In her award winning book, “The Forgotten Man,” Amity Shlaes offered a refreshing alternative to conventional wisdom about the Great Depression. Her forgotten man was not Roosevelt’s man at the “bottom of the economic pyramid” but William Graham Sumner’s forgotten man whose toils toward self improvement form the foundation of economic progress. He is the quiet innovator and adventurer who ultimately foots the bill for the Progressive social agenda. We now also recognize him as the man who President Obama famously discredited during last year’s re-election campaign.Continue reading.
In one sense, Shlaes new book “Coolidge” represents a prequel to “The Forgotten Man.” More importantly, however, we rediscover a man who throughout his career championed the cause of Sumner’s forgotten man but whose reward for doing so was to become himself a president whom history books have also largely “forgotten.” Shlaes sees Coolidge as “a rare kind of hero: a minimalist president, an economic general of budgeting and tax cuts.” She then thoroughly and persuasively documents that judgment.
In both books, Shlaes’ captivating portrayals of her forgotten men resonate. We come to identify with Coolidge because he embodied the timeless virtues of honesty and personal responsibility to which we all aspire. We also see Coolidge as wholly a product of his time. At the time of his birth –on Independence Day 1872 in a rural Vermont town — the Industrial Revolution had not yet transformed the U.S. economy from its agrarian roots. Some three fourths of the U.S. population in 1870 lived in a rural area and the 1880 Census showed that more than 60% of the rural population lived on farms. The experiences and life lessons that would form Coolidge’s character were those shared by most other Americans of the day. My own grandparents, born that same decade on farms in Ohio, embraced those same values and not surprisingly became Coolidge Republicans. While such voters could readily identify with Coolidge, they also admired and rewarded the leadership skills that conventional historians seem to have overlooked.
Life on America’s farms and in rural villages during the final three decades of the nineteenth century demanded self-discipline, sacrifice and perseverance. Shlaes notes that Coolidge himself saw “perseverance as the key” to success. Just as perseverance defined Coolidge’s work ethic, “parsimony” in both word and deed seems to have defined his life’s mission.
And at Amazon, Coolidge.
BONUS: On Twitter, Melissa Clouthier's asking "Who's your favorite president"?
PHOTO CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons.