"Should the day ever dawn, when Jefferson's warnings are heeded at last, and we reduce government to its simplest terms, it may very well happen that Calvin's bones now resting inconspicuously in the Vermont granite will come to be revered as those of a man who really did the nation some service." -- H.L. Mencken, on Coolidge's death in 1933
Dorothy Parker, on Coolidge's death: "How can they tell?"
On Stating the Obvious:
- They criticize me, for harping on the obvious. Perhaps someday I'll write On the Importance of the Obvious. If all the folks in the United States would do the few simple things they know they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves.
The collection of taxes which are not absolutely required, which do not beyond reasonable doubt contribute to the public welfare, is only a species of legalized larceny.
Under this republic the rewards of industry belong to those who earn them.
The only constitutional tax is the tax which ministers to public necessity. The property of the country belongs to the people of the country. Their title is absolute.
As I went about with my father, when he collected taxes, I knew that when taxes were laid someone had to work hard to earn the money to pay them.
No matter what anyone may say about making the rich and the corporations pay taxes, in the end they come out of the people who toil.
The method of raising revenue ought not to impede the transaction of business; it ought to encourage it.
I am opposed to extremely high rates, because they produce little or no revenue, because they are bad for the country, and, finally, because they are wrong. We can not finance the country, we can not improve social conditions, through any system of injustice, even if we attempt to inflict it upon the rich. Those who suffer the most harm will be the poor.
This country believes in prosperity. It is absurd to suppose that it is envious of those who are already prosperous. The wise and correct course to follow in taxation and all other economic legislation is not to destroy those who have already secured success but to create conditions under which every one will have a better chance to be successful.
I have in mind that the taxpayers are the stockholders of the business corporation of the United States, and if this business is showing a surplus of receipts the taxpayer should share therein in some material way that will be of immediate benefit. - 1924.
The power to tax is the power to destroy.... A government which lays taxes on the people not required by urgent public necessity and sound public policy is not a protector of liberty, but an instrument of tyranny. - speech in Washington D.C., June 30, 1924.
If we had a tax whereby on the first working day the Government took 5 per cent of your wages, on the second day 10 per cent, on the third day 20 per cent, on the fourth day 30 per cent, on the fifth day 50 per cent, and on the sixth day 60 per cent, how many of you would continue to work on the last two days of the week?
It is the same with capital. Surplus income will go into tax-exempt securities. It will refuse to take the risk incidental to embarking in business. This will raise the rate which established business will have to pay for new capital, and result in a marked increase in the cost of living. If new capital will not flow into competing enterprise, the present concerns tend toward monopoly, increasing again the prices which the people must pay. -- To the National Republican Club, February 12, 1924
Do the day's work. If it be to protect the rights of the weak, whoever objects, do it. If it be to help a powerful corporation better to serve the people, whatever the opposition, do that. Expect to be called a stand-patter, but don't be a stand-patter. Expect to be called a demagogue,but don't be a demagogue. Don't hesitate to be as revolutionary as science. Don't hesitate to be as reactionary as the multiplication table. Don't expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong. Don't hurry to legislate. Give administration a chance to catch up with legislation.
On Class Warfare (i.e. "Soaking the Rich"):
The fallacy of the claim that the costs of government are borne by the rich cannot be too often exposed. No system has been devised, I do not think any system could be devised, under which any person living in this country could escape being affected by the cost of our government. It has a direct effect both upon the rate and the purchasing power of wages. It is felt in the price of those prime necessities of existence, food, clothing, fuel and shelter...the continuing costs of public administration can be met in only one way -- by the work of the people. The higher they become, the more the people must work for the government. The less they are, the more the people can work for themselves.
Government cannot relieve from toil. The normal must take care of themselves. Self-government means self-support.... Ultimately property rights and personal rights are the same thing.... History reveals no civilized people among whom there was not a highly educated class and large aggregations of wealth. Large profits mean large payrolls."
After all, there is but a fixed quantity of wealth in this country at any fixed time. The only way that we can all secure more of it is to create more.
From his Inaugural Address (Wednesday, March 4, 1925):
Not only those who are now making their tax returns, but those who meet the enhanced cost of existence in their monthly bills, know by hard experience what this great burden is and what it does. No matter what others may want, these people want a drastic economy. They are opposed to waste. They know that extravagance lengthens the hours and diminishes the rewards of their labor. I favor the policy of economy, not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people. The men and women of this country who toil are the ones who bear the cost of the Government. Every dollar that we carelessly waste means that their life will be so much the more meager. Every dollar that we prudently save means that their life will be so much the more abundant. Economy is idealism in its most practical form.
We must realize that human nature is about the most constant thing in the universe and that the essentials of human relationship do not change.
We can not permit ourselves to be narrowed and dwarfed by slogans and phrases. It is not the adjective, but the substantive, which is of real importance. It is not the name of the action, but the result of the action, which is the chief concern.
But there is another element, more important than all, without which there can not be the slightest hope of a permanent peace. That element lies in the heart of humanity. Unless the desire for peace be cherished there, unless this fundamental and only natural source of brotherly love be cultivated to its highest degree, all artificial efforts will be in vain. Peace will come when there is realization that only under a reign of law, based on righteousness and supported by the religious conviction of the brotherhood of man, can there be any hope of a complete and satisfying life. Parchment will fail, the sword will fail, it is only the spiritual nature of man that can be triumphant.
Under this republic the rewards of industry belong to those who earn them. The only constitutional tax is the tax which ministers to public necessity. The property of the country belongs to the people of the country. Their title is absolute. They do not support any privileged class; they do not need to maintain great military forces; they ought not to be burdened with a great array of public employees. They are not required to make any contribution to Government expenditures except that which they voluntarily assess upon themselves through the action of their own representatives. Whenever taxes become burdensome a remedy can be applied by the people; but if they do not act for themselves, no one can be very successful in acting for them.
We need not concern ourselves much about the rights of property if we will faithfully observe the rights of persons. Under our institutions their rights are supreme. It is not property but the right to hold property, both great and small, which our Constitution guarantees. All owners of property are charged with a service. These rights and duties have been revealed, through the conscience of society, to have a divine sanction. The very stability of our society rests upon production and conservation. For individuals or for governments to waste and squander their resources is to deny these rights and disregard these obligations. The result of economic dissipation to a nation is always moral decay.
Results of Coolidge Policy
"In 1922, the effective tax rate on the wealthy was 50 percent, who paid a total of $77 million into the Treasury. By 1927, Coolidge had cut their tax rate to 20 percent -- but the same group paid $230 million in taxes. Meanwhile, the total tax burden on people making less than $10,000 fell from $130 million in 1923 to less than $20 million in 1929."
-- Cal Thomas at The Heritage Foundation on October 31, 1996, as part of a lecture series on Great Conservative Heroes.
His Son's Tragic Death
"Coolidge tells about the son of his who died from a slight accident right on the south lawn of the White House. Coolidge tells us young Calvin "had a remarkable insight into things. The day I became President he had just started to work in a tobacco field. When one of his fellow laborers said to him, ‘If my father was President I would not work in a tobacco field,’ Calvin replied, ‘If my father were your father, you would.’" That son not only understood America the way his father did but expressed his understanding with the family brevity. Coolidge’s mere retelling of the story tells us how pleased he was with his son.
Yet the boy died, and his death tested the faith of his father. "In his suffering he was asking me to make him well. I could not," Coolidge reports with terrible simplicity. From others we learn that Coolidge caught a rabbit on the White House grounds and brought it to his boy, and that he held him in his arms as he died."
-- The Life of Calvin Coolidge By Dr. Michael Platt
The Business of America
"A final note on the economics of Calvin Coolidge - a note admirably described in Robert Sobel's biography. Coolidge's reputed statement for which he has long has been derided is "the business of America is business." In truth, what he said in passing in a 1925 speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, was "After all, the chief business of the American people is business." It didn't get much attention at the time, and shouldn't have. What Coolidge said in the same speech that fully reflected his views was this: "It is only those who do not understand our people, who believe our national life is entirely absorbed by material motives. We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things we want much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism."
-- Robert Novak, The Coolidge Legacy, 1998
Short Coolidge bio
Calvin, We Hardly Knew Ye (Richard Norton Smith)
Silent Cal Speaks (Calvin Thomas)
The Life of Calvin Coolidge (Michael Platt)
The Coolidge Legacy (Robert Novak)
Other tax quotes
Page last updated: Tuesday, 08-Feb-2011 09:17:59 EST