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The Coolidge Presidency (Excerpt)
by Michael Telzrow
January 8, 2007
Historians have rated Calvin Coolidge poorly among our nation’s chief executives for being a "do-nothing president," but he should be rated highly for the very same reason.
Most Americans reserve their greatest praise for past presidents who were noted for their activity while in office. Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt immediately come to mind — the former for his aggressive extra-executive actions in putting down a "rebellion," and the latter for equally aggressive measures in reshaping American politics and culture during the Great Depression. Rarely do Americans praise those presidents who exercised their duties with restraint and in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.
For contemporary Americans weaned on activist presidents who seem to wield more power with each subsequent administration, the idea of a minimalist presidency is positively alien. But between 1923 and 1929, America enjoyed an administration that governed little and, in doing so, restored confidence in our republic, which had been soiled by the scandals of the Harding administration.
Calvin Coolidge’s tenure as president is typically characterized as a "do nothing" administration. His well-known taciturn demeanor symbolized his political approach so much so that the great American historian, Samuel Eliot Morison, wrote that Coolidge "exalted inactivity to a fine art." Others like H. L. Mencken remarked that had Coolidge been in office during the Great Depression he would have handled the crisis by "snoozing away the lazy afternoons." But despite those who were fond of mocking Coolidge’s inactivity, the facts remain that his presidential performance was closer to what the Founding Fathers envisioned than many of the "great" presidents who came before and after him.
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