It was of course inevitable that the death of Calvin Coolidge should give rise to words of excessive praise both from his friends and associates in public life, and from the many whose motto it is to say nothing but superlatives of the recently dead. But although the first impulse is to brush aside these sweeping encomiums to the "great statesman" who has passed away, from their very extravagance something significant can be extracted, both about the man himself and the America which worshipped him. They testify to something in Calvin Coolidge's character, and in his role on the American scene, which compelled admiration from millions of his fellow-citizens, and which had to be reckoned with even by those who did not feel the compelling attraction.
In the next few days we will hear much of his greatness, his services to his country, and the loss which it has sustained in his death. For the moment it will not seem absurd to praise him as a great moral leader. The customary resolutions will be passed, sermons will be preached, and inevitably a memorial of inappropriate design will be suggested and approved. It is safe to say that only two things will be kept hidden: the qualities in the man which made him so peculiar to his day and place, and the fact that the mood which he represented and already dissolved before his death. Yet it is no disparagement, but rather a platitude, to say of Mr. Coolidge that he, for almost a decade, was the chief representative of the political and social attitude which sent President Hoover to defeat last November. It was that which gave him his great popularity with the masses, since by virtue of his New England traits he stood for the ideals of thrift of sturdy independence, of homely commonsense, which were the national ideals of the nineteen twenties. His fame increased as the ludicrous discordance between these ideals and the sordid reality was ignored. With them he achieved a career of amazing good fortune with little exertion, no supreme test of his capacity, and the final triumph of the presidency. The combination was one which suited exactly the taste of the nation as it then was.
Inasmuch as his retirement from public office saved him from the general debacle of the Republicans, he continued in modest triumph till his death. But in reality, that debacle, and the confutation of the threadbare beliefs which he expressed in office and through the syndicated press, left him politically speaking, a discredited and pathetic figure. It is obvious that the nation has gone beyond Mr. Coolidge's exceed and will not return to it. There remains only the memory of his personality and its perfect adequacy for what America demanded of its chief executive when he was in office. How much attention historians will give to his achievements in government and how they will estimate them is a question for later generations. Americans in general will remember him as a dourly attractive figure who intrigued his countrymen's imagination and was followed with affection in his retirement even after his political wisdom had grown cold.