Author Reexamines America’s 30th President, Calvin Coolidge, and His Talent for Saying ‘No’

Amity Shlaes Delivers Shelby Cullom Davis Endowment Lecture

Hartford, CT, February 27, 2015 – “My job at Trinity tonight is to say that it’s possible to say ‘no’ and to keep saying ‘no,’ to not hurt the economy,” Amity Shlaes, author of four New York Times bestsellers, said to the crowd as she began her presentation on a recent snowy February evening. Shlaes, who is also a writer for Forbes and the National Review, gave a Shelby Cullom Davis Endowment Lecture on February 9 in Trinity’s McCook Auditorium.

A selection of books by Amity Shlaes, who delivered a Shelby Cullom Davis Endowment lecture on February 9.
 Shlaes expressed her gratitude for President Calvin Coolidge and his courage to say “no” during his presidency, and said that politicians today can learn from him. Coolidge was an obscure, quiet president from New England whom many people do not recognize as being one of the more successful leaders in terms of his impact on the country’s economy. When Coolidge left office, the federal government was smaller than when he started, said Shlaes, adding that he cut tax rates so significantly that the top tax rate was 25 percent.

Shlaes described the strategies that President Coolidge used to say ‘no.’ One of his favorites was the pocket veto, because he didn’t have to include a message about why he was rejecting the proposition. Washingtonians at the time viewed him poorly and Shlaes quoted one who wrote, “The skill in which Mr. Coolidge applies a wet blanket is technically marvelous. There has never been an equal of Mr. Coolidge in the art of deflating interest. He has used dullness and boredom as a political device.”

Regardless of the less-than-exciting impression Coolidge made on many, Shlaes said, he impacted the country like no other president.  “The economy blossomed! His holding back, as cruel as it seemed, created a space where the economy could grow,” said Shlaes. “Pay increased while employment decreased.”

Shlaes ended her presentation by saying that, while Coolidge was not the most famous American president, he made a significant impact on the country and today’s presidential hopefuls can adopt his courage to do the same. 

Directed by Gerald A. Gunderson, Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of American Business and Economic Enterprise, the Davis Endowment sponsors lectures, publishes a refereed journal, and offers courses and a minor at Trinity. With a generous gift from Shelby Cullom Davis, the endowment supports knowledge and understanding of American Business and Economic Enterprise. A podcast of Shlaes’s lecture can be heard here.

Written by Maddie Perez ’15. Photos by Abbey Schlangen ’16.