Miller Center

Calvin Coolidge: Impact and Legacy

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Although the public liked and admired Calvin Coolidge during his tenure, the Great Depression that began in 1929 seriously eroded his reputation and changed public opinion about his policies. Many linked the nation's economic collapse to Coolidge's policy decisions. His failure to aid the depressed agricultural sector seems shortsighted, as nearly five thousand rural banks in the Midwest and South shut their doors in bankruptcy while many thousands of farmers lost their lands. His tax cuts contributed to an uneven distribution of wealth and the overproduction of goods. Many Americans were deeply in debt for having purchased consumer goods on easy installment credit terms.

Coolidge's foreign policy also fell into some disrepute when it became clear that his signature achievements, including the Dawes Plan and the Kellogg-Briand Pact, did little to prevent the rise of Nazism in Germany or the resurgence of international hostilities. The peace of the 1920s faded almost as quickly as the prosperity. But Coolidge also led the nation, if passively, into the modern era. He was a bridge between two epochs.

In the conservative 1980s, Coolidge regained some of his stature, at least in conservative circles. President Ronald Reagan returned his portrait to the Oval Office. Reagan also praised Coolidge's political style and hands-off leadership for producing seven years of prosperity, peace, and balanced budgets. Nevertheless, scholarly opinion looks upon the Coolidge presidency with skepticism, ranking him relatively low among American chief executives in terms of his administration's positive impact and legacy. Despite his personal integrity, he offered no sweeping vision or program of action that the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson had led the public to associate with presidential greatness.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

David Greenberg

Professor Greenberg is a professor of history and of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University. His publications include:

Calvin Coolidge (Henry Holt and Company, 2006)

Presidential Doodles (Basic Books, 2006)

Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image (W.W. Norton, 2003)