The Age of Coolidge Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Calvin Coolidge presided over one of the most conservative governments in US history up to the time of his departure from office. The epitome of the taciturn New England Yankee, Coolidge firmly believed that that government functions best which functions least. “The business of America is business,” he said. He thus advanced the cause of freeing business from government regulation, raised import tariffs to promote domestic industry (a very unconservative position, by today’s standards), lowered taxes to aid the “moneyed” class, and limited the reach of labor unions. The vaunted prosperity of the “roaring twenties” may have originated in the postwar environment under President Harding, but it got a strong boost under Coolidge and his Treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon. Antitrust laws were overlooked as businesses grew larger and more aggressive. An increase of wealth at the top led to a sharp rise in private investment and stock speculation, eventuating, in combination with other forces, in the market crash of October 1929. Throughout the Coolidge years, many people prospered while many others remained stuck at the lower end of a steeply divided scale of income distribution.

Calvin Coolidge presided over one of the most conservative governments in US history up to the time of his departure from office. The epitome of the taciturn New England Yankee, Coolidge firmly believed that that government functions best which functions least. “The business of America is business,” he said. He thus advanced the cause of freeing business from government regulation, raised import tariffs to promote domestic industry (a very unconservative position, by today’s standards), lowered taxes to aid the “moneyed” class, and limited the reach of labor unions. The vaunted prosperity of the “roaring twenties” may have originated in the postwar environment under President Harding, but it got a strong boost under Coolidge and his Treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon. Antitrust laws were overlooked as businesses grew larger and more aggressive. An increase of wealth at the top led to a sharp rise in private investment and stock speculation, eventuating, in combination with other forces, in the market crash of October 1929. Throughout the Coolidge years, many people prospered while many others remained stuck at the lower end of a steeply divided scale of income distribution.

In this section we hear directly from Coolidge on a variety of topics, some of them somewhat abstract (“The Destiny of America”) and others more concrete (intervention in Nicaragua). In all cases, we gain a sense of the man and his views regarding the United States and American values. It should be noted that Coolidge acceded to the presidency after Harding’s death in office in 1923 and served as president during the height of the Teapot Dome scandal, an instance of political and financial corruption within the Harding administration that was investigated after Harding’s death. One of Coolidge’s great achievements was to restore confidence in the White House in the wake of the scandal and to convince citizens of the ability of the US government to serve their interests. On this matter, “Silent Cal,” as he was known, could be quite forceful and eloquent.

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