GOP would do no favors and, in fact, fail good government to water down its differences to gain votes.  Public service was too important to be so cheapened and, to Coolidge, being Republican preserved the best of America’s institutions, ideals, foundations for future progress, and her people’s renewing power for good.