February seems to have a penchant for producing great presidents. February 22 was the birthday of our first president, George Washington, the father of our country. February 12 was the birthday of the man who saved the union, Abraham Lincoln. Last, but certainly not least, February 6 was the birthday of the greatest president of my lifetime, Ronald Reagan. With a lineup like this, it is no surprise that we dedicate a day in February to remember all of those 45 men who served their country as its president. But Presidents’ Day also affords us the opportunity to remember some presidents who do not get the credit they deserve for all they did for our nation.

I recently read that when President Reagan moved into the White House, one of the first redecorating decisions he made was to remove a portrait of Thomas Jefferson that hung in the cabinet room and replace it with a portrait of an often forgotten president of the early 20th century, Calvin Coolidge. Upon hearing this, it became clear to me that there might be more to Calvin Coolidge than I learned in my history books some years ago.

Calvin Coolidge was born in Vermont in 1872. He was raised in a religious, frugal home that taught him the importance of God, love of country and family, and sound economy. These values informed him as he entered political life as a state representative, state senator, eventually reaching the pinnacle of Massachusetts politics in being elected governor. His performance in restoring order in Boston during the Boston Police Strike of 1919 catapulted him into the national spotlight and guaranteed him a spot on the national ticket as a candidate for Vice-President of the United States. When President Warren G. Harding, a fellow Buckeye, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and passed away in 1923, Coolidge became the 30th President of the United States.          

When President Harding assumed the presidency during the aftermath of World War I, chaos threatened America. Anarchy dominated the streets of many major cities. Labor strikes, fears of communist revolution, and crippling debt and taxes plagued the nation. The national debt, fueled by our involvement in the Great War, soared to the highest levels in the nation’s history. Harding ran on a promise of “Return to Normalcy.” He wanted to restore peace and order to the nation and was largely successful. When Coolidge became president he was enjoying a moment of great peace throughout the nation. But Coolidge remained deeply troubled. While the nation was no longer in turmoil, a danger lurked that he believed threatened America’s security: the massive national debt. Coolidge wasted no time in addressing this problem, remembering the values that elevated him to the highest level of public service attainable in America: love of God, country, and sound economy.

Coolidge is most remembered today for his nickname “Silent Cal,” which might lead us to think that he was a quiet man, who accomplished very little during his presidency. Contrary to this portrayal, however, Coolidge was a very aggressive president who immersed himself in the federal budget looking for cost savings wherever he could. He recognized the need for a government that operated efficiently and effectively, believing it was the priority of government to be as small a burden as possible on the people of America. He reduced tax rates from over 70% to a far more manageable rate below 30%, he cut the “red tape” used to bind official documents with a much cheaper alternative: string, and even changed the bags used by the post office in order to save $50,000 a year for taxpayers. The results were startling: government revenue increased and the money was used to pay down the national debt. By the time he left office, Coolidge had reduced the national debt by 33% and reduced tax rates by over 40%, accomplishments we would desperately welcome today.

President Coolidge succeeded because he was motivated by the right principles. He felt a deep obligation to the future, to not hinder them with massive debt—a lesson we would be wise to listen to. He entered public service, not for himself, but for future generations and he governed accordingly. He did not believe to be a great president one had to enlarge the sphere of government control, but rather make the government we have work better for the citizens of our nation. He knew that “it is always the people who toil that pay.” Government, therefore, had an obligation to ensure greater efficiency and cost effectiveness, to protect the money of those who toil from waste. This Presidents’ Day I hope you will join me in remembering all of our presidents, including Washington, Lincoln, Reagan, and yes, Coolidge, as well as the other 41 men who faithfully served as President of the United States of America.

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