Calvin Coolidge: Advice for Voting, Campaigning and Governing

The Coolidges vote together, November 2, 1920. The Nineteenth Amendment, ratified in August of 1920, recognized suffrage for women nationwide and enabled Grace to join her husband and to cast her ballot for the first time.

The Coolidges vote together, November 2, 1920. The Nineteenth Amendment, ratified in August of that year, recognized suffrage for women nationwide and enabled Grace to join her husband and to cast a Presidential ballot for the first time. Massachusetts provided for woman suffrage on school, bond and tax issues. Before the Nineteenth Amendment, most states already had either full, Presidential or local suffrage for women. Only 10 states had little or no formally recognized voting rights: PA, MD, VA, WV, OH, NC, SC, GA, AL, and FL.

Being as it is an election year, with some primaries already behind us and more soon to come, thousands of campaigns, large and small, are underway. Whether you are a candidate, a voter or currently serving your town, your county, your district or your state, take a few moments to stop, listen and take to heart what Calvin Coolidge had to say about voting, campaigning and governing.

When he rose to Presidential responsibility in August 1923, he had already served as a local precinct Committeeman, City Councilman, City Solicitor, State Representative, Mayor, State Senator, President of the State Senate, Lieutenant Governor, Governor and Vice President all before age 52. He has much to tell us. If we returned to the principles he exemplified we would find a higher caliber of candidates, a more faithful public service, and a stronger citizenship. As we head into election time, think on these 30 bits of political wisdom from our thirtieth President.

“You need not hesitate to give the other members your views on any subject that arises. It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones, and better to spend your time on your own committee work than by bothering with any bills of your own except in some measure that your own County or some other persons may want you to introduce for them…See that bills you recommend from your committee are so worded that they will do just what they intend and not a great deal more that is undesirable. Most bills can’t stand that test” – letter to his father, September 6, 1910

“Men do not make laws. They do but discover them. Laws must be justified by something more than the will of the majority. They must rest on the eternal foundation of righteousness…The people cannot look to legislation generally for success. Industry, thrift, character, are not conferred by act or resolve. Government cannot relieve from toil…The normal must care for themselves. Self-government means self-support…Do the day’s work. If it be to protect the rights of the weak, whoever objects, do it. If it be to help a powerful corporation better to serve the people, whatever the opposition, do that. Expect to be called a standpatter, but don’t be a standpatter. Expect to be called a demagogue, but don’t be a demagogue. Don’t hesitate to be a revolutionary as science. Don’t hesitate to be as reactionary as the multiplication table. Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong. Don’t hurry to legislate. Give administration a chance to catch up with legislation…Statutes must appeal to more than material welfare. Wages won’t satisfy, be they never so large. Nor houses; nor lands; no 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 of the Commonwealth appeal. Recognize the immortal worth and dignity of man” – Address to the State Senate on being elected its President, Boston, January 7, 1914

“The law, changed and changeable on slight provocation, loses its sanctity and authority” – Adequate Brevity p.54

“I am not one of those who believe votes are to be won by misrepresentations, skillful presentations of half truths, and plausible deductions from false premises. Good government cannot be found on the bargain-counter” – Address at Riverside, MA, August 28, 1916

“We have had many attempts at regulation of industrial activity by law. Some of it has proceeded on the theory that if those who enjoyed material prosperity used it for wrong purposes, such prosperity should be limited or abolished. That is as sound as it would be to abolish writing to prevent forgery. We need to keep forever in mind that guilt is personal; if there is to be punishment let it fall on the evil-doer, let us not condemn the instrument” – Address at Associated Industries Dinner, Boston, December 15, 1916

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“So much emphasis has been put upon the false that the significance of the true has been obscured and politics has come to convey the meaning of crafty and cunning selfishness, instead of candid and sincere service” – Essay “On the Nature of Politics”

“Public men must expect criticism and be prepared to endure false charges from their opponents. It is a matter of no great concern to them. But public confidence in government is a matter of great concern…It is necessary to differentiate between partisan assertions and actual conditions” – “On the Nature of Politics”

“The people who start to elect a man to get what he can for his district will probably find they have elected a man who will get what he can for himself” — “On the Nature of Politics”

“It seemed to me that the towns in this commonwealth correspond in part to what we might call the water-tight compartments of the ship of state, and while sometimes our state government has wavered…whenever that has arisen, the towns of the commonwealth have come to the rescue” – Dedication of Town-House, Weston, MA, November 27, 1917

“Under our National Government the States are the sheet-anchors of our institutions. On them falls the task of administering local affairs and of supporting the National Government in peace and war”—Address at Tremont Temple, November 2, 1918

One of several vintage pins from the campaign of 1924 that resulted in a landslide for Coolidge.

One of several vintage pins from the campaign of 1924. Coolidge won in a landslide that year over both his Democrat and third-party challengers.

“Those in whom is placed the solemn duty of caring for others ought to think of themselves last or their decisions will lack authority. There is apparent a disposition to deny the disinterestedness and impartiality of government. Such charges are the result of ignorance and an evil desire to destroy our institutions for personal profit. It is of infinite importance to demonstrate that legislation is used not for the benefit of the legislator, but of the public” – Veto of Salary Increase, 1919

“Naturally the question arises, what shall we do to defend our birthright? In the first place everybody must take a more active part in public affairs. It will not do for men to send, they must go. It is not enough to draw a check. Good government cannot be bought, it has to be given…Unless good citizens hold office bad citizens will” – Speech at Tremont Temple, November 1, 1919

“We have had too much legislating by clamor, by tumult, by pressure. Representative government ceases when outside influence of any kind is substituted for the judgment of the representative. This does not mean that the opinion of constituents is to be ignored. It is to be weighed most carefully, for the representative must represent, but his oath provides that it must be ‘faithfully and impartially according to the best of his abilities and understanding, agreeably to the rules and regulations of the Constitution and laws’” – Message to the Massachusetts Legislature accompanying the Governor’s Veto, May 6, 1920

“Real reform does not begin with a law; it ends with a law. The attempt to dragoon the body when the need is to convince the soul will end only in revolt” – Address before the American Bar Association, San Francisco, CA, August 10, 1922

“Error lies in supposing that great fundamental reforms can be at once accomplished by the mere passage of a law. By law is meant a rule of action. Action depends upon intelligence and motive. If either of these be lacking, the action fails and the law fails” – Address before the NY State Convention of the YMCA, Albany, NY, April 13, 1923

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“The problem of preventing vice and crime and of restraining personal and organized selfishness is as old as human experience. We shall not find for it an immediate and complete solution in an amendment to the Federal Constitution, an act of Congress, or in the findings of a new board or commission” – Adequate Brevity p.112

“We must have no carelessness in our dealings with public property or the expenditure of public money. Such a condition is characteristic either of an undeveloped people, or of a decadent civilization. America is neither…We must have an administration which is marked, not by the inexperience of youth, or the futility of age, but by the character and ability of maturity” – Address at the Seventh Meeting of the Business Organization of the Government, Memorial Continental Hall, June 30, 1924

“I want the people of American to be able to work less for the Government and more for themselves. I want them to have the rewards of their own industry. This is the chief meaning of freedom” – Acceptance Address of Presidential Nomination, August 14, 1924

“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” – Radio address from the White House, November 3, 1924

“Propaganda seeks to present a part of the facts, to distort their relations, and to force conclusions which could not be drawn from a complete and candid survey of all the facts. It has been observed that propaganda seeks to close the mind, while education seeks to open it. This has become of the dangers of the present day…Unfortunately, not all experts are completely disinterested. Not all specialists are completely without guile. In our increasing dependence on specialized authority, we tend to become easier victims for the propagandists, and need to cultivate sedulously the habit of the open mind…We need to keep our minds free of prejudice and bias. Of education and real information we cannot get too much. But of propaganda, which is tainted or perverted information, we cannot have too little” – Address before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Washington, D. C., January 17, 1925

Colonel Coolidge inspects the lead vehicle of the Coolidge-Dawes Lincoln Tour about to depart from Plymouth, September 1924. The driver, John P. Cowan of Pittsburgh, would use this unique means of bringing Coolidge to the country. A thoroughly grassroots movement, the Coolidge-Dawes Lincoln Tour would see 5 million participants in 100,000 automobiles before reaching their final stop on the Pacific. It must have worked since on November 4, Calvin Coolidge decisively beat the combined political support of both his challengers with 15.7 million votes, carrying 35 of 48 states and securing 382 electoral votes out of 266 needed to clinch victory). His 25.2 point margin victory is one of the largest popular votes garnered to this day.

Colonel Coolidge inspects the lead vehicle of the Coolidge-Dawes Lincoln Tour about to depart from Plymouth, September 1924. The driver, John P. Cowan of Pittsburgh, would use this unique means of bringing Coolidge to the country. A thoroughly grassroots movement, the Coolidge-Dawes Lincoln Tour would see 5 million participants in 100,000 automobiles before reaching their final stop on the Pacific. It must have contributed mightily to the result since on November 4, Calvin Coolidge decisively beat the combined political support of both his challengers with 15.7 million votes, carrying 35 of 48 states and securing 382 electoral votes out of 266 needed to win. His 25.2 point margin victory is one of the largest popular votes garnered to this day.

Here is a map following the route the Coolidge-Dawes Lincoln Tour traveled September 9-November 3, 1924. The first of its kind, a cross-country, political road rally spanned some 56 days in duration and crossed 17 states, 6500 miles in total.

Here is a map following the route the Coolidge-Dawes Lincoln Tour, using the Lincoln Highway, traveled from September 9 to November 3, 1924. Being the first of its kind, the Lincoln Tour was a cross-country political road-rally that started with six automobiles driven by Coolidge’s Plymouth friends and neighbors and ended 56 days, 400 stops, 17 states and 6500 miles later on the Pacific coast in Washington state.

“What we need is not more Federal government, but better local government…When the local government unit evades its responsibility in one direction, it is started in the vicious way of disregard of law and laxity of living…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” – Address at Arlington National Cemetery, May 30, 1925

“The doctrine of State rights is not a privilege to continue in wrong-doing but a privilege to be free from interference in well-doing” – Address at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA, May 15, 1926

“We have built our institutions around the rights of the individual. We believe he will be better off if he looks after himself. We believe that the municipality, the State, and the National will each be better off if they look after themselves. We do not know of any other theory that harmonizes with our conception of true manhood and true womanhood” – Address before the Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Washington, D.C., April 16, 1928

“For important political service the three qualifications necessary are character, ability and experience. Some of our voters are not giving sufficient consideration to these requirements. They are often supporting candidates whose greatest appeal is that they are good fellows. An agreeable personality is a fine quality, but it is not enough to administer a great office. It is vain to support office seekers who smile, if it results in electing officeholders who are not competent. The government cannot be run successfully by substituting the power of entertainment for the power of accomplishment” – Calvin Coolidge Says (daily column), October 8, 1930

“This general principle of passing one piece of legislation at a time is most salutary. It prevents crowding through measures that the majority does not favor and forces all bills to stand on their merits” — Calvin Coolidge Says, January 16, 1931

Calvin and Grace greeting Americans on the White House lawn

Calvin and Grace greeting fellow citizens visiting the farm

“A good measure can stand discussion. A bad bill ought to be delayed…Open debate is the only shield against the irretrievable action of a rash majority” – Calvin Coolidge Says, March 10, 1931

“There is only form of political strategy in which I have any confidence, and that is to try to do the right thing and sometimes to succeed” – The Autobiography, p.189

“The political mind is the product of men in public life who have been twice spoiled. They have been spoiled with praise and they have been spoiled with abuse. With them nothing is natural, everything is artificial. A few rare souls escape these influences and maintain a vision and a judgment that are unimpaired. They are a great comfort to every President and a great service to their country” – The Autobiography, 1929, p.229

“Talking is all right, but the side that organizes and gets the vote to the polls is the side that wins” – Coolidge to Everett Sanders, September 21, 1932

Bruce Barton: “Governor, how it is that you have been able to stay in public life all these years and hold office when you have no money?”
Calvin Coolidge: “I’m solvent.”
Bruce Barton: “He took care to keep solvent. He never lost his head. He never let anything change him“ – radio eulogy by author and long-time Coolidge advocate, Bruce Barton, broadcast on NBC radio the night of Coolidge’s death, January 5, 1933 (Coolidge Wit and Wisdom p.x)

President Coolidge and Vice Presidential running-mate Charles Dawes, July 1924

President Coolidge and Vice Presidential running-mate, Charles Dawes, July 1924

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