Sunday, December 13, 2009

Coolidge on Race

Jonathan Bean gives a well-deserved shout-out to a President who well deserves credit for his record on race--Calvin Coolidge:
My dear Sir:

Your letter is received, accompanied by a newspaper clipping which discusses the possibility that a colored man may be the Republican nominee for Congress from one of the New York districts. Referring to this newspaper statement, you say:

“It is of some concern whether a Negro is allowed to run for Congress anywhere, at any time, in any party, in this, a white man’s country. Repeated ignoring of the growing race problem does not excuse us for allowing encroachments. Temporizing with the Negro whether he will or will not vote either a Democratic or a Republican ticket, as evidenced by the recent turnover in Oklahoma, is contemptible.”

Leaving out of consideration the manifest impropriety of the President intruding himself in a local contest for nomination, I was amazed to receive such a letter. During the war 500,000 colored men and boys were called up under the draft, not one of whom sought to evade it. ­They took their places wherever assigned in defense of the nation of which they are just as truly citizens as are any others. Th­e suggestion of denying any measure of their full political rights to such a great group of our population as the colored people is one which, however it might be received in some other quarters, could not possibly be permitted by one who feels a responsibility for living up to the traditions and maintaining the principles of the Republican Party. Our Constitution guarantees equal rights to all our citizens, without discrimination on account of race or color, I have taken my oath to support that Constitution. It is the source of your rights and my rights. I propose to regard it, and administer it, as the source of the rights of all the people, whatever their belief or race. A colored man is precisely as much entitled to submit his candidacy in a party primary, as is any other citizen. ­The decision must be made by the constituents to whom he offers himself, and by nobody else. . . .

Link. Evidently Coolidge was proud enough of the letter that he included it in a collection of his public utterances.

Bean seems a bit surprised by the find, though I'm not sure he needs to be. Anybody who knows anything at all about him knows that the private Coolidge was a decent, straightforward, unpompous old Yankee, with a firm set of principles and, for what it is worth, a self-deflationary sense of humor. And anybody who thought Herbert Hoover was a tiresome busybody can't be all bad.

But it raises the persistent puzzle about politicians. Of all 20th Century presidents, I'd say that perhaps the only ones I'd actually want to spend any time with are Calvin Coolidge and Gerald Ford. Yet would anybody say that these are the Century's two greatest Presidents (i.e., certainly not I)?


JimCooke said...

President Coolidge a "Great President"? (LOL) We value presidents based on the number of people that are killed in their administrations; "Silent Cal" was an utter failure in this department -- And, he had wonderful opportunities that a greater man would have seized. We could have had a fine war with Mexico. There were other trouble spots that only required a little stirring.

When it comes to "Race" -- Listen to Coolidge as he addresses the American Legion at their convention in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925:

"The generally expressed desire of "America First" can not be criticized. It is a perfectly correct aspiration for our people to cherish. But the problem we have to solve is how to make America first. It cannot be done by the cultivation of national bigotry, arrogance, or selfishness. Hatreds, jealousies, and suspicions will not be productive of any benefits in this direction. Here again we must apply the rule of toleration . . .

"By toleration I do not mean indifference to evil. I mean respect for different kinds of good. Whether one traces his Americanism back three centuries to the Mayflower, or three years to the steerage, is not half so important as whether his Americanism is real and genuine. No matter by what various crafts we came here, we are all now in the same boat.

Let us cast off our hatreds."

The above with slight alteration is often attributed to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

ballyfager said...

I've always felt Coolidge suffered from a bad press and bad public image. He lacked "charisma" - good for him.

Compared to that flannelmouth Roosevelt, he looks pretty good.

Ken Houghton said...

If you look at the legislative accopmplishments under Ford, you can make a good case for him being in contention.

But, as the old joke goes, "you **** one sheep and..."