Unlearn What You Have Learned

When you studied history in high school or college, you may have come across this quote, attributed to President Calvin Coolidge: “The business of America is business.”

Problem is, Silent Cal never said that. It is fake history, a misquotation from a speech that Coolidge gave to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on January 17, 1925. Here is the full quote, in context, from that speech:

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. 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. 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 opinion that the great majority of people will always find these are moving impulses of our life.

Toward the end of his speech, Coolidge added:

It is only those who do not understand our people, who believe that our national life is entirely absorbed by material motives. We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things that we want very much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism. I cannot repeat too often that America is a nation of idealists. That is the only motive to which they ever give any strong and lasting reaction.

Calvin Coolidge has long been given the short shrift by many academic historians, which is no surprise given their typically left-wing political views. After all, in their morality play version of history every Messiah (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) needs his Adversary. But in this case, the official narrative is not the truth. Which raises an inevitable and troubling question: what else have we been mistaught?

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23 thoughts on “Unlearn What You Have Learned”

  1. So, he said:

    ”The chief  business of the American people is business….The chief  ideal of the American people is idealism. “

    Is it because we never hear the latter part that you feel we are “mistaught “?

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  2. Hypatia:
    So, he said:

    ”The chief  business of the American people is business….The chief  ideal of the American people is idealism. “

    Is it because we never hear the latter part that you feel we are “mistaught “?

    It’s also the substitution of “America“ for “the American people“. The former makes it seem like he is referring to the government.

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  3. Quite appropriate, being fake news, is that the speech was given to who else but  the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

    Thanks Mike for pointing this out.

    Didn’t anyone else make the connection?

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  4. Hypatia:
    So, he said:

    ”The chief  business of the American people is business….The chief  ideal of the American people is idealism. “

    Is it because we never hear the latter part that you feel we are “mistaught “?

    Yes, that along with the fact that the contrived quote is divorced from the full context of the speech. Coolidge is clearly talking about the American people and their desires. Which brings up ctlaw’s comment:

    ctlaw:
    It’s also the substitution of “America“ for “the American people“. The former makes it seem like he is referring to the government.

    Indeed, the government along with major corporations. “The business of America is business” evokes a very technocratic image of bureaucrats colluding with corporate executives to the detriment of ordinary Americans. Which was precisely the intent of the New Deal Era academic historians who coined the apocryphal phrase.

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  5. Another similarly used mis-quote is that of Charles Erwin Wilson, “Engine Charlie”, who was Secretary of Defense from 1953 through 1957 in the Eisenhower administration.  Previously, he was president and CEO of General Motors from 1941 through 1953.  During his confirmation hearing a senator asked him if, as Secretary, he would be able to make a decision unfavourable to General Motors.  He answered yes, and went on to say that he believed such a situation was improbable “because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”

    This is regularly mis-quoted as “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country”, which is very different than what he said and often cited as evidence of corporate influence on government policy.

    (His nickname, “Engine Charlie”, was coined to distinguish him from Charles Edward Wilson, long-term CEO of General Electric, who served on the War Production Board during World War II and later was head of the Office of Defense Mobilization in the Truman Administration, and was nicknamed “Electric Charlie”.)

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  6. Mike I would argue that the entirety of American History needs a bit of revision and that which we were taught is false history, or as Prof. Thomas Woods calls it, the comic book version of history. There is a single theme that marches through our history as handed down by the court historians: that the centralized power of the general government was inevitable and just. That’s the message received in high school, undergrad, and law school.

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  7. ctlaw:

    Hypatia:
    So, he said:

    ”The chief  business of the American people is business….The chief  ideal of the American people is idealism. “

    Is it because we never hear the latter part that you feel we are “mistaught “?

    It’s also the substitution of “America“ for “the American people“. The former makes it seem like he is referring to the government.

    I never took it that way. To me, the quote always meant America the nation: the people and not the government. Only a statist would equate a nation to its government. Likewise, nationalism is not fealty to the government; it is affinity for the culture and the people of a nation.

    America is the American people, not the corrupt and oikophobic denizens of the Imperial Capital and their acolytes in the academy and other fallen institutions.

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  8. Robert A. McReynolds:
    Mike I would argue that the entirety of American History needs a bit of revision and that which we were taught is false history, or as Prof. Thomas Woods calls it, the comic book version of history.

    Does this mean you’re not a fan of Howard Zinn? 😉

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  9. drlorentz:

    ctlaw:

    Hypatia:
    So, he said:

    ”The chief  business of the American people is business….The chief  ideal of the American people is idealism. “

    Is it because we never hear the latter part that you feel we are “mistaught “?

    It’s also the substitution of “America“ for “the American people“. The former makes it seem like he is referring to the government.

    I never took it that way. To me, the quote always meant America the nation: the people and not the government. Only a statist would equate a nation to its government. Likewise, nationalism is not fealty to the government; it is affinity for the culture and the people of a nation.

    America is the American people, not the corrupt and oikophobic denizens of the Imperial Capital and their acolytes in the academy and other fallen institutions.

    Yeah…I never thought the quotation was a negative thing. But I reckon  to the Left  it would be.

    What would the Left like it to be? “The business of the American people is….?”   What?  Compassion?  Well, compassion is pretty ineffectual if no one has any disposable means with which to alleviate suffering.

    In law school I learned that a business corporation existe for one (1) purpose: to make money for its shareholders.  Incredibly, over my lifetime that has come to be something business corps want to disavow!

    There  are other kinds of corporations whose frank objective is to lose money for their shareholders or at least guarantee that they won’t make any profit from it.  “Benefit corporations” (oxymoron alert! ) come to mind, but they’re relatively  new: we’ve always had “non-profit corporations”.

    But WTF is wrong with business corporations devoting themselves to making money, instead of to chimeras  like diversity, climate change, gender obliteration?

    This is one of those things I’ve always suspected.  As you age, the paradigms you’ve taken for granted all your life begin to topple and fall until, eventually,  you can’t make sense of the world any more.  And then you die. 😵

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  10. I think what happened here is that Silent Cal was edited and taken out of context, although I never took offense to “The business of America is business.” (You know I wouldn’t.) 🙂

    I believe it sounded like a good “sound bite” but you made it an interesting story and after all my reading, I actually learned something. If I were still a college student, I’d sign up for your class!

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  11. Hypatia:
    In law school I learned that a business corporation existe for one (1) purpose: to make money for its shareholders.  Incredibly, over my lifetime that has come to be something business corps want to disavow!

    The new wisdom (I use the term loosely) is that a corporation exists to make money for its stakeholders, which includes all sorts of hangers-on. Companies now have a Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer or similar to add the feelz to corporate governance. This kind of stuff is all the rage in our woke corporations: the social media enterprises being among the worst offenders.

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  12. Robert A. McReynolds:
    Mike I would argue that the entirety of American History needs a bit of revision and that which we were taught is false history, or as Prof. Thomas Woods calls it, the comic book version of history. There is a single theme that marches through our history as handed down by the court historians: that the centralized power of the general government was inevitable and just. That’s the message received in high school, undergrad, and law school.

    You might find the books by Mark David Ledbetter on American History (America’s Forgotten History) interesting. Ledbetter isn’t an historian, but he’s researched the topic pretty thoroughly. He wrote the series (so far 4 books – about a couple bucks each for the kindle versions on Amazon) to provoke or promote some discussion, hopefully among the younger crowd who would not know any of this.

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  13. Devereaux:

    Robert A. McReynolds:
    Mike I would argue that the entirety of American History needs a bit of revision and that which we were taught is false history, or as Prof. Thomas Woods calls it, the comic book version of history. There is a single theme that marches through our history as handed down by the court historians: that the centralized power of the general government was inevitable and just. That’s the message received in high school, undergrad, and law school.

    You might find the books by Mark David Ledbetter on American History (America’s Forgotten History) interesting. Ledbetter isn’t an historian, but he’s researched the topic pretty thoroughly. He wrote the series (so far 4 books – about a couple bucks each for the kindle versions on Amazon) to provoke or promote some discussion, hopefully among the younger crowd who would not know any of this.

    I would recommend Thomas Woods’ Politically Incorrect Guide to American History and Prof. Brion McClanahan’s Forgotten Founders. There is also Prof. Tom DiLorenzo’s Lincoln Unmasked.

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  14. , EThompson:
    I and k what happened here is that Silent Cal was edited and taken out of context, although I never took offense to “The business of America is business.” (You know I wouldn’t.) 🙂

    I believe it sounded like a good “sound bite” but you made it an interesting story and after all my reading, I actually learned something. If I were still a college student, I’d sign up for your class!

    Hey, Professor M. LaRoche,,

    Please provide your opinions of the resources recommended above in comments 18, 19, 20 and 21.

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  15. drlorentz:

    Hypatia:
    In law school I learned that a business corporation existe for one (1) purpose: to make money for its shareholders.  Incredibly, over my lifetime that has come to be something business corps want to disavow!

    The new wisdom (I use the term loosely) is that a corporation exists to make money for its stakeholders, which includes all sorts of hangers-on. Companies now have a Chief Ethical and Humane Use Officer or similar to add the feelz to corporate governance. This kind of stuff is all the rage in our woke corporations: the social media enterprises being among the worst offenders.

    Yes.

    When the news was first breaking that Chick-fil-A was sticking a knife in the Salvation Army’s back, we figured out that it was for real when we learned that they had hired a Vice President of Corporate Responsibility in 2016.

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