John Calvin Coolidge Jr.¬†(July 4, 1872¬†‚Äď January 5, 1933)

John Calvin Coolidge Jr. was the 30th¬†President of the United States¬†from 1923 to 1929. Born in¬†Vermont, Coolidge was a¬†Republican¬†lawyer from¬†New England¬†who climbed up the ladder of¬†Massachusetts¬†state politics, eventually becoming the state’s¬†48th governor. His response to the¬†Boston Police Strike¬†of 1919 thrust him into the national spotlight as a man of decisive action. He was elected the country’s 29th¬†vice president¬†the next year, succeeding the presidency upon the sudden death of President¬†Warren G. Harding¬†in 1923.

Coolidge gained a reputation as a¬†small-government Conservative¬†and also as a man who said very little and had a very dry sense of humor, receiving the nickname “Silent Cal”.¬†Though his widespread popularity enabled him to run for a third term, he chose not to run again in¬†1928, remarking that ten years as president was “longer than any other man has had it¬†‚Äď too long!”

Throughout his gubernatorial career, Coolidge ran on the record of¬†fiscal conservatism, strong support for¬†women’s suffrage, and held a vague opposition to¬†Prohibition.¬†During his presidency, he restored public confidence in the¬†White House¬†after the many¬†scandals¬†of the¬†Harding Administration. He signed the¬†Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 into law, which granted¬†US citizenship¬†to the¬†Native American peoples of the United States, and oversaw a period of rapid and expansive economic growth known as the “Roaring Twenties,” leaving office with considerable popularity. He was known for his hands-off governing approach and pro-business stances. As a Coolidge biographer wrote: “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.”

John Calvin Coolidge Jr. was born on July 4, 1872, in¬†Plymouth Notch,¬†Vermont‚ÄĒthe only U.S. president to be born on¬†Independence Day. He was the elder of the two children of¬†John Calvin Coolidge Sr.¬†(1845‚Äď1926) and Victoria Josephine Moor (1846‚Äď1885). Although named for his father, John, from early childhood Coolidge was addressed by his middle name, Calvin. His middle name was selected in honor of¬†John Calvin, considered a founder of the¬†Congregational church¬†in which Coolidge was raised and remained active throughout his life.

Coolidge’s family had deep roots in¬†New England; his earliest American ancestor, John Coolidge, emigrated from¬†Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, England, around 1630 and settled in¬†Watertown, Massachusetts.¬†Coolidge’s great-great-grandfather, also named John Coolidge, was an American military officer in the¬†Revolutionary War¬†and one of the first¬†selectmen¬†of the town of Plymouth.¬†His grandfather¬†Calvin Galusha Coolidge¬†served in the Vermont House of Representatives.

Coolidge attended Black River Academy and then St. Johnsbury Academy, before enrolling at Amherst College, where he distinguished himself in the debating class.

At his father’s urging after graduation, Coolidge moved to¬†Northampton, Massachusetts¬†to become a lawyer. To avoid the cost of law school, Coolidge followed the common practice of apprenticing with a local law firm, Hammond & Field and¬†reading law¬†with them.¬†John C. Hammond¬†and Henry P. Field, both Amherst graduates, introduced Coolidge to law practice in the county seat of¬†Hampshire County, Massachusetts. In 1897, Coolidge was admitted to the¬†Massachusetts Bar, becoming a¬†country lawyer.¬†With his savings and a small inheritance from his grandfather, Coolidge opened his own law office in Northampton in 1898. He practiced commercial 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. Coolidge was frugal, and when it came to securing a home, he insisted upon renting instead of ownership.

In 1903, Coolidge met¬†Grace Goodhue, a¬†University of Vermont¬†graduate and teacher at Northampton’s¬†Clarke School for the Deaf. They married on October 4, 1905, at 2:30¬†p.m. in a small ceremony which took place in the parlor of Grace’s family’s house, having finally overcome her mother’s objections to the marriage. He and his wife attended Northampton’s Edwards¬†Congregational¬†Church before and after his presidency.

The Coolidges had two sons:¬†John¬†(1906‚Äď2000) and Calvin Jr. (1908‚Äď1924). On June 30, 1924, Calvin Jr. played¬†tennis¬†with his brother on the White House tennis courts without putting on socks and developed a¬†blister¬†on one of his toes. The blister subsequently degenerated into¬†sepsis. Calvin Jr. died a little over a week later at the age of 16.¬†The President never forgave himself for Calvin Jr’s death. John later became a railroad executive, helped to start the Coolidge Foundation and was instrumental in creating the¬†President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site.

Massachusetts State Legislator

In 1906, the local Republican committee nominated Coolidge for election to the Massachusetts 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 1911, the State Senator for the Hampshire County area retired and successfully encouraged Coolidge to run for his seat for the 1912 session; Coolidge defeated his Democrat opponent by a large margin. A major issue affecting Massachusetts Republicans that year was the party split between the progressive wing, which favored Theodore Roosevelt, and the conservative wing, which favored William Howard Taft. Although he favored some progressive measures, Coolidge refused to leave the Republican Party.

1918 Election: Governor Of Massachusetts 

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¬†World War I. 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 statewide campaigns.

1920 Election & Vice Presidency

At the¬†1920 Republican National Convention, most of the delegates were selected by state party caucuses, 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 running the convention, primarily the party’s U.S. Senators, never considered him seriously.¬†After ten ballots, the bosses and then 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 bosses also made and announced their decision on whom they wanted¬†‚Äď Sen.¬†Irvine Lenroot¬†of Wisconsin¬†‚Äď and then prematurely departed after his name was put forth, relying on the rank and file to confirm their decision. A delegate from¬†Oregon,¬†Wallace McCamant, having read¬†Have Faith in Massachusetts, proposed Coolidge for Vice president instead. The suggestion caught on quickly with the masses starving for an act of independence from the absent bosses, and Coolidge was unexpectedly nominated.

On November 2, 1920, Harding and Coolidge won victoriously in a landslide, winning more than 60 percent of the popular vote, including every state outside the South. They also won in Tennessee, the first time a Republican ticket had won a Southern state since Reconstruction

“Silent Cal”

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 is from this time that most of the jokes and anecdotes involving Coolidge originate, such as Coolidge being “silent in five languages.”¬†Although Coolidge was known to be a skilled and effective public speaker, in private he was a man of few words and was commonly referred to as “Silent Cal.” An apocryphal story has it that a person seated next to him at a dinner said to him, “I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you.” He replied, “You lose.” 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 even 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.” Some historians suggest that Coolidge’s image was created deliberately as a campaign tactic, while others believe his withdrawn and quiet behavior to be natural, deepening after the death of his son in 1924. Dorothy Parker, upon learning that Coolidge had died, reportedly remarked, “How can they tell?”

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 520 press conferences, meeting with reporters more regularly than any president before or since.¬†Coolidge’s¬†second inauguration¬†was the first presidential inauguration broadcast on radio. On December 6, 1923, his speech to Congress was broadcast on radio,¬†the first presidential radio address. Coolidge signed the¬†Radio Act of 1927, which assigned regulation of radio to the newly created¬†Federal Radio Commission. When¬†Charles Lindbergh¬†arrived in Washington on a U.S. Navy ship after his celebrated 1927 trans-Atlantic flight, President Coolidge welcomed him back to the U.S. and presented him with the¬†Medal of Honor;¬†the event was captured on film.

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The Presidency: 1923-1929

On August 2, 1923, President Harding died unexpectedly from a heart attack in San Francisco while on a speaking tour of the western United States. Vice President Coolidge was in Vermont visiting his¬†family home, which had neither electricity nor a telephone, when he received word by messenger of Harding’s unexpected death.¬†Coolidge dressed, said a prayer, and came downstairs to greet the reporters who had assembled.¬†His father, a¬†notary public¬†and¬†justice of the peace, 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, whereupon the new President of the United States returned to bed.

Initially, the nation did not know what to make of Coolidge, who had maintained a low profile in the Harding Administration; many even expected him to be replaced on the ballot in 1924. Coolidge addressed Congress when it reconvened on December 6, 1923, giving a speech that supported many of Harding’s policies, including Harding’s formal budgeting process, the enforcement of¬†immigration restrictions¬†and arbitration of coal strikes ongoing in¬†Pennsylvania.¬†The address to Congress was the first presidential speech to be broadcast over the radio.

Industry & Trade

During Coolidge’s presidency, the United States experienced a period of rapid economic growth known as the “Roaring Twenties.” He left the administration’s industrial policy in the hands of his activist Secretary of Commerce,¬†Herbert Hoover, who energetically used government auspices to promote business efficiency and develop airlines and radio.¬†Coolidge disdained regulation and demonstrated this by appointing commissioners to the¬†Federal Trade Commission¬†and the¬†Interstate Commerce Commission¬†who did little to restrict the activities of businesses under their jurisdiction.¬†The regulatory state under Coolidge was, as one biographer described it, “thin to the point of invisibility.”

Taxation & Government Spending

Coolidge adopted the taxation policies of his Secretary of the Treasury,¬†Andrew Mellon, who advocated for “scientific taxation”¬†‚Äď the notion that lowering taxes would increase, rather than decrease, government receipts.¬†Congress agreed, and tax rates were reduced during Coolidge’s term.¬†In addition to federal tax cuts, Coolidge proposed reductions in federal expenditures and retiring of the¬†federal debt. Coolidge’s ideas were shared by the Republicans in Congress, and in 1924, Congress passed the¬†Revenue Act of 1924, which reduced income tax rates and eliminated all income taxation for some two million people.¬†They reduced taxes again by passing the Revenue Acts of¬†1926¬†and¬†1928, all the while continuing to keep spending down so as to reduce the overall federal debt.¬†By 1927, only the wealthiest 2% of taxpayers paid any federal income tax at all. Federal spending remained flat during Coolidge’s administration, allowing one-fourth of the federal debt to be retired in total.

Civil Rights

According to one biographer, Coolidge was completely “devoid of racial prejudice,” but rarely took the lead on civil rights. Coolidge disliked the¬†Ku Klux Klan¬†and no Klansman is known to have received an appointment from him. In the 1924 presidential election his opponents (Robert La Follette and John Davis), and his running mate Charles Dawes, often attacked the Klan but Coolidge avoided the subject.¬†During his administration, lynchings of African-Americans decreased and millions of people left the Ku Klux Klan.

Foreign Policy

Coolidge was neither well versed nor very interested in world affairs.¬†His focus was directed mainly at domestic American business, especially pertaining to trade, and “Maintaining the Status Quo.” Although not an isolationist, he was reluctant to enter into foreign alliances.¬†While Coolidge believed strongly in a foreign policy of¬†non-interventionism and he did believe that the¬†United States was exceptional.

Coolidge considered the 1920 Republican victory to be a public rejection of the Wilsonian position 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 U.S. membership.

In the summer of 1927, Coolidge vacationed in the¬†Black Hills¬†of¬†South Dakota, where he enjoyed horseback riding, fly fishing and attending¬†rodeos. He made¬†Custer State Park¬†his “Summer White House.” While on vacation, Coolidge surprisingly issued a terse statement that he would not seek a second full term as president: “I do not choose to run¬†for President in 1928.” After allowing the reporters to take that in, Coolidge elaborated. “If I take another term, I will be in the White House till 1933¬†‚Ķ Ten years in Washington is longer than any other man has had it¬†‚Äď 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.

After his presidency, Coolidge retired to a modest rented house on residential Massasoit Street in¬†Northampton¬†before moving to a more spacious home, “The Beeches.” He kept a¬†Hacker¬†runabout boat on the Connecticut River and was often observed on the water by local boating enthusiasts. During this period, he also served as chairman of the Non-Partisan Railroad Commission, an entity created by several banks and corporations to survey the country’s long-term transportation needs and make recommendations for improvements. He was an honorary president of the¬†American Foundation for the Blind, a director of¬†New York Life Insurance Company, president of the¬†American Antiquarian Society, and a trustee of Amherst College.

Coolidge died suddenly from¬†coronary thrombosis¬†at “The Beeches,” at 12:45¬†PM on January 5, 1933, at the age of 60.¬†Shortly before his death, Coolidge confided to an old friend: “I feel I no longer fit in with these times.”¬†Coolidge is buried in¬†Plymouth Notch Cemetery,¬†Plymouth Notch, Vermont. The nearby family home is maintained as one of the original buildings on the¬†Calvin Coolidge Homestead District¬†site. The State of Vermont dedicated a new visitors’ center nearby to commemorate Coolidge’s 100th birthday on July 4, 1972. ‚ú™


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