On August 2, 1923, Calvin Coolidge was vacationing at his father’s home at Plymouth,Vermont when one night he was awakened by the tragic news of Warren Harding’s death. Harding ,who had been on a public speaking tour of the West, when his health began to deteriorate, tried poorly to alleviate the scandal that have been plaguing his presidency. Praying by candlelight, Coolidge descended the stairs to the plain living room of his father’s house, lighted only by two kerosene lamps. Upon an old wooden business desk, a copy of the US Constitution was found and Coolidge took the oath of office, as his father
administered him as the next president of the United States on the family Bible.
In his six years as president of the United States, Calvin Coolidge was considered to be a heroic president; not for what he did, but for what he did not do. Therein lies his political genius as Walter Lippmann, a White House advisor for Coolidge in 1926, pointed out: “… his talent for effectively doing nothing. This active inactivity suits the mood and certain needs of the country admirably. It suits all the business interests which wants to be let alone… And it suits all those who have become convinced that government in this country has become dangerously complicated and top heavy..” (Touchman 90).
It is no wonder, that Coolidge was known as the “do-nothing” president.
The road to the presidency was not a hard road for Coolidge to come by. He was born on the 4th of July in the summer of 1872 at Vermont. He was originally named John Calvin Coolidge but he later dropped the “John” (Askin 67-68). His parents were John and Victoria Coolidge. His father was a jack-of-all-trades, but was later known to be an exceptional politician. His mother loved poetry and was very beautiful, unfortunately she died when Coolidge was 12 yrs.old (Askin 79). Coolidge was brought up in a very idealistic family. His religious affiliation was vague, yet one can surmise that his family religion was Protestant since the majority of America was Protestant at that time. Also instilled in him at an early age were “attributes of caution, dependability, fairness, honesty, industry, thrift, tolerance, and unpretentiousness, and a belief in man’s perfectibility.” (Touchman 65). Coolidge’s beliefs were derived mostly from his mother and from his homelife and the simple democratic neighborhood of Plymouth Notch. Only will it be in his college years will the
ideas of frugality and caution be reinforced when he attended college at Amherst College in Massachusetts. It is these beliefs which will guide him for the rest of his life both politically and socially.
Coolidge was the first in his family to attend college. His years in Amherst gave Coolidge “an understanding of culture, strengthened his bent toward civic service and also persuaded him of the necessity of stability and harmony in the affairs of men.” (“American Presidency”). He later graduated with honors and became an scholar with an interest in law.
Graduating from Amherst in 1895, Coolidge became a lawyer in the offices of John Hammond and Henry Field at Northampton Massachusetts. Though he practiced much law at Northampton, he never prospered as an attorney, yet was still able to earn enough in his practice to eventually become financially independent in such a short time. (“American Presidency”).
Coolidge’s association with Hammond and Field led him into politics, his second profession. Politics came very easily to Coolidge because his father was a frequent officeholder in Vermont. Hammond and Field themselves were active political leaders and found the young Coolidge a willing political apprentice. During 1896 and 1897, Coolidge was active in the Republican Party and in 1898 he was rewarded with the nomination and election as city councilman (“American Presidency”). From then on until his retirement from the presidency he was seldom out of public office.
That same year, Coolidge gained a wife by the name of Grace Anna Goodhue. Grace is the daughter of a Vermont mechanical engineer, and had been a teacher for the deaf at the Clark Institute (Bailey 20). Grace Coolidge was the perfect companion for the affectionate and silent Coolidge. One of Coolidge’s earliest moments in their courtship was when he expressed his hope “that having taught the deaf to hear, Miss Goodhue might perhaps cause the mute to speak (referring to himself).” (Bailey 78).
The year after their marriage, Grace gave birth to their first son, John. Later that same year, Coolidge was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representative. During his two one-year terms in the House, Coolidge made very little impression to his fellow members, although his record shows he may have been mildly progressive. Coolidge then had a short absence from the national public service life and became mayor of Northampton in 1909 and was reelected in 1910. In 1911 Coolidge was sent to the state Senate, where he became the Republican leader. His creed while in the Senate seemed to be “something for everybody,” as long as it did not cost too much. (Brock 132).
During his election to a third Senate term in 1913, Coolidge began to gather a sufficient support for the election of the presidency of the Senate. This position was the most important position to Coolidge because Democrats occupied both the govenorship and lieutenant governorship (Askin 164). Advising his colleagues in the Senate to “Do the day’s work” and “Be brief”, (“American Presidency”) Coolidge effectively performed his duties as Senate president producing legislation that was sound and well received by both Houses. In 1915 Coolidge ran for lieutenant governor. During his three years as lieutenant governor, Coolidge acquired more knowledge of the government, and in 1918
he was elected governor.
Coolidge’s time spent as governor is what made him a hero to the American people. As governor, Coolidge made and energetic and effective effort to settle labor disputes by encouraging reasonable pay increases, and to grant additional home rule. His reputation for being a hero did not come from such accomplishments. His greatest accomplishment came from settling the Police Labor Strike in 1919 (Brock 123-125).
The police of Boston had grievances over pay, hours of work, and working
conditions. Receiving little satisfaction from the city, the affiliated themselves with the American Federation of Labor (AFL), and when 19 local police unions were suspended from the force, the police voted to strike. Their walkout brought disorder to Boston. Coolidge did not step up into the strike until peace had been largely been restored, when he took command of the national guard that had been introduced to bring order (Brock 135-142). During the strike, Coolidge denied the right of the strikers to return to their
jobs, and defended the city’s and state’s actions in a telegram to Samuel Gompers, president of the AFL, in which he asserted, “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.” (Coolidge). Through this action, Coolidge received the acclaim of a grateful nation, including that of President Woodrow Wilson, for “meeting a dire threat to public safety” (Touchman 121). The following Fall he was reelected governor.
At the 1920 Republican national convention, Coolidge was the favorite-son candidate for the president. Although he was passed over Warren G. Harding was nominated, the delegated unanimously selected Coolidge for Vice President. That fall Harding and Coolidge won a landslide victory.
As Vice President of the United States, Coolidge presided over the White House without the flair or dash, sat quietly at cabinet meetings, and made rather unimpressive speeches over the country that earned him the nickname “Silent Cal”. By the summer of 1923 he had very little enthusiasm for his job and had developed no power as a national political figure. It was not until the death of Harding in the night of August 2nd did Coolidge geniusness for running the country came into light. On the remainder of Hardings term, Coolidge set out to establish a very positive working relationship with the leading members of the Harding administration. His first task was to minimize the effects of the Teapot Dome Oil Affair, which occurred during Harding’s time. Coolidge spent most of his time defending the Republican party from
such scandals and at the same time made a name for himself as the man who put the prestige back into the White House by “prosecuting offenders and backing up his actions through his integrity and self-possession.” (Brock 133).
In the election of 1924, Coolidge gained enough support of the Republican party to be nominated for president at June. Besides Republican backing, Coolidge gained a superior amount of the people’s confidence to be easily elected over his major opposition, John W. Davis (Democrat) and Robert M. La Follete (Progressive) (“American Presidency). When Coolidge entered the campaign with a series of “nonpolitical” statements, he became well-known for being the “apostle of prosperity, economy, and respectability.” (Askin 146). His opponents exhausted themselves with charges about the governments deficiencies, while Coolidge received credit for his simplicity and honesty.
On Coolidge’s first full term as the 30th President of the United States, he was known as the darling of the Conservatives. His personal beliefs that were reinforced throughout his life played a major role into shaping his behavior while in office. Frugality, tolerance, industrious, and fairness earned him the respect and admiration of a booming nation. In the top of his list were paring the national debt and reducing income taxes, so that there would be more money for consumer spending. Other measures at his list included the steady growth of civil and military aviation, expansion of the services
offered by the departments of the Agriculture and Commerce, regulation of radio
broadcasting, development of waterways, flood control, and the encouragement of
cooperative solutions to farming problems (Touchman 178).
Coolidge also endorsed Jeffersonian ideas of minimal government. His do-as-little-as-possible policy fit the style of the times in which America was presiding. Coolidge was also pro-business as he was noted for saying, “a man who builds a business, builds a temple.” (Coolidge).
During the Coolidge Administration, the only negative attitude Coolidge had was on foreign affairs. Elihu Root, a White House advisor to Coolidge, remarked, “he did not have an international hair in his head” (Touchman 188). Isolationism was a popular idea in America and Coolidge took a frigid position with respect to the League of Nations. Coolidge and the League of Nations repeatedly relapsed into indifference’s to the World Court, and firmly opposed any cancellation of war debts owed by European nations to the United States. The achievement on foreign affairs won Coolidge the admiration of the public. His support of the Kellog-Briand Peace Pact increased his reputation worldwide
as a man who denounces war and agrees to settle all disputes by pacifistic means.
Despite his popularity and heroism to stabilize a booming nation, Coolidge declined to run for reelection. A man with little words his only reply was written on a piece of paper, “I do not choose to run for reelection at 1928” (Coolidge). He retired back at Northampton, where he busied himself writing newspaper and magazine articles. Living up to his name as “Silent Cal”, Coolidge stayed away from politics until his death. Coolidge died on January 5, 1933 and was buried at Plymouth, Vermont A hero is not measured by his words, but by his actions. Calvin Coolidge was a man with very little words, but his ability to keep America inactive lead to a decrease of the national debt and taxes. Though history regarded him as the “do-nothing” president,that policy enabled an era of peace, stability, and security that rightfully earned him the
tile of hero as well deserving his era’s name as the “Coolidge Prosperity”.