Calvin Coolidge? E. E. Whiting? Harold Schoelkopf? Styles Bridges? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: President Calvin Coolidge was once told that a U.S. Senator was an S.O.B. He replied with a comical and wistful statement about group representation within a democracy. Would you please explore this anecdote?
Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a Michigan newspaper in March 1944 within a column titled “Between You and Me” written by an author with the initials “L. A. W.”. The bowdlerization in the following occurred in the original text. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
Here’s a President Coolidge story I like about a Southern senator who bitterly attacked Coolidge on the floor of the senate. One of the President’s friends rushed over to the White House and excitedly explained to Coolidge what was going on.
“The dirty so-and-so.” exclaimed Coolidge’s friend. “He’s nothing but a son-of-a- —–!”
Coolidge never lost his composure for a second
“Well,” he quietly remarked, as was characteristic of him. “I guess after all there are enough of them in the country so that they are entitled to representation in the senate.”
Coolidge was the U.S. President between 1923 and 1929, so this tale is somewhat late, and future researchers may discover earlier evidence.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1932 a quip that fit the same template appeared in a column by E. E. Whiting in “The Springfield Daily Republican” of Massachusetts. The target was a “half-wits” instead of an “S.O.B.s”: 2
If in the process we sometimes lift into public office the half-wits, why, if we believe in a representative government, maybe that’s all right. The light-witted are entitled to representation; and they get it.
On March 19, 1944 the citation at the beginning of this article was printed. The next day, March 20th, the following similar version of the anecdote appeared in the newspaper column of Harold Schoelkopf in Saint Cloud, Minnesota: 3
There is a story about ex-President Coolidge who on one occasion was bitterly criticized by a senator of an opposing party. One of Mr. Coolidge’s adherents rushed to the White house, quite out of breath, to report the incident.
“Why,” he said, “Senator Blank is a blankety-blank So-and-So.”
Mr. Coolidge was thoughtful for a moment. “Well,” he observed, “I guess there are enough of them in the country so they’re entitled to representation.”
In 1954 columnist Walter Trohan of the “Chicago Tribune” in Illinois presented a different version of the story which he claimed was relayed to him by Senator Styles Bridges of New Hampshire: 4
Sen. Bridges [R., N. H.] tells the story that one of his predecessors, the late and caustic Sen. George H. Moses, came storming into the White House during the administration of Calvin Coolidge to complain that a man under consideration for a Republican senatorial nomination was “an out and out S. O. B.”
“That could be,” Coolidge conceded. “But there’s a lot of them in the country and I think they are entitled to representation in the senate.”
In 1959 the syndicated column “Famous Fables” by E. E. Edgar printed a version in which an unhappy big-wig approached Coolidge about a Senate candidate: 5
“You must persuade him to withdraw, Mr. President,” said the politician.
“Why?” said Coolidge. “He has ability, hasn’t he?”
“Yes,” agreed the other, “but he’s a no-good so-and-so!”
“Oh, well,” said Coolidge, “there are a lot of no-good so-and-so’s around. They’re entitled to representation.”
In 1970 the nomination of a judge to the United States Supreme Court led to a political battle. The detractors of the candidate believed that his career on the bench had been undistinguished. A senator who supported the nominee offered the following justification which he later said was intended to be humorous: 6
“The President appoints these people and even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. Aren’t they entitled to a little representation and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises and Cardozas and Frankfurters and stuff like that. I doubt we can. I doubt we want to.”
In conclusion, Coolidge left the presidency in 1929, and the anecdote surfaced in 1944. This late date reduces the credibility of the story, but it might be true. The initial tale in the 1940s was about a member of the opposition Democratic Party. In the 1950s the tale was about a member of Coolidge’s Republican Party. This switch further reduces the believability. On the other hand, the ascription to Coolidge is consistent and unchanged.
(Great thanks to S whose inquiry from 2015 led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Professor of Law Jonathan Weinberg who pointed to the 1970 quotation.)
Update History: On May 22, 2018 the 1970 citation was added.
- 1944 March 19, Port Huron Times Herald, Between You and Me, Quote Page 4, Column 6, Port Huron, Michigan. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1932 September 22, The Springfield Daily Republican, Whiting’s Boston Letter by E. E. Whiting, Quote Page 10, Column 5, Springfield, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1944 March 20, The St. Cloud Daily Times, Today by Harold Schoelkopf, Quote Page 4, Column 6, Saint Cloud, Minnesota. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1954 January 30, Chicago Daily Tribune, Washington Scrapbook by Walter Trohan, Quote Page 5, Column 5, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1959 July 29, Evening Star, Famous Fables by E. E. Edgar, Quote Page B4, Column 2, Washington D.C. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1970 March 17, Lincoln Evening Journal, Hruska Contends Mediocre Entitled To Representation (Article compiled from news wires), (Quotation from Senator Roman Hruska supporting nominee G. Harrold Carswell), Quote Page 2, Column 2, Lincoln, Nebraska. (Newspapers_com) ↩