Calvin Coolidge: Defender of the Republican Party

October 31, 2016

By John Hendrickson

pict470In the presidential campaign of 1932 President Herbert Hoover was fighting a two-front war not only trying to battle the Great Depression, but also defend his record and win reelection against the Democrats and the New Deal candidacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Hoover’s reelection campaign was an uphill battle against the Depression and the charismatic Franklin D. Roosevelt, but his campaign was more than just a defense of his economic policies. Hoover’s campaign was also a defense of what he considered to be constitutional government versus the regimentation and socialism of the New Deal. Hoover was similar to John the Baptist as a voice of one calling in the wilderness for the American people to repent and turn away from New Deal progressivism.

During the campaign Calvin Coolidge would also join the fight in not only defending Hoover, but also the principles of the Republican Party. Coolidge and Hoover did not have a close relationship. When Coolidge was in the White House he referred to Hoover, who at the time was serving as Secretary of Commerce, as “the Wonder Boy” for his activism in government.  Some Republicans in 1932 started a “draft Coolidge” movement in an attempt to get the former President to seek the nomination against Hoover. Coolidge was not interested in seeking the Republican nomination and although he did not play an active role in the campaign, he certainly joined Hoover in defending the principles of the Republican Party.

Coolidge was a loyal Republican and stood by the principles of the Republican Party, which centered on the ideas of economy in government, sound money, the protective tariff, limits on immigration, and a foreign policy based on non-entanglements. The Republican Party as Coolidge wrote in the Saturday Evening Post was a trustworthy vessel because:

Under its leadership the Union was saved, the principle of sound money was established and maintained, and the independence of this republic of foreign entanglements was re-asserted and preserved.[i]

Coolidge was arguing that the Republican Party had a credible track record of not only establishing sound public policies, but also effectively handling political and economic emergencies.

In defending Hoover and his administration he urged the American people to stop blaming the President for the Depression, which arose outside of his control. As Coolidge stated:

Perhaps it would therefore be more in accord with the even-handed justice demanded by the facts to stop blaming President Hoover for the conditions of the depression, the devastating effects of which arose almost entirely outside of his jurisdiction and beyond his control, and judge him in accordance with the patience, courage and success with which he has been able to propose and supply remedies.[ii]

Coolidge also reminded the nation that the “first duty of any President is to support the Constitution of the United States, maintain public order and preserve unimpaired our peculiarly American social institutions,” and this is what Hoover has done.[iii]

Both Coolidge and Hoover understood that the Depression raised several “intricate problems,” not only within the United States, but also in Europe and that fidelity to constitutional principles was just as important as recovery measures.[iv] “If we have the courage and vision to maintain our governmental and social structure we can meet all other problems,” stated Coolidge.[v]

Coolidge was also prophetic, just as with Hoover, in regard to the New Deal philosophy and its consequences upon both economic policy and the Constitution. Coolidge argued that:

the forces of discord always work in an insidious way. They often attempt to conceal the peril of their unsound proposals under the claim that they are liberal. When that is analyzed it usually means that they attend to give away the money which someone else has earned. Such a process, once started, is bound to increase until it lands the country in universal bankruptcy and general disintegration.[vi]

Coolidge also urged the American people to look beyond the platitudes of Roosevelt’s New Deal and promises of “bold experimentation,” when he stated that “our situation is too serious for us to consider employing a personal favorite or anyone because he smiles at us and entertains us.”[vii]

Coolidge’s support for Hoover and the Republican Party in 1932 through his written statements and speeches were an attempt to defend the principles of the Republican Party in the midst of the Great Depression. Although Coolidge would not live to see the impact of Roosevelt’s New Deal his concern for the American people abandoning what he saw as constitutional principles because of the Great Depression turned out to be true.

Hoover and Coolidge may not have been the closest of friends, but they did share the same faith in the Republican Party as the best vehicle to advance sound economic policies and defend constitutional principles. Hoover would be defeated in a landslide by Roosevelt in 1932 and both Hoover and Coolidge were correct in their prediction that the New Deal, for better or for worse, changed the direction of American government still to this day.

 

[i] Calvin Coolidge, “The Republican Case,” Herbert Hoover Presidential Papers: “Republican Party-Campaign Literature, 1932-Calvin Coolidge Presents the Republican Case,” 31-hhpz-sub-b308-f20, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Calvin Coolidge, “Ex-President Coolidge, Northhampton, Massachusetts, November 7, 1932,” in Campaign Speeches of 1932 by President Hoover and Ex-President Coolidge, Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, p. 266.

 

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