A Puritan in Babylon: The Story of Calvin Coolidge

By William Allen White | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI
Our Hero's Unheroic Chores

THE executive, any executive, township constable, city mayor, Governor of a state, or the President, under the American political system, is constantly pulled and hauled by two ancient devils that have persisted since the beginning of our American experiment three hundred years ago. These ancient jinns are on the one hand vested interests, property rights, expressed in modern terms the functional needs--perhaps privilege is the more exact word of organized capital in a complex civilization, and on the other hand the protection of the common man against the inevitable and probably unconscious encroachment that follows a too rigid defense of the vested rights of property, or too lax an extension of the privileges of capital. In colonial days in Massachusetts, Governor John Winthrop stood on one side of this moat, the Rev. Thomas Hooker upon the other. Their contest was not economic but political, turning upon the question whether the governed should govern themselves or be governed by their elders and-- betters! In Washington's first term, Hamilton was the guardian of property. Jefferson fought against Hamiltonian encroachments. Calvin Coolidge, in the governor's office in Boston felt the shock of these two forces constantly. He was not entrenched on either side of the ancient battle line. Sometimes, as in the case of his legislative program, he deeply offended, by his espousal of various housing proposals, the vested real estate and banking interests. But on the other hand he recognized his obligation to those forces which Guy Currier sheltered under his brooding wing; the public utilities, the insurance companies, the investment companies, the host of interests large and small which ten years before, Theodore Roosevelt was denouncing as aggrandized capital. Probably Coolidge, who in many relations with men was a careful accountant, did not keep books in his heart and balance nicely

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