From Irving Stone’s book, They Also Ran, came the best possible sketch of Calvin Coolidge. His good point was that his Attorney General, Harlan Stone, did prosecute those responsible for the Harding scandals. As Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover was constantly on a collision course with the President. Coolidge in 1928 said of Hoover “….for six years that man has offered me unsolicited advice, all of it bad.” Hoover’s social responsibility was beyond the President’s understanding. As President, Hoover had to face the results of the Harding-Coolidge policies, most of which he argued against. Coolidge did not like Hoover getting the 1928 Presidential Nomination but did want to split the Republicans.
The Democrats during this period offered no real alternative. The most effective opposition, in the Senate, came from Progressive Republicans; specifically Robert Lafollette of Wisconsin and George Norris of Nebraska.
Coolidge allowed no one to use him for personal advantage and he guarded every last penny of government funds with as much zeal as he guarded his own. But he had a brain that functioned without words. Since words are the only means of communication, Coolidge maintained an Ice Age silence between himself and Washington. He was a misanthrope who froze the government. Coolidge knew nothing about Europe and was an isolationist in a period when the hearty cooperation of the United States was necessary to avert another world cataclysm.
But the great tragedy of the Calvin Coolidge regime lies neither in his clammishness nor his isolationism; it is an unequaled policy of letting things alone… Governmental experts, Hoover among them, came to him with figures which proved indisputably that the United States was heading for the financial crash which came in 1929. They showed him certain regulations that would prevent the crash and depression. Coolidge replied by glaring at them in icy loathing until the experts stuffed their papers into their brief cases and left the room.
It was no accident that Coolidge made his one public speech in the 1924 Presidential Campaign in the United States Chamber of Commerce Building. For Coolidge this was a statement of his philosophy and faith. While he was President, the Chief Executive Offices were not at the White House but across the street in the Chamber of Commerce Building.
The financial interests of Massachusetts helped Calvin Coolidge rise from an obscure ward heeler, a petty opportunist and mediocre state legislator to the office of Governor because…he would completely serve them. This was not because they could buy or bribe him; it was because in his primitive philosophy Coolidge was the perfect agent for their purposes. He believed honestly and sincerely that everything big business did was sound and right; he would allow no restriction on its activities or attempt to control it in the alleged interest of the people. Change was abhorrent to him; he was repelled by the attempt of man to control his fate by political activity. He detested social legislation.
A careful examination of his record shows him to be a mediocre mind. He willfully and stubbornly allowed the country to plunge into its shattering crash and depression. Insofar as history can blame any one man for the years of misery and degradation suffered by the American people, Calvin Coolidge is that man. Only the malevolent fates could have brought into the White House a Stone Age reactionary, the one man…who could do the utmost possible damage by refusing to do anything at all.