Calvin Coolidge, after setting the tone of his administration with a personal delivery of the Annual Message to Congress in December 1923 (in a sparse 6,703 words), observed the wisdom of Jefferson’s preference for a written Message. Coolidge understood the intangible worth of this custom not only for the people’s business but for the sake of the people themselves.
Coolidge submitted his messages in writing thereafter.
Moreover, the actions he took were anchored in what was right according to the law, what upheld his oath, and what served the whole people not just a specially favored demographic or interest. When he could have used the Bully Pulpit to drive wedges of discord and fuel hatred, he appealed to the fundamental principles that united thirteen different colonies into one American people, brought together in the common cause of liberty and service.
Everything he did functioned to re-balance the scales away from administrative centralization and back toward the original roles of Washington, the States, the local authorities, and the people themselves, who needed the confidence that they had the capacity to govern their own affairs.
His executive approach was strong because he relied on the institutions and traditions put into place by the American people themselves. He led in such as way as to validate the faith they held in that constitutional system and its distribution of power.
As a result, America was freer in its exercise of liberty and self-government in the 1920s on many essentials that cannot be said today.
The journey begins with our faith and confidence in the reality of self-governance and our ability to exercise it without an incessant hand-holding at every stage by Washington and, in some important instances, the States as well.
He delivered six Annual Messages as President between 1923 and 1929. His last, submitted in writing like the previous four and dispatched to Congress on December 4, 1928 (8,057 words, 702 words shorter than his 1925 Message), remains one of the best examples of Coolidge’s style. He had a superlative skill for accomplishing more with less than anyone of his era. This was especially true of his use of words. He could pack more cogent thought in a sentence than it took most officeholders a paragraph or more to convey. It can be read here.
Among the many issues President Coolidge covers, as he surveys the state of the union after nearly six years in office, we find these:
“We have been coming into a period which may be fairly characterized as a conservation of our national resources. Wastefulness in public business and private enterprise has been displaced by constructive economy. This has been accomplished by bringing our domestic and foreign relations more and more under a reign of law. A rule of force has been giving way to a rule of reason. We have substituted for the vicious circle of increasing expenditures, increasing tax rates, and diminishing profits the charmed circle of diminishing expenditures, diminishing tax rates, and increasing profits…”
“Four times we have made a drastic revision of our internal revenue system, abolishing many taxes and substantially reducing almost all others. Each time the resulting stimulation to business has so increased taxable incomes and profits that a surplus has been produced. One-third of the national debt has been paid, while much of the other two-thirds has been refunded at lower rates, and these savings of interest and constant economies have enabled us to repeat the satisfying process of more tax reductions. Under this sound and healthful encouragement the national income has increased nearly 50 per cent, until it is estimated to stand well over $90,000,000,000. It has been a method which has performed the seeming miracle of leaving a much greater percentage of earnings in the hands of the taxpayers ‘with scarcely any diminution of the Government revenue. That is constructive economy in the highest degree. It is the corner stone of prosperity. It should not fail to be continued…”
“It is necessary therefore during the present session to refrain from new appropriations for immediate outlay, or if such are absolutely required to provide for them by new revenue; otherwise, we shall reach the end of the year with the unthinkable result of an unbalanced budget. For the first time during my term of office we face that contingency. I am certain that the Congress would not pass and I should not feel warranted in approving legislation which would involve us in that financial disgrace…”
On National Defense: “I wish to repeat again for the benefit of the timid and the suspicious that this country is neither militaristic nor imperialistic. Many people at home and abroad, who constantly make this charge, are the same ones who are even more solicitous to have us extend assistance to foreign countries. When such assistance is granted, the inevitable result is that we have foreign interests. For us to refuse the customary support and protection of such interests would be in derogation of the sovereignty of this Nation. Our largest foreign interests are in the British Empire, France, and Italy. Because we are constantly solicitous for those interests, I doubt if anyone would suppose that those countries feel we harbor toward them any militaristic or imperialistic design. As for smaller countries, we certainly do not want any of them. We are more anxious than they are to have their sovereignty respected. Our entire influence is in behalf of their independence. Cuba stands as a witness to our adherence to this principle…”
On Veterans: “The administration of all the laws concerning relief has been a difficult task, but it can safely be stated that these measures have omitted nothing in their desire to deal generously and humanely. We should continue to foster this system and provide all the facilities necessary for adequate care. It is the conception of our Government that the pension roll is an honor roll. It should include all those who are justly entitled to its benefits, but exclude all others…
On Agriculture: “In the past eight years more constructive legislation of direct benefit to agriculture has been adopted than during any other period. The Department of Agriculture has been broadened and reorganized to insure greater efficiency. The department is laying greater stress on the economic and business phases of agriculture. It is lending every possible assistance to cooperative marketing associations. Regulatory and research work have been segregated in order that each field may be served more effectively…”
On the Surplus Problem: “Temporary expedients, though sometimes capable of appeasing the demands of the moment, can not permanently solve the surplus problem and might seriously aggravate it. Hence putting the Government directly into business, subsidies, and price fixing, and the alluring promises of political action as a substitute for private initiative, should be avoided…”
On Conservation: “The practical application of economy to the resources of the country calls for conservation. This does not mean that every resource should not be developed to its full degree, but it means that none of them should be wasted. We have a conservation board working on our oil problem. This is of the utmost importance to the future well-being of our people in this age of oil-burning engines and tile general application of gasoline to transportation…”
On Wage Earners: “Here and there the councils of labor are still darkened by the theory that only by limiting individual production can there be any assurance of permanent employment for increasing numbers, but in general, management and wage earner alike have become emancipated from this doom and have entered a new era in industrial thought which has unleashed the productive capacity of the individual worker with an increasing scale of wages and profits, the end of which is not yet. The application of this theory accounts for our widening distribution of wealth. No discovery ever did more to increase the happiness and prosperity of the people…”
On Women and Children: “The Federal Government should continue its solicitous care for the 8,500,000 women wage earners and its efforts in behalf of public health, which is reducing infant mortality and improving the bodily and mental condition of our citizens...”
On the American Indian: “The Government’s responsibility to the American Indian has been acknowledged by annual increases in appropriations to fulfill its obligations to them and to hasten the time when Federal supervision of their affairs may be properly and safely terminated. The movement in Congress and in some of the State legislatures for extending responsibility in Indian affairs to States should be encouraged. A complete participation by the Indian in our economic life is the end to be desired…”
On the Negro: “For 65 years now our negro population has been under the peculiar care and solicitude of the National Government. The progress which they have made in education and the professions, in wealth and in the arts of civilization, affords one of the most remarkable incidents in this period of world history. They have demonstrated their ability to partake of the advantages of our institutions and to benefit by a free and more and more independent existence. Whatever doubt there may have been of their capacity to assume, the status granted to them by the Constitution of this Union is being rapidly dissipated. Their cooperation in the life of the Nation is constantly enlarging…”
On Prohibition: “The country has duly adopted the eighteenth amendment. Those who object to it have the right to advocate its modification or repeal. Meantime, it is binding upon the National and State Governments and all our inhabitants. The Federal enforcement bureau is making every effort to prevent violations, especially through smuggling, manufacture, and transportation, and to prosecute generally all violations for which it can secure evidence. It is bound to continue this policy. Under the terms of the Constitution, however, the obligation is equally on the States to exercise the power which they have through the executive, legislative. judicial, and police branches of their governments in behalf of enforcement…”
“The country is in the midst of an era of prosperity more extensive and of peace more permanent than it has ever before experienced. But, having reached this position, we should not fail to comprehend that it can easily be lost. It needs more effort for its support than the less exalted places of the world. We shall not be permitted to take our case, but shall continue to be required to spend our days in unremitting toil. The actions of the Government must command the confidence of the country. Without this, our prosperity would be lost. We must extend to other countries the largest measure of generosity, moderation, and patience. In addition to dealing justly, we can well afford to walk humbly.
“The end of government is to keep open the opportunity for a more abundant life. Peace and prosperity are not finalities; they are only methods. It is too easy under their influence for a nation to become selfish and degenerate. This test has come to the United States. Our country has been provided with the resources with which it can enlarge its intellectual, moral, and spiritual life. The issue is in the hands of the people. Our faith in man and God is the justification for the belief in our continuing success.”