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Silent Cal  - America's Forgotten President?

Faiza Elmasry

September 01, 2010

America's 30th president has been largely ignored by historians.

Calvin Coolidge was sworn into office in August 1923, after the death of President Warren Harding. Elected in his own right the following year, Coolidge left office in 1929.

Now, his legacy is being revisited in a new book that suggests Coolidge's world view can be applied to modern politics and life.

'Silent Cal'

Calvin Coolidge is not a well-known president.

What most Americans know of him is limited to his nickname - Silent Cal. He was reserved, introspective and often seemed uncomfortable at social events. But this man of few words got a lot accomplished as president.

He reduced taxes, lowered federal spending, signed a bill granting full citizenship to native Americans and limited immigration. He also made himself available to lawmakers and reporters - a novelty in the early 20th century, says Jim Douglas, government of Vermont.

"Coolidge had breakfast meetings with the members of Congress," he says. "He had a press conference on average every four days."

Core values

Douglas is one of the 21 politicians, journalists, activists and thinkers who contributed their thoughts to "Why Coolidge Matters," a collection of essays about the 30th president.

In his essay, the governor highlights how Coolidge reflected the character and values of Vermont, where he was born and raised. Calvin Coolidge inspires him.

"There are really two ways: one is his commitment to fiscal integrity, to reducing debt, to balancing the budget, to lowering taxes, something we did in Vermont in our legislative session this year," says Douglas. "Secondly, I take from the Coolidge legacy the values of civility, integrity, honesty, straightforwardness, of communicating in a transparent way with the people he served and on a frequent basis."

Other contributors to "Why Coolidge Matters" include former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, presidential scholar Peter Schramm and U.S. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Public servant

Coolidge's great grandson, Christopher Coolidge Jeter, is pleased his great grandfather's legacy is being revisited.

"I think it's great that folks are taking a second look at Coolidge. I think sometimes he gets a short shrift in the historians' perspective because there were not any great crises or wars that occurred during his tenure," says Jeter. "But I think, when we reexamine his character, values and strong moral beliefs, that there is a lot that can be learned and applied to today's world."

Jeter believes Coolidge was a true public servant. He held more public offices than any other president and supported many reforms including women's suffrage and tax cuts. He was a fine writer who not only wrote his own speeches, but also an autobiography. On a personal level, Jeter says he learned the importance of being financially rational from his great grandfather.

"Coolidge had a great quote of, 'There is no dignity quite so impressive as living within your means.' I tried to achieve that myself, and hopefully that's something I think the nation can take a cue from as well."

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