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Silent Cal

Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States

Before the word Republican became a term of opprobrium, there was a quiet man who served as President of the United States and who became something of a joke for his silences, but who said the right things when he spoke up.

In 2005, Martine and I visited his birthplace, Plymouth Notch, Vermont. It was a modest place near Woodstock and rather fun to visit. Coolidge was born in a white clapboard house on the premises (see photo below); and he is buried a few steps away under an unassuming tombstone in the local cemetery (see second photo below).

The House in Which Coolidge Was Born

As president, Coolidge dared to take on the Ku Klux Klan, which was a major political force in the America of the 1920s. Addressing an American Legion convention in Omaha, Nebraska, in October 1925, Coolidge said:

If we are to have … that union of spirit which is the foundation of real national genius and national progress, we must all realize that there are true Americans who did not happen to be born in our section of the country, who do not attend our place of religious worship, who are not of our racial stock, or who are not proficient in our language. If we are to create on this continent a free Republic and an enlightened civilization that will be capable of reflecting the true greatness and glory of mankind, it will be necessary to regard these differences as accidental and unessential. We shall have to look beyond the outward manifestations of race and creed. Divine Providence has not bestowed upon any race a monopoly of patriotism and character.

And that is more profound than any subsequent president has ever tweeted.

Calvin Coolidge’s Unassuming Grave Site in the Local Cemetery

I would like to close with two things Silent Cal said that I have always remembered.

The first is a kind of joke, but not far from what actually occurred:

President Calvin Coolidge was known as “Silent Cal” because of his extraordinarily laconic speech. A famous anecdote tells of a dinner party during which the person sitting adjacent to the Coolidge said: “Mr. President I’ve made a large bet that I would be able to make you say more than two words.” Coolidge considered this proposition carefully and then replied slowly and emphatically, “You lose.”

The other is a quote I often use whenever I begin to feel fearful that circumstances are conspiring against me: “If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.”