John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. (July 4, 1872 – January 5, 1933) was the 30th President of the United States (1923–1929). A Republican lawyer from Vermont, Coolidge worked his way up the ladder of Massachusetts state politics, eventually becoming governor of that state. His actions during the Boston Police Strike of 1919 thrust him into the national spotlight. Soon after, he was elected as vice President in 1920 and succeeded to the Presidency upon the death of Warren G. Harding. Elected in his own right in 1924, he gained a reputation as a small-government conservative. In many ways Coolidge's style of governance was a throwback to the passive presidency of the nineteenth century. He restored public confidence in the White House after the scandals of his predecessor's administration, and left office with considerable popularity. As his biographer later put it, "he embodied the spirit and hopes of the middle class, could interpret their longings and express their opinions. That he did represent the genius of the average is the most convincing proof of his strength." Many later criticized Coolidge as part of a general criticism of laissez-faire government. His reputation underwent a renaissance during the Ronald Reagan Administration, but the ultimate assessment of his presidency is still divided between those who approve of his reduction of the size of government and those who believe the federal government should be more involved in regulating the economy.
Birth and family historyEdit
John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. was born in Plymouth, Windsor County, Vermont, on July 4, 1872, the only U.S. President to be born on the fourth of July. He was the elder of two children of John Calvin Coolidge (1845 – 1926) and Victoria Josephine Moor (1846 – 1885). He had a sister, Abigail Grace Coolidge (1875 – 1890). The Coolidge family had deep roots in New England. His earliest American ancestor, John Coolidge, emigrated from Cambridge, England, around 1630 and settled in Watertown, Massachusetts Coolidge's great-great-grandfather, also named John Coolidge, was an American army officer in the American Revolution and was one of the first selectmen of the town of Plymouth Notch. Most of Coolidge's ancestors were farmers. The more well-known Coolidges, such as architect Charles Allerton Coolidge and diplomat Archibald Cary Coolidge, were descended from other branches of the family that had stayed in Massachusetts. Coolidge's grandmother Sarah Almeda Brewer had two famous first cousins: Arthur Brown, a United States Senator, and Olympia Brown, a women's suffragist.
Early career and marriageEdit
Western Massachusetts lawyerEdit
After graduating from Amherst College, at his father's urging Coolidge moved to Northampton, Massachusetts to take up the practice of law. Avoiding the costly alternative of attending a law school, Coolidge followed the more common practice at the time of apprenticing with a local firm, Hammond & Field and reading law with them. John C. Hammond and Henry P. Field, both Amherst graduates, introduced Coolidge to the law practice in the county seat of Hampshire County. In 1897, Coolidge was admitted to the bar. With his savings and a small inheritance from his grandfather, Coolidge was able to open his own law office in Northampton in 1898. He practiced transactional law, believing that he served his clients best by staying out of court. As his reputation as a hard-working and diligent attorney grew, local banks and other businesses began to retain his services.
]Marriage and familyEdit
In 1905 Coolidge met and married a fellow Vermonter, Grace Anna Goodhue, a local schoolteacher working at the Clarke School for the Deaf. While Grace was watering flowers outside the school one day in 1903, she happened to look up at the open window of Robert N. Weir's boardinghouse and caught a glimpse of Calvin Coolidge shaving in front of a mirror with nothing on but long underwear and a hat After a more formal introduction sometime later, the two were quickly attracted to each other. They were opposites in personality: she was talkative and fun-loving, while Coolidge was quiet and serious. Not long after their marriage, Coolidge handed her a bag with fifty-two pairs of socks in it, all of them full of holes. Grace's reply was "Did you marry me to darn your socks?" Without cracking a smile and with his usual seriousness, Calvin answered, "No, but I find it mighty handy." They had two sons; John Coolidge, born in 1906, and Calvin Coolidge, Jr., born in 1908. The marriage was, by most accounts, a happy one. As Coolidge wrote in his Autobiography, "We thought we were made for each other. For almost a quarter of a century she has borne with my infirmities, and I have rejoiced in her graces."
Local political officeEdit
The Republican Party was dominant in New England in Coolidge's time, and he followed Hammond's and Field's example by becoming active in local politics. Coolidge campaigned locally for Republican presidential candidate William McKinley in 1896, and the next year he was selected to be a member of the Republican City Committee. In 1898, he won election to the City Council of Northampton, placing second in a ward where the top three candidates were elected. The position offered no salary, but gave Coolidge experience in the political world. In 1899, he declined renomination, running instead for City Solicitor, a position elected by the City Council. He was elected for a one-year term in 1900, and reelected in 1901. This position gave Coolidge more experience as a lawyer, and paid a salary of $600. In 1902, the city council selected a Democrat for city solicitor, and Coolidge returned to an exclusively private practice. Soon thereafter, however, the clerk of courts for the county died, and Coolidge was chosen to replace him. The position paid well, but barred him from practicing law, so he only remained at the job for one year. The next year, 1904, Coolidge met with his only defeat before the voters, losing an election to the Northampton school board. When told that some of his neighbors voted against him because he had no children in the schools he would govern, Coolidge replied "Might give me time!"
State legislator and mayorEdit
In 1906 the local Republican committee nominated Coolidge for election to the state House of Representatives. He won a close victory over the incumbent Democrat, and reported to Boston for the 1907 session of the Massachusetts General Court. In his freshman term, Coolidge served on minor committees and, although he usually voted with the party, was known as a Progressive Republican, voting in favor of such measures as women's suffrage and the direct election of Senators. Throughout his time in Boston, Coolidge found himself allied primarily with the western Winthrop Murray Crane faction of the state Republican Party, as against the Henry Cabot Lodge-dominated eastern faction. In 1907, he was elected to a second term. In the 1908 session, Coolidge was more outspoken, but was still not one of the leaders in the legislature. Instead of vying for another term in the state house, Coolidge returned home to his growing family and ran for mayor of Northampton when the incumbent Democrat retired. He was well-liked in the town, and defeated his challenger by a vote of 1,597 to 1,409. During his first term (1910 to 1911), he increased teachers' salaries and retired some of the city's debt while still managing to effect a slight tax decrease. He was renominated in 1911, and defeated the same opponent by a slightly larger margin.
Governor of MassachusettsEdit
Coolidge was unopposed for the Republican nomination for Governor of Massachusetts in 1918. He and his running mate, Channing Cox, a Boston lawyer and Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, ran on the previous administration's record: fiscal conservatism, a vague opposition to Prohibition, support for women's suffrage, and support for American involvement in the First World War. The issue of the war proved divisive, especially among Irish- and German-Americans. Coolidge was elected by a margin of 16,773 votes over his opponent, Richard H. Long, in the smallest margin of victory of any of his state-wide campaigns.
Boston Police StrikeEdit
In 1919 in response to rumors that policemen of the Boston Police Department planned to form a trade union, Police Commissioner Edwin U. Curtis issued a statement saying that such a move would not be countenanced. In August of that year, the American Federation of Labor issued a charter to the Boston Police Union.] Curtis said the union's leaders were insubordinate and planned to relieve them of duty, but said that he would suspend the sentence if the union was dissolved by September 4. The mayor of Boston, Andrew Peters, convinced Curtis to delay his action for a few days, but Curtis ultimately suspended the union leaders after a brief delay, on September 8. "Your assertion that the Commissioner was wrong cannot justify the wrong of leaving the city unguarded. That furnished the opportunity; the criminal element furnished the action. There is no right to strike against the public safety by anyone, anywhere, any time. ... I am equally determined to defend the sovereignty of Massachusetts and to maintain the authority and jurisdiction over her public officers where it has been placed by the Constitution and laws of her people." Telegram from Governor Calvin Coolidge to Samuel Gompers September 15, 1919. The following day about three-quarters of the policemen in Boston went on strike. Coolidge had observed the situation throughout the conflict, but had not yet intervened. That night and the next, there was sporadic violence and rioting in the lawless city. Peters, concerned about sympathy strikes, had called up some units of the Massachusetts National Guard stationed in the Boston area and relieved Curtis of duty. Coolidge, furious that the mayor had called out state guard units, finally acted. He called up more units of the National Guard, restored Curtis to office, and took personal control of the police force.] Curtis proclaimed that none of the strikers would be allowed back to their former jobs, and Coolidge issued calls for a new police force to be recruited.
Coolidge and Cox were renominated for their respective offices in 1919. By this time Coolidge's supporters (especially Stearns) had publicized his actions in the Police Strike around the state and the nation and some of Coolidge's speeches were reissued as a book. He was faced with the same opponent as in 1918, Richard Long, but this time Coolidge defeated him by 125,101 votes, more than seven times his margin of victory from a year earlier. His actions in the police strike, combined with the massive electoral victory, led to suggestions that Coolidge should run for President in 1920.
Main article: United States presidential election, 1920
At the 1920 Republican Convention most of the delegates were selected by state party conventions, not primaries. As such, the field was divided among many local favorites. Coolidge was one such candidate, and while he placed as high as sixth in the voting, the powerful party bosses never considered him a serious candidate. After ten ballots, the delegates settled on Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio as their nominee for President. When the time came to select a Vice Presidential nominee, the party bosses had also made a decision on who they would nominate: Senator Irvine Lenroot of Wisconsin. A delegate from Oregon, Wallace McCamant, having read Have Faith in Massachusetts, proposed Coolidge for Vice President instead. The suggestion caught on quickly, and Coolidge found himself unexpectedly nominated.
The Vice-Presidency did not carry many official duties, but Coolidge was invited by President Harding to attend cabinet meetings, making him the first Vice President to do so. He gave speeches around the country, but none were especially noteworthy. As Vice-President, Coolidge and his vivacious wife Grace were invited to quite a few parties, where the legend of "Silent Cal" was born. It was from this time most of the jokes and anecdotes involving Coolidge originate. Although Coolidge was known to be a skilled and effective public speaker, in private he was a man of few words and was therefore commonly referred to as "Silent Cal." A possibly apocryphal story has it that Dorothy Parker, seated next to him at a dinner, said to him, "Mr. Coolidge, I've made a bet against a fellow who said it was impossible to get more than two words out of you." His famous reply: "You lose." It was also Parker who, upon learning that Coolidge had died, reportedly remarked, "How can they tell?" Coolidge often seemed uncomfortable among fashionable Washington society; when asked why he continued to attend so many of their dinner parties, he replied "Got to eat somewhere." As President, Coolidge's reputation as a quiet man continued. "The words of a President have an enormous weight," he would later write, "and ought not to be used indiscriminately." Coolidge was aware of his stiff reputation; indeed, he cultivated it. "I think the American people want a solemn ass as a President," he once told Ethel Barrymore, "and I think I will go along with them." However, he did hold a then-record number of presidential press conferences, 520 during his presidency. He was the first president to accept follow-up questions at press conferences.
Succession to the PresidencyEdit
On August 2, 1923, President Harding died while on a speaking tour in California. Vice-President Coolidge was in Vermont visiting his family home, which did not have electricity or a telephone, when he received word by messenger of Harding's death. Coolidge dressed, said a prayer, and came downstairs to greet the reporters who had assembled. His father, a notary public, administered the oath of office in the family's parlor by the light of a kerosene lamp at 2:47 a.m. on August 3, 1923; Coolidge then went back to bed. Coolidge returned to Washington the next day, and was re-sworn by Justice A. A. Hoehling of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, as there was some confusion over whether a state notary public had the authority to administer the presidential oath.
Main article: United States presidential election, 1924
The Democrats held their convention from June 24 to July 9 in New York City. The convention soon deadlocked, and after 103 ballots, the delegates finally agreed on a compromise candidate, John W. Davis, with Charles W. Bryan nominated for Vice President. The Democrats' hopes were buoyed when Robert M. La Follette, Sr., a Republican Senator from Wisconsin, split from the party to form a new Progressive Party. Many believed that the split in the Republican party, like the one in 1912, would allow a Democrat to win the Presidency. Shortly after the conventions Coolidge experienced a personal tragedy. Coolidge's younger son, Calvin, Jr., developed a blister from playing tennis on the White House courts. The blister became infected, and Calvin, Jr. died. After that Coolidge became even more withdrawn. He later said that "when he died, the power and glory of the Presidency went with him." In spite of his sadness, Coolidge ran his conventional campaign; he never maligned his opponents (or even mentioned them by name) and delivered speeches on his theory of government, including several that were broadcast over radio. It was easily the most subdued campaign since 1896, partly because the President was grieving for his son, but partly because Coolidge's style was naturally non-confrontational The other candidates campaigned in a more modern fashion, but despite the split in the Republican party, the results were very similar to those of 1920. Coolidge and Dawes won every state outside the South except for Wisconsin, La Follette's home state. Coolidge had a popular vote majority of 2.5 million over his opponents' combined total.
While he was not an isolationist, Coolidge was reluctant to enter foreign alliances. Coolidge saw the landslide Republican victory of 1920 as a rejection of the Wilsonian idea that the United States should join the League of Nations. While not completely opposed to the idea, Coolidge believed the League, as then constituted, did not serve American interests, and he did not advocate membership in it. He spoke in favor of the United States joining the Permanent Court of International Justice, provided that the nation would not be bound by advisory decisions. The Senate eventually approved joining the Court (with reservations) in 1926. The League of Nations accepted the reservations, but suggested some modifications of their own. The Senate failed to act; the United States never joined the World Court. Coolidge's best-known initiative was the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, named for Coolidge's Secretary of State, Frank B. Kellogg, and French foreign minister Aristide Briand. The treaty, ratified in 1929, committed signatories including the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan to "renounce war, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another." The treaty did not actually achieve its intended result – the outlawry of war – but did provide the founding principle for international law after World War II.
Main article: United States presidential election, 1928
President Coolidge signed a bill granting Native Americans full U.S. citizenship. Coolidge is shown above on October 22, 1924 holding a ceremonial hat. Coolidge did not seek renomination; he announced his decision to reporters, in writing, with typical terseness: "I do not choose to run for President in 1928." After allowing them to take that in, Coolidge elaborated. "If I take another term, I will be in the White House till 1933 … Ten years in Washington is longer than any other man has had it—too long!" In his memoirs, Coolidge explained his decision not to run: "The Presidential office takes a heavy toll of those who occupy it and those who are dear to them. While we should not refuse to spend and be spent in the service of our country, it is hazardous to attempt what we feel is beyond our strength to accomplish." After leaving office, he and Grace returned to Northampton, where he wrote his memoirs. The Republicans retained the White House in 1928 in the person of Coolidge's Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover. Coolidge had been lukewarm on the choice of Hoover as his successor; on one occasion he remarked that "for six years that man has given me unsolicited advice—all of it bad. Even so, Coolidge had no desire to split the party by publicly opposing the popular Commerce Secretary's nomination. The delegates did consider nominating Vice President Charles Dawes to be Hoover's running mate, but the convention selected Senator Charles Curtis instead.
Radio and filmEdit
Despite his reputation as a quiet and even reclusive politician, Coolidge made use of the new medium of radio and made radio history several times while President. He made himself available to reporters, giving 529 press conferences, meeting with reporters more regularly than any President before or since. Coolidge's inauguration was the first presidential inauguration broadcast on radio. On December 6, 1923, he was the first President whose address to Congress was broadcast on radio. On February 22, 1924, he became the first President of the United States to deliver a political speech on radio. On August 11, 1924, Lee De Forest filmed Coolidge on the White House lawn by in DeForest's Phonofilm sound-on-film process, becoming the first President to appear in a sound film. The title of the DeForest film was President Coolidge, Taken on the White House Lawn. Coolidge was the only president to have his face on a coin during his lifetime, the sesquicentennial commemorative half dollar of 1926. After his death, he also appeared on a stamp.
Retirement and deathEdit
After his presidency, Coolidge served as chairman of the non-partisan Railroad Commission, as honorary president of the Foundation of the Blind, as a director of New York Life Insurance Company, as president of the American Antiquarian Society, and as a trustee of Amherst College. Coolidge received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.
Coolidge addressing a crowd at Arlington National Cemetery's Roman style Memorial Amphitheater in 1924. Coolidge published his autobiography in 1929 and wrote a syndicated newspaper column, "Calvin Coolidge Says," from 1930–1931. Faced with looming defeat in 1932, some Republicans spoke of rejecting Herbert Hoover as their party's nominee, and instead drafting Coolidge to run, but the former President made it clear that he was not interested in running again, and that he would publicly repudiate any effort to draft him, should it come about. Hoover was renominated, and Coolidge made several radio addresses in support of him. He died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Northampton, "The Beeches," at 12:45 p.m., January 5, 1933. Shortly before his death, Coolidge confided to an old friend: "I feel I am no longer fit in these times." Coolidge is buried beneath a simple headstone in Notch Cemetery, Plymouth Notch, Vermont, where the family homestead is maintained as a museum. The State of Vermont dedicated a new visitors' center nearby to mark Coolidge's 100th birthday on July 4, 1972. Calvin Coolidge's "Brave Little State of Vermont speech" is memorialized in the Hall of Inscriptions at the Vermont State House in Montpelier, Vermont.