At 2:30 on the morning of
August 3, 1923, while visiting in Vermont, Calvin Coolidge received word that
he was President. By the light of a kerosene lamp, his father, who was a notary
public, administered the oath of office as Coolidge placed his hand on the
Coolidge was "distinguished for character more than for
heroic achievement," wrote a Democratic admirer, Alfred E. Smith. "His great
task was to restore the dignity and prestige of the Presidency when it had
reached the lowest ebb in our history ... in a time of extravagance and
Born in Plymouth, Vermont, on July 4, 1872, Coolidge was
the son of a village storekeeper. He was graduated from Amherst College with
honors, and entered law and politics in Northampton, Massachusetts. Slowly,
methodically, he went up the political ladder from councilman in Northampton to
Governor of Massachusetts, as a Republican. En route he became thoroughly
As President, Coolidge demonstrated his determination to
preserve the old moral and economic precepts amid the material prosperity which
many Americans were enjoying. He refused to use Federal economic power to check
the growing boom or to ameliorate the depressed condition of agriculture and
certain industries. His first message to Congress in December 1923 called for
isolation in foreign policy, and for tax cuts, economy, and limited aid to
He rapidly became popular. In 1924, as the beneficiary of
what was becoming known as "Coolidge prosperity," he polled more than 54
percent of the popular vote.
In his Inaugural he asserted that the
country had achieved "a state of contentment seldom before seen," and pledged
himself to maintain the status quo. In subsequent years he twice vetoed farm
relief bills, and killed a plan to produce cheap Federal electric power on the
The political genius of President Coolidge, Walter
Lippmann pointed out in 1926, was his talent for effectively doing nothing:
"This active inactivity suits the mood and certain of the needs of the country
admirably. It suits all the business interests which want 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...."
was both the most negative and remote of Presidents, and the most accessible.
He once explained to Bernard Baruch why he often sat silently through
interviews: "Well, Baruch, many times I say only 'yes' or 'no' to people. Even
that is too much. It winds them up for twenty minutes more."
President was kinder in permitting himself to be photographed in Indian war
bonnets or cowboy dress, and in greeting a variety of delegations to the White
Both his dry Yankee wit and his frugality with words became
legendary. His wife, Grace Goodhue Coolidge, recounted that a young woman
sitting next to Coolidge at a dinner party confided to him she had bet she
could get at least three words of conversation from him. Without looking at her
he quietly retorted, "You lose." And in 1928, while vacationing in the Black
Hills of South Dakota, he issued the most famous of his laconic statements, "I
do not choose to run for President in 1928."
By the time the disaster
of the Great Depression hit the country, Coolidge was in retirement. Before his
death in January 1933, he confided to an old friend, ". . . I feel I no longer
fit in with these times."