On Remembering Our Wounded Warriors

Before Coolidge was a President, he was first a wartime governor of the sixth most populous state in the Union. He had seen what the war was costing in people and materiel, the difficult decisions war required politically and culturally, and what it would take to enable victory from home on the battlefields in Europe. The Coolidges were atypical, however, when it came to doling paychecks to veterans, believing instead that reallocation of tax money would never be enough to recompense what had been given. Neither would he pander to emotions in exchange for votes.

The Coolidges, instead, turned their focus to helping correct the administrative and vocational support wounded warriors sought to heal, move forward, and find new life through the loss, pain, and hardship. A small expression of their gratitude for the men and women involved in the late war came in the Coolidge tradition of garden parties on the White House grounds, opening the people’s House to the injured and those who cared for them. Another came in his regular use of media, utilizing the radio, the press conference, and printed news to reach the nation.

The clouds parted and the rains held off following days of downpours, as the Coolidges hosted a garden party for 2,000 veterans and their caretakers on the sunny afternoon of June 5, 1924. Every corner of the country was represented at the event.

As he turned thoughts to the wounded warriors facing challenges at this same season of the year in 1923, he wrote:

My warm felicitations and cordial wishes go to the war’s disabled at this Christmas time. The heart of America is with those who made the great sacrifices in defense of our ideals. Whether you continue in the hospitals fighting for recovery, or are battling to re-establish yourselves in civil pursuits, the nation will be mindful of its obligations to those so honorably stricken. Regardless of some irritations of some agencies charged with your relief, we are conscious of the duty toward the maimed, and encouraged by the continued improvement for their relief.

I am confident that the fortitude commanded for you the admiration of the world, will not falter during your struggle for physical and vocational rehabilitation. That the coming year will mark the utmost possible restoration of health, happiness, and fortune, is the devout hope of the republic for all of you.

President Coolidge addressing Congress three weeks before, on December 6, 1923.

On Broadcasting Thanks

The President in his study. Photo credit: Acton Institute.

The incredible teams at WEAF and WJZ had been making history in an already historic year in 1927. They would make it again with their idea to wire and broadcast directly from the White House Study (which had been the old Cabinet Room) the President’s annual Thanksgiving Proclamation. It would reach much of the Eastern seaboard with both stations but to top that, another twenty station partners across the country could bring that message to many more millions. Scheduled for 8:15pm, after the news of Washington at 7:45, despite sharing timeslots with a range of operatic singers and instrumental performances, the President’s crisp voice took the air at the expected moment. His distinctive cords — which Washington’s top announcer John B. Daniel considered “made for radio” — amused Coolidge himself (for their timely coincidence with the expansion of the technology).

Nearing completion of his extensive Annual Message to Congress, the President would issue a long list of internal improvements and other spending initiatives that would surprise more than one observer in two days’ time. Correspondents would cover that story as Americans, recovering from their holiday meals, would pick up the newspaper or gather increasingly around that upstart source of information on which the President had become a regular presence: the radio.

From the White House study that evening, November 23, Coolidge broke the brief silence:

Under the guidance and watchful care of a Divine and beneficent Providence this country has been carried safely through another year. Almighty God has continued to bestow upon us the light of His countenance, and we have prospered. Not alone have we enjoyed material success, but we have advanced in wisdom and in spiritual understanding. The products of our fields and our factories and of our manifold activities have been maintained on a high level. We have gained in knowledge of the higher values of life. There has been advancement in our physical well-being. We have increased our desire for the things that minister to the mind and to the soul. We have raised the mental and moral standards of life.

     We have had the blessings of peace and of honorable and friendly relations with our sister nations throughout the world. Disasters visiting certain of our States have touched the heart of a sympathetic nation, which has responded generously out of its abundance. In continuing to remember those in affliction we should rejoice in our ability to give them relief.

    Now that these twelve months are drawing to a close, it is fitting that, as a nation, and as individuals, in accordance with time-honored and sacred custom, we should consider the manifold blessings granted to us. While in gratitude we rejoice, we should humbly pray that we may be worthy of a continuation of Divine favor.

     Wherefore, I, Calvin Coolidge, President of the United States, do hereby set apart and designate Thursday, the twenty-fourth day of November, next, as a day of thanksgiving and prayer, and recommend and urge that on that day our people lay aside their usual tasks, and by the family fireside and in their accustomed places of public worship give thanks to Him who holds us all in the hollow of His hand.

Thanksgiving Day itself, for the Coolidges, would see no surprising donations like Rebecca, the previous year. They would be given the choice of three donated turkeys (one from the North Platte Valley Co-operative Poultry Association of Nebraska, another from the Chamber of Commerce in Brady, Texas, and the third, kept anonymous, from a close friend of the Coolidges). It remained a quiet day with the Stearnses. Son John, unable to join them, would stay close to school. After special church services at Keith’s Theater in Washington on Thanksgiving Day, they would observe another tradition that Saturday, though unable to attend in person, tuning into the annual match between the Army Cadets and Navy Midshipmen. Played on the renowned polo grounds in Manhattan, Army (8-1) would vanquish Navy (6-2), 14-9.

Americans would continue to see in Coolidge a leader worthy of the name. That, too, was a reason to be thankful.

The Coolidges at Keith’s Theater, Thanksgiving 1927. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

On Diseased Remedies

On November 28, 1930, Calvin Coolidge wrote: 

When people are bewildered they tend to become credulous. We are always in danger of expecting too much of the government. When there is distress such expectations are enlarged. The present condition of the country not only is not new, but not nearly so bad as it has been at other times. In 1818 when John Quincy Adams learned of the failure of many of the greatest commercial houses he recorded in his diary that the greatest danger would be the application of remedies worse than the disease. 

That is the danger now. All any government can do is to adopt certain policies and provide the public facilities of currency, banks, revenues, highways and the like that enable the people conveniently to do business. A large expenditure of public money to stimulate trade is a temporary expedient which begs the question. Many local governments are already taxing the people too much. Business does not need more burdens but less. The sound way to relieve distress is by direct action. When a surplus exists it will do little good to spend public money for something more we do not need. The people have more power than any government to restore their own prosperity. 

The President’s audience at the dedication of the Liberty Memorial four years before in 1926.