America’s birthday is also Calvin Coolidge’s. It’s a fitting coincidence, as the 30th president was one of the most eloquent defenders of America’s principles.
Few words, let alone eloquent ones, are associated with Coolidge, who was, after all, nicknamed “Silent Cal.” Coolidge was that rare politician who valued silence as much as speech — and “no” as much as “yes.”
Coolidge came to national prominence in 1919 by saying “no” to a Boston police-union strike. The officers went on strike to protest the suspension of union leadership by the police commissioner. Public unrest ensued. Massachusetts governor Coolidge responded by calling up the National Guard and declaring that there was “no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.” His bold actions earned him national attention. Soon after, Coolidge joined Warren G. Harding on the 1920 Republican presidential ticket as vice president. Coolidge took the presidential oath of office in August 1923 after President Harding’s death.
As president, Coolidge said “no” even more: no to tax increases, emergency spending, farm legislation, subsidies, entitlement programs, and expanded government. Reasoning that to stop bad laws was more important than to pass good ones, he wielded the veto power unabashedly. He was especially fond of the pocket veto, which allowed him to express “disapproval by inaction,” as the New York Times called it. Pocket vetoes do not require the president to explain his reasons for rejecting the legislation in question. Because Congress is not in session to override the veto, the pocket veto kills the bill until the next session.
Coolidge’s courage to say “no” serves as an important example for today’s spendthrift politicians. When he left office in 1929, the federal budget was smaller than when he was sworn in as president in 1923.
But after recounting what Coolidge was against, we should remember what he was for.