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.

On Winning Big & Governing Well

A Calvin Coolidge Presidency, whose incredible victory in a three-way race on this very day in 1924, was never supposed to happen. He was supposed to be dumped from the enthusiasm for the 1920 ticket subsided after the tumult of 1922. Harding’s death brought him the Presidency but he proved himself so adept a winner and so capable an administrator that, in Coolidge style, one obstacle after another melted away and he emerged not only the strongest hope for victory but the only one equipped to pull off a landmark win against two other opponents. It was an occurrence, still overshadowed by the dread of 1912, that simply did not happen by accident. He knew how to win elections and he knew how to govern. That recipe is desperately needed in the new ’20s. If we would seek to win big and govern well, we better study how Cal did it. To do so, pick up a copy of Keeping Cool on the Campaign Trail. It opens eyes to what made him so genuinely popular and so incredibly successful. Washington certainly needs him back but so do our cities, counties, and state capitals. We need patriots like Frank Stearns to support candidates like him and we need men and women to be unafraid, put in the sweat equity, learn to win and govern well as he proved possible. As he said, either we are nation content to be ruled by a part of the people or we are resolved to get involved and govern ourselves: 

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.

President Coolidge back in Vermont for the last time as President.