When President Warren G. Harding died from a heart-related problem in 1923, Vice President Calvin Coolidge became the 30th President of the United States.
The following year, with his popularity buoyed by a strong economy, Coolidge handily won the 1924 presidential election, using the campaign slogan “Keep Cool With Coolidge.”
Unlike some presidents, “Silent Cal” Coolidge wasn’t known for making memorable statements.
The most famous quote associated with him is a line about business being the business of America.
That line is often given as “The business of America is business” or “The business of the American people is business.”
In fact, both of those versions are misquotes.
They aren’t radically different from what he actually said, which was “the chief business of the American people is business.”
However, when this short quote or the misquote versions are cited alone, out of context, they tend to give the unfair and inaccurate impression that Coolidge was a one-dimensional, pro-business cheerleader.
President Coolidge made his famous remark in an address to the Society of American Newspaper Editors on January 17, 1925 in Washington, D.C.
“There does not seem to be cause for alarm in the dual relationship of the press to the public, whereby it is on one side a purveyor of information and opinion and on the other side a purely business enterprise,” he said. “Rather, it is probable that a press which maintains an intimate touch with the business currents of the nation, is likely to be more reliable than it would be if it were a stranger to these influences.”
Coolidge went on to add his famous quote.
“After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world. I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of people will always find these the moving impulses of our life.”
The idea that Americans are concerned about prospering seems pretty reasonable. And, Coolidge made it clear that he didn't mean “greed is good.”
“Of course, the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence,” he said. “But we are compelled to recognize it as a means to well-nigh every desirable achievement. So long as wealth is made the means and not the end, we need not greatly fear it...But it calls for additional effort to avoid even the appearance of the evil of selfishness. In every worthy profession, of course, there will always be a minority who will appeal to the baser instinct. There always have been, probably always will be, some who will feel that their own temporary interest may be furthered by betraying the interest of others.”
In light of the recent financial scandals involving the corporate executives of big banks and Wall Street firms and the debate about the 1% vs. the 99%, Coolidge’s comments are still surprising relevant today.
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