Study Guide

Calvin Coolidge's Inaugural Address Main Idea

By Calvin Coolidge

  • Main Idea

    Do the math: Lower taxes plus smaller government minus imported wars, goods, and people = prosperity and happiness for Americans.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. How is this speech a reaction to America getting involved in the international conflict of World War I?
    2. How do Coolidge's ideas about economic policy tie into the concept of being "American"?
    3. How does Coolidge define "American"?
    4. How do Coolidge's ideas about foreign policy relate to the previous 150 years of American international relations?

    Chew on This

    Coolidge wants to keep America out of international politics, but also maintain its international influence, which is the political equivalent of having your cake and eating it too.

    According to Coolidge, mo' money, mo' freedom.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    Calvin Coolidge is elected president, after having taken over the job when Warren Harding died a few years back. He gives his first (and only) inaugural address to talk about what he plans to do for the next four years.

    The Text

    Coolidge spends most of his Inaugural Address talking about the economy and foreign relations.

    To kick things off, Coolidge gives a mini-American history lesson, focusing on the American Revolution, the Monroe Doctrine, westward expansion, and World War I as the main examples of being "American." It's all about spreading freedom, you see.

    He uses this idea of being "American" and the protection of liberty to transition into the idea that the country also needs to protect peace. The U.S.'s recent involvement not only in World War I, but in its financial aftermath, is a means of protecting peace. Since the U.S. is helping reduce tension in Europe by lending them the money they need, it's helping prevent more fighting. But don't worry, the U.S. is also leading efforts to get people to literally put down their guns and shrink their militaries.

    Coolidge argues that America basically has to control its own destiny—but also, not let the world destroy itself. So joining an international court is fine, because it would give the U.S. a role in punishing the bad guys of the world; however, joining a multinational global organization (the League of Nations) is a no-no. Old World problems should not be America's problems.

    That being said, if they need help, the U.S. will be there. As long as they respect America's independence.

    Now that that big war is over, America could work on its own economy. Coolidge makes the argument that the people voted for him because they like the big tax cuts and the stripped-down, more frugal government that had begun under Harding's administration. So Coolidge plans to keep on going, cutting taxes to keep promoting prosperity and let people keep their cash.

    Generally, Coolidge says, things are going pretty well in America. The economy's doing better (thanks to his policies), and unlike those corrupt Old World countries, America enjoys peace and only uses its power to promote democracy and all the good things that come with.

    Of course, that means that people have to follow the law. The country's democracy depends on it.

    TL;DR

    America's doing great, people are getting rich because of small government and low taxes, and Coolidge thinks other countries should follow America's awesome and peaceful example of democracy.

      
  • Questions

    1. Why do you think Coolidge brings up the main ideas of his inaugural address in the order that he does? Is the structure effective?
    2. Which point do you think is most important to Coolidge, and what makes you think that?
    3. Which ideas do you think Coolidge was most confident about with regards to popular opinion, and why?
    4. What contemporary political issues do you see reflected in Coolidge's Inaugural Address, and what position would he take on them?
    5. What major issues of the 1920s did Coolidge leave out of his speech, and why do you think that might be?
    6. If you chose a soundtrack for this speech, what would it be? Compare and contrast with another speech, and explain how the speech impacts the music.
    7. Why all this language about "being American"?

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