tv [untitled] June 30, 2012 12:00pm-12:30pm EDT
history bookshelf features popular american history writers of the past decade and american history tv every weekend at this time. next, garland particularer iii discusses his book the high tide of american conservatism and the 1924 election, and the 1924 presidential election between john davis and the incumbent republican president calvin coolidge. this hour-long talk took place at the john walk foundation in north carolina. >> thank you very much, and the foundation for inviting me today. i've been looking forward to this. they were very generous in giving me a lot of latitude in terms of what i talked about today and what i'd like to do is
try to answer the question that i've been getting a lot ever since the book came out. as most of you know, this is my first attempt and probably only attempt at writing a book and lots of people have asked me, why did you write it or what do you hope to accomplish with this book and that's what i'll try to answer today. as i thought about it, there are three reasons for my writing the book and i would disstill it down to three reasons and the thoughts are reasons that i had in mind when i starred and the third one, interestingly enough is the one i sort of discovered to try to write the book. i'll get through them in sequence and the first reason was to re-evaluate the fiscal policies of the 1920s and some
of them looking around the room and some of them are young enough to have a different experience, but a number of you look like you might be my age or so, and when i think about my college experience there was very little said about the 1920s and when i was in college it was a period that was sandwiched in between woodrow wilson and franklin roosevelt and nothing much happened in between or nothing worthy of much comment, and i think that was generally the historical perception that was very prevalent. calvin coolidge led a book on coolidge in the 1990s and he made this comment which i think
sums up very well the typical historical perspective and several wrote that few presidents in all-american history had as many ak ccolites as woodrow wilson. he was an ardent admirer of wilson's whom he saw that played john the baptist for franklin d. roosevelt. schlessinger was one of those that helped fashion this lesson. in the age of roosevelt in which schlessinger presented this thesis, he discussed the coming of the republicans as though they were barbarians sacking rum. that was the perception that schlessinger put out there in the 1920s and he was not alone. and the widely acclaimed book, the pocket history of the united states, allen nevins and henry
stewart wrote that the idealism of the wilson era was in the past. and the decade and the bhuj what and ruthless. that didn't sound exciting and if you were a student back in those days and you never thought about studying the 20s, and i took all of that at face value and that began the change among historian, and i think the biggest change was in the 1980s when reagan was elected and there was among conservative intellectuals and economists and there was the rediscovery of tax cuts and what came to be known as supply side economics and a new group of historians emerged
with the view of the 1920s and folsom and some others and johnson has written that the truth is the 20s was the most fortunate decade in american history. he also called coolidge, the most internally consistent and single-minded of american presidents and he concluded it was a widespread and chaired with the prospect of property-owning democracy can be realized. if you view the '20s in this prism, you can see it has economic growth and conservative values on the emphasis on individual freedom and responsibility. in 1981, it certainly came as a
sauce to most americans and to any historian, the ronald reagan the portrait of calvin coolidge from storage and symbolically innii installing the bit of evidence of the re-appraisal of the 1920s when coolidge was going in the white house. the backdrop of looking at the 1920s, i think, really needs to start with the history of progressivism which started in the late 1800s in the united states and reached -- historians would argue it reached its pinnacle in the election of 1912 which has been pretty widely called the high tide, and woodrow wilson was strong progressive nominated by the
democrats and teddy roosevelt failed to get the nomination and it went farther left than he had ever gone before to get to the left of wilson and then taft was left scurrying as hard as he could to try to sound progressive and not be left out. so you have two very strong progressives and a third would be progressive all running in that election and the result was, wilson, of course, was elected and adopted a very progressive policy and the combination of his domestic policy which he called freedom and world war i resulted in, i guess, two very tangible things and the newly installed income tax which was installed at 7% stood at 77% at the end of world war i just six years after it
had started and there had also been a huge increase in government in regulation and intrusion into the private market. as the country came out of the post-war period and entered the 1920s, the economy experienced a very severe recession. the recession of 1919 and 1920 and it's interesting to look back at that given that we are in the midst of such a time now and unemployment was over 20%. as i mentioned income tax rates and the top rate was over 77%. gnp was falling rapidly and there were a host of labor strikes and a lot of labor unrest and as the country went into the 1920 election. the country made a real swing to the right and it repudiated the
progressivism of wilson and elected a very conservative republican ticket which was composed of harding, nominated for president and calvin coolidge for vice president. frederick louis allen and only yesterday had characterized it like this. the nation was spiritually tired at the end of world war i and worried by the excitement of the war and the nervous tension of the big, red scare that hoped for quiet and healing and it was woodrow wilson and his talk of america's duty and humanity and callous to political idealism and they hoped for the chance to pursue the government interference and the result was the gop landslide. during this campaign, calvin coolidge, the vice presidential candidate made the statement, but it resonated with the people
and the great government say product of the great people and they would look to themselves rather than the success, and it became a theme of the campaign and the result was the republicans won a landslide victory. against the backdrop, harding came to office and contrary to the historical perspective that we normally have of harding, he, i think, everyone would agree that he appointed and made very good appointments to his cabinet. charles evans hughes was his secretary of state and most importantly, andrew mellon was his secretary of the treasury and mellon began what would become almost the ten-year reign
and three presidents served under andrew mellon and that was probably a pretty good picture of the 1920s and he began systematically to lower taxes to propose to congress that they lower taxes and this policy of the reduced domestic spending in conjunction with lower taxes began to take hold. unemployment started to climb ultimately and declined to about 5% and during the period of the eight years of the harding-coolidge presidency and an astounding annual rate of annual rate per year at 4.5%. now unlike 40 years ago, anyone that reads history these days
would agree that this was a good debate and the real question about the 1920s is it wasn't an idyllic period in the history in arcad arcadia, if you will, and was it the babylon that has been characterized as by so many historians and in addition to what schlessinger and evans wrote. william allen white and identified coolidge unforgettably and the pure tan in babylon freed intellectuals and belittled the 1920s as edward wilson with scott fitzgerald called it the best in history, and they saw the prosperity of the film role and they were repulsed by what they saw as shallowness.
and the stark contrast of this, the other historian such as johnson hailed it as the last arcadia. what the '20s demonstrate was a relative speed with which industrial productivity could transform luxuries into necessities and spread them down the class pyramid and what johnson recognized in the 1920s was that there was an economic tide sweeping across the country that permeated the lower income sector of the economy and was the classic case of the rising tide raises all boats. the economic facts indicates it was more widespread and more widely distributed than at any time in american history up until this point. the coolidge prosperity was indeed, real, but it wasn't
permanent, and i think realistically, a history, any kind of economic history would tell you that no prosperity is ever permanent. so to blame the 1920s for the 1930s, while that's a position that most historians have taken and most economists and liberal economists have said that's an unfair characterization that you really cannot make that link and say, well, the 30s were so terrible, it must have been caused by the 20s. hopefully the book will add to the revisionist look of the 1920s and cause readers to examine what is a prevalent view and now there's plenty of other good writings on this and i hope it will become a part of it and
the second reason i wrote the book was coolidge and davis and the focus of the book i think was mentioned in the introduction and it is the 1924 election. and so the two major candidates, calvin coolidge and john dav davis -- is it working right? it sounds like it's echoing a little bit. the two major candidates were calvin coolidge and john davis and it's interesting to see the similarities of the two men while they were very different personalities as we will see in a minute. both were successful politicians and both emerged politically in the early, progressive era and both became increasingly conservative and both exemplified great integrity and personal ethics and both reflected the best qualities of
their respective regions and coolidge was from new england and davis was from the south. davis was a democrat and dedicated to freedom and free trade and very much in the tradition of jefferson and coolidge was a conservative republican who shared many of the same jeffersonian ideas of limited government and freedom. it's interesting that in 1924 the old progressive war horse, william jennings observed at the democratic convention in 1924 that davis was a man of fine character, but he added with disgust so was mr. coolidge and there was no difference between them and that pretty well summed up the how these two then stood in their day.
let's take a quick look at coolidge and fond of quoting a new england phrase which sounded like it could have been a southern phrase, too, and it was the education of every man begins two to three generations before he's born, and that was certainly true of calvin coolidge. he was absolutely a product of new england and he often boasted that no coolidge ever went west and what he meant by that was that as tough a place is that they earned a living he made a go of it, and i think in summary of coolidge, it's fair to say that one of the great things about coolidge is it really is a
as tasciturn, unpretentious new england pure tan. that's exactly what he was and that's how he came across. and interestingly, the american people really responded to him and you would think he would have a hard time connecting with the public, but the opposite was the case. he had risen steadily in massachusetts from the local level of politics up to the state legislature and the lieutenant governor was elected governor in 1918. in his whole career only lost one of -- i think it was 18 elections and that was for the school board and he was elected governor in 1918 and in massachusetts they catapulted him overnight on to the national stage and that was the very
famous boston police strike. the police force in boston went out on strike and this was in the middle of the whole red scare and the country was on edge and concerned about bell onshevism coming in and all kinds of labor unrest. what happened with the police strike was very instructive and predictive of what was to come in coolidge's career and he worked very hard to avert the strike and was almost successful at the last minute and at the national afl leaders came in and sort of bolstered the local union and came to a showdown and cool edge iss coolidge issued a very famous statement, that quote, was there no right to strike against the public safety by anybody,
anywhere, and the strike was broken virtually overnight and public opinion swung in in massachusetts and all over the country and coolidge really became a national figure. as a result of that, he came on the national stage and i want to read just a few excerpts from an interesting world. they sent a reporter up to boston to interview coolidge right after the police strike and this reporter, i think, nailed calvin coolidge as well as anybody that i've ever seen in describing and here's what he wrote. he said to one who has never seen governor coolidge in massachusetts, he is a sphinx or an enigma. he talks little and it is his silences which seems to speak loudest for when one ventures to put a question to him and it is
in the governor's lean face and the closing of his lips. he has a lean and hungry look and the central bureau of boston discovered that such men are dangerous. that was probably true. contrary to the characteristics of politicians and he hardly ever does any handshaking and has a reputation that his board is as good as gold. that's a very good summary of coolidge. it also gives a flavor of the image he presented was of absolute integrity and he will talk straight to the people of massachusetts and he didn't sugar coat anything and he vetoed any bill that he thought
wasn't going to be good in the state and he thought it was the end of the political career and he got it break the strike and that was true of his whole career as president and it resonated very well with the american people. if you were to come up with a list of characteristics that any good politician needs to have or what we think they need to have, coolidge wouldn't have even been consider considered, but the fact was that he remained popular throughout his term. with the breaking of the police strike in 1919, coolidge, entering the national arena, he was moved very quickly into a presidential contender in 1920,
but when harding was nominated then coolidge was very quickly selected as vice president and entered office as vice president under harding and again, contrary to our popular perception of harding, the harding administration was showing real progress in getting the country back on the right track and the recession was basically over by 1922 and by the summer of 1923 harding was popular, headed west on a vacation and the coolidges were back to vermont on a vacation and they unexpectedly died out of san francisco and there was a great outpouring of grief from the american people and the stories in "the new york times"
that this was the great of the outpouring of grief sense lincoln's death and coolidge came into office under these unfortunate circumstances and there was a question about whether coolidge would be able to bring the party together and he was able to do that in a way and a very short time period to show what a masterful politician he was. by the time the republicans met in 1924 in cleveland, it was virtually assured that coolidge would be nominated. he'd unified the party and he'd been able to hold most of the progressive wing within the party, but had established his own credentials as a conservati conservative, and it turned out to be one of the most -- in
fact, it was billed as one of the most boring convention in american history which suited the republicans just fine, but nominated coolidge by a climation and the campaign was launched from there, and i'll talk about today and how the opposite was true for the democrats, but coolidge did a masterful job of getting ready for the election. he entered the result of the campaign in 1924 was that coolidge, probably without question had been dealt a winning hand, but i think you have to say also in looking at it that he certainly played it flawlessly and the result was that he won a resounding victory.
coolidge was 53% and the third party candidate got between 16% and 17%, and the title of the book comes from that this was the last time they nominated a conservative and 83% of the popur vote went to the two conservative candidates. coolidge came in in 1925 with a huge popularity and he immediately implemented a policy and they went in for further tax cuts and further reductions in spending and he was able to secure these because the
republican majorities in the congress and he stayed very much on this same message with the american people. the result was the economy performed, and he decided voluntarily to step down and not run for re-election in 1928 when he being undoubtedly have been elected and left while he was still hugely popular. something that most politicians don't like to do. a very quick word about davis. if coolidge was given very little reward and i wering it's safe to say that he was shamefully ignored as president. most people would have a very blank exsxregz they don't know who he was and i'm sorry, i
don't have time to today to fill in those gaps and davis of very much a product from this region and he was from the south and entered politics and he was very much put forward by his peers and didn't view himself as a real politician. he was elected to congress in 1910, 1912, and woodrow wilson picked him as solicitor general and this was a very important milestone in davis' career. he argued 60-some cases as solicitor general which was more than any other solicitor general argued personally, and it was during this time that he really secured his reputation as what
was to become the foremost judicial advocate really in the united states before with the '30s and '40s rolled around and it's interesting to have the comments and virtually every supreme court justice who was on the court at that time urged wilson to appoint davis established. in 1918 he was offered the opportunity to go to england as ambassador to great britain and