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58 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Like Ronald Reagan: I can't help but admire this man, November 8, 2008
This review is from: The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge (Paperback)
Some years ago, I learned that Calvin Coolidge was one of the presidents that Ronald Reagan most admired. That puzzled me, since what little I knew of Coolidge was not necessarily admirable. To whit: He was known as "Silent Cal," because he didn't have much to say; and he was said to be a "do nothing" president, because he didn't accomplish much. So, when I ran across this book I decided to see if I could learn more about Calvin Coolidge and, hopefully, discover why he was held in such high esteem by America's 40th President.

In answer to the first question: I don't think I learned a lot about Calvin Coolidge. it is abundantly clear that Coolidge wrote this book himself, no ghost writers here, but, he wrote it in a most unusual way. It is almost as if Coolidge, a very private and unusually modest man, was scanning a journal he had kept all his life and briefly describing what he considered to be the high points of his life. As a result, the reader seems to learn much about those who encountered Coolidge or worked with him throughout his life, and what Coolidge thought of them, and something about his major accomplishments. You see what Coolidge saw and see what Coolidge did, but little is learned about the inner man except as deduced from the sage philosophical observations which he scatters throughout his book. In short: the writing seems superficial. It tells us how Calvin Coolidge spent his "dash," but it is hard to believe that the life of this man, who rose from a modest beginning to become President of the United States, could be captured in just 247 pages with extra-wide margins and double spaced text.

If the reader pays close attention to the values expressed by Coolidge throughout his book, however, he or she can clearly understand why he was so much admired by Ronald Reagan. The values expressed by Coolidge are essentially the same as Reagan's - the idealism, optimism, and "classical liberalism" of an earlier age -- as exemplified by the rural, down to earth, values of the hard working Americans of his time. To paraphrase a few: All kinds of work from the most menial to the most exalted are alike honorable. There is no dignity quite so impressive, and no independence quite so important, as living within one's means. Wealth comes from industry and from the hard experience of human toil. Any reward that is worth having only comes to the industrious. We are all fallible, but experience should teach us not to repeat our errors. Expediency as a working principle is bound to fail. There is evil in the world, but good predominates all around us.

And, in the realm of government and politics: People should manage their government, and not be managed by it. In the discharge of the duties of the office [of the President] there is one rule of action more important than all others. It consists in never doing anything that some one else can do for you. Otherwise, the President will be entirely devoted to trifling details and there will be little opportunity to give the necessary consideration to policies of larger importance. Tasks must be entrusted to competent men [and women] of sufficient ability so that they can solve all the problems that arise under their jurisdiction. Large concerns are necessary for the progress in which both capital and labor have a common interest. The government should not be blamed because everyone is not prosperous. Nothing is more dangerous to good government than great power in improper hands. And finally: It is a great advantage to a President, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know that he is not a great man.

What struck me hardest in this book, however, was the Boston Policeman's strike in 1905 and Massachusetts' Governor Coolidge's reaction to it. The police force was attempting to create a union and join the American Federation of Labor (AFL), although all had agreed not to do so upon joining the force. When they were prevented from doing so, they struck, whereupon the Police Commissioner fired the leaders of the insurrection and, he, himself, was forced to resign. Governor Coolidge reinstated the Police Commissioner and helped those fired to find other jobs, but would never again let them serve as police officers. He did so saying that, "There is no right to strike against the public safety by any body, any time, any where." [Shades of Reagan's later firing of the Air Traffic Controllers in 1981]

I wasn't impressed by this book, but the wise advice and down-to-earth philosophy of life expressed therein is worth at least four stars. And, I can't help but agree with Ronald Reagan: Calvin Coolidge is to be much admired. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure that Ronald Reagan would have been the great president he was if he hadn't admired men such as this.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 4, 2012 8:14:42 AM PDT
RickyDoo says:
I really like this autobiography. Although, learning Reagen admired Coolidge has put a damper on my enthusiasm.

Posted on Dec 29, 2015 11:43:28 PM PST
A contemporary review:

"The Coolidge volume, on all imaginable critical grounds, is abominable beyond compare. It is vilely written, it is full of transparent fraudulences and evasions, and there is a pious and puerile unction in it that recalls a W.M.C.A. secretary lecturing on sex hygiene.
But these deficiencies cannot conceal the man: on the contrary, they only serve to make him more vivid.
The volume deserves to be read prayerfully by every American patriot. It is a shameless and amazing demonstration of what the public service has come to among us. Here is a man who sat in the chair of Washington and Jefferson, Lincoln and Cleveland, for nearly seven years, hymned and greased by the Washington correspondents, revered by millions, and with more power than forty Czars of Russia -- and yet the net content of his cranium, revealed innocently by himself, turns out to be hardly distinguishable from what fills the brain pan of an average garage attendant.
Having got through his appalling self-revelation, horrified and yet spellbound, I hasten to apologize to readers of this great family magazine for my writings about him in the past. He was, as President, a great deal worse than in my most despairing moments, suspected."

-- H. L. Mencken in The American Mercury; January, 1930.
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Location: Houston, Texas USA

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