This is the text of my 4 minute presentation regarding the literature on Coolidge:
Before beginning I need to quickly correct a statement I made during my first presentation regarding Calvin Coolidge being undefeated in his elections. Further research has revealed that he lost a very small election for a local government position early in his career. The myth of him never losing is quite widespread, and quite false.
My research so far is guided by the thesis: Calvin Coolidge’s response to the Boston Police Strike of 1919 was what propelled him to national attention and eventually got him nominated to the vice-presidency of the United States.
In this research there is a great deal of literature dedicated to Calvin Coolidge as President, but far less dealing with time as the governor of Massachusetts. Naturally, this is more the case regarding the strike and his involvement. Some of the books that deal with Coolidge have a chapter or two dedicated to the strike, which has proven enormously valuable.
Most of what I have found on him is either fair or negative on many aspects, the general atmosphere in which research on Coolidge is conducted, however, is rather negative. This negativity can be seen by reactions to how certain books about Coolidge portray him, or blaming him for the great depression. Without getting too political, this is largely in response to Coolidge’s small government agenda and his having been president right before the Stock Market Crash of 1929.
This bad attitude towards Coolidge is carried into how he is viewed in other situations as well. His belief that the government should not interfere with business, contrary to how Hoover or Roosevelt felt, is often condemned as irresponsible. The post-depression left views interference as necessary to dealing with recession (not that there is anything wrong with that, the issue to debate is the amount and the timing), and because Coolidge did not interfere to the same degree as Hoover or Roosevelt, he is seen as inactive. This irresponsibility feeds into the opinion that Coolidge was also inactive at the start of the Boston Strike, by not recognizing the workers’ needs, by not responding to demands to unionize, and by not acting quickly enough when the strike proper occurred. The Washington Post (specifically a 2006 article by Eric Foner, He’s the Worst Ever) is one of those that see Coolidge in a bad light.
What is often left on the side-lines is the fact that WWI had just ended and a lot of money was owed by both the federal government and the state governments. This is the situation in which Coolidge operated. He was not a cold man. He merely budgeted.
Donald McCoy’s The Quiet President from 1967 points out that Governor Coolidge did in fact increase the wages of telephone workers who went on strike. McCoy also points out that Coolidge did try to alleviate the conditions of the Boston Police, but could never get it to work with lawmakers. Later, before the strike, Coolidge also did raise the pay of the policemen. McCoy, however, asserts that this was not enough.
William Allen White’s A Puritan in Babylon from 1938 says that Coolidge’s entire time from leaving the University in Amherst to when he succeeded Warren G Harding was preparation. Necessarily included in this time was the 1919 Boston Police Strike. White says that the strike made Coolidge a national hero.
My favorite work on Coolidge that I have so far encountered is from 2013 by Amity Shlaes, simply called Coolidge. Being both the only woman I have encountered to write about Coolidge, and the only politically conservative, I thought that her viewpoint would offer quite a lot of insight into why Coolidge was so loved by the nation for his toughness in dealing with the Boston Strike. I was right. Shlaes praises Coolidge’s response in dealing with the rise of Progressivism amid a fear of Bolshevism in the nation. The American people seemed to feel the same.
I think that any slurs against Coolidge are attempts to simplify a complex issue. There were simple causes and a complex, forceful, and needed response. The literature is divided between praise and serious criticism.