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THE QUOTABLE CALVIN COOLIDGE: Sensible Words for a New Century
By Peter Hannaford

Tom Slayton, Editor of Vermont Life Magazine,
for his Vermont Public Radio Commentary

 What American president uttered these words:

 "Government is not, must not be, a cold, impersonal machine, but a more human agency, satisfying the heart, full of mercy, assisting the good, resisting the wrong, delivering the weak from any impositions of the powerful."

 If you guessed a liberal Democrat, or any Democratic President, you are wrong. The author of that statement was Calvin Coolidge, Republican, from Vermont. It is contained in a new collection of Coolidge quotations entitled The Quotable Calvin Coolidge, a book that proves Calvin Coolidge can still surprise us. And it also proves once again something that I have felt for many years -- that Calvin Coolidge was a good President -- and a fine writer as well.

 Coolidge's reputation is currently being upgraded by historians, and the facts increasingly indicate that Coolidge, while not a great President, was certainly a very good one, and was just what the U.S. needed in the wake of the Harding Administration scandals.

 Calvin Coolidge was an undeniable master of the English language. His Autobiography is a pleasure to read today, full of wisdom and stylistic grace. His description of his mother in that book is close to poetry, and listen to the stark cadences Coolidge uses to describe her untimely death.

 "When she knew that her end was near, she called us children to her bedside, where we knelt down to receive her final parting blessing. In an hour she was gone. It was her 39th birthday. I was 12 years old.

 "We laid her away in the blustering snows of March. The greatest grief that can come to a boy came to me. Life was never to seem the same again."

The Quotable Calvin Coolidge, just published by Images from the Past Publishing of Bennington, gives ample evidence that Coolidge's skill with words was not confined to the pages of his Autobiography. Whether writing about politics, patriotism, business, industry, home, humility, or even dogs, Coolidge is unfailingly pithy, clear and precise. Often he is witty as well. There are a hundred anecdotes to use as examples. One of my favorites is Coolidge's remark to the aide who handed him his first paycheck as President.

 "Call again," Coolidge said.

 In another instance, when a delegation showed up at the White House insisting he had promised to address their annual convention, a secretary told them they were mistaken, that the speech was not on the President's schedule.

 "That's right. You stick to it," Coolidge told the secretary in private. "And I'll amplify it by saying nothing."

 But there's much more to Coolidge than clever one-liners. At a time when the United States seemed morally adrift and people longed for stability, Coolidge achieved enormous popularity by exemplifying a firm code of ethics. He was not reactionary or rigid. But he knew what he believed and acted on it. Though caricatured as cold and unfeeling, Calvin Coolidge had a Vermonter's strong sense of fairness and justice for the downtrodden.

 "The people must assert themselves and show that they will tolerate no delay and no parsimony in the care of our unfortunates," Coolidge said on one occasion, and he made clear on several others that he considered one of government's basic functions the care of the poor and the infirm.

 The man who said, "Vermont is a state I love," in words Vermont has never forgotten, also told a materialistic age that values the intangible beliefs that guide our actions --were more important than just about anything else:

 "We do not need more intellectual power," Calvin Coolidge said. "We need more moral power. We do not need more knowledge; we need more character. ... We do not need more of the things that are seen; we need more of the things that are unseen...If the foundation is firm, the superstructure will stand."

 Beliefs like that -- and the ability to put them into words made Calvin Coolidge immensely popular in his time. In our own materialistic age with its moral ambiguities, its huge and inequitable gulf between the rich and the poor, its crassness and intellectual flaccidity, the man from Plymouth seems more relevant than ever.

Ordering Information: 5" x 7"
ISBN 1-884592-33-3, Hardcover: $19.50.

The Quotable Calvin  (HC) $19.50

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