A piece I wrote while writing my final research paper. Published in the Blue and Gray Press at UMW on Thursday, the 7th of April. Here is the original text, followed by my terrible pictures of the paper:
Remember Calvin Coolidge
The political circus of this election is disheartening. I really do not think that anyone, on either side, is satisfied with the choice of candidates. It is another election of choosing that candidate with whom we disagree least. I know that my friends and peers are the sort that vote reasonably, and we have all been unfairly given terrible choices. As a sort of side-step from the current political makeup in the United States, let us remember the virtue of responsibility in civic duty. Let us remember Calvin Coolidge.
At the end of the First World War the United States was in a position that demanded budgeting. The people of our nation were also worried about the rise of Bolshevism and the potential of the progressive movement to run amuck. Amid this backdrop, the Boston Police, against their department rules, had become affiliated with the American Federation of Labor in August of 1919. In September, the police were threatening to strike if their demand for better pay and improved working conditions were not met. They were working in quite deplorable conditions, so their complaints were not unfounded. The nineteen police who headed the unionization movement, led by the senior John McInnes, were suspended by the police commissioner, Edwin Curtis after a judicial review. The following day, about three-quarters of the Boston Police left their posts and joined the strike, leaving the city undefended. Riots, rapes, and death ensued. Militias were called in and order was soon restored, but not after considerable property damage had already taken place and a number of people were killed.
After the strike, the head of the AFL, Samuel Gompers, called for sensibility by having the striking officers reinstated. Curtis said no. Calvin Coolidge, while Governor of Massachusetts in 1919, showed the people of the United States what leadership meant in the face of crisis by defending Curtis’ decision. He, understanding that the policemen leaving their posts was not only irresponsible, but indefensible, said “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.” None of the striking police were reinstated.
President Woodrow Wilson, dealing with national strike issues but still sympathetic towards the governor, agreed with Coolidge’s hardline and said “In my judgement…the obligation of a policeman is as sacred as the obligation of the soldier…I hope that that lesson will be burned in so that it will never again be forgotten.” The people of Boston, afraid of a general strikes such as what had happened in Seattle, were relieved. The American people also stood by Coolidge’s side.
Coolidge’s actions, however, have not eluded criticism from those who side with unions against public safety. Indeed, today Coolidge is not seen as a good leader either while governor, or during his term as President of the United States. Historian and Marxist Eric Foner wrote an article for the Washington Post called “He’s the Worst Ever,” in which Foner declares that Coolidge was as corrupt as they come, not an honorable man. Coolidge’s decision during the strike, a pro-public safety stance, has been spun into cold-heartedness.
This is utterly false. Coolidge actually had a history of dealing with labor unions and agreeing to their demands. He raised the pay of telephone operators who threatened to strike earlier in 1919. But as already mentioned, Massachusetts and the nation were deeply in debt. The war had exhausted much—so much so that Coolidge at this time was engaged in a process of trimming government fat. Everyone had to tighten their belts. Coolidge, himself, lived well below his means, much to the ire of his political opponents who thought it unfit. Historian Amity Shlaes, in her book Coolidge, described him as “a rare kind of hero: a minimalist president, an economic general of budgeting and tax cuts” and went on to say that “Economic heroism is subtler than other forms of heroism, harder to appreciate.”
When Coolidge stuck to his decision, he went to bed thinking that the morning would bring news of his unpopularity. He acted according to principle and was willing to risk his career for it. Coolidge is a model for us all, and should be heeded by anyone willing to run for the nation’s highest office. Maybe someday soon a rising politician that cares will become to us a hero like Coolidge.