Our VIP for this week is President Calvin Coolidge(1872-1933). He was born on Independence Day - July 4, 1872, in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. He was named John Calvin Coolidge for his father, but he was called Calvin or Cal. After leaving college, he stopped using the name John. His parents were childhood playmates. His father was a descendant of an English family that came to America about 1630. He also served three terms in the Vermont House of Representatives and one term in the state Senate as well as held many local public offices. The family owned a store in Plymouth Notch and bought a farm across the road from the store.
Cal helped his father with the farm chores and studied in a small stone schoolhouse located nearby. His mother died when Cal was twelve years old. He had one sister, Abigail, who died about the time he graduated from Black River Academy in 1890. Cal attended St. Johnsbury Academy for a short course and then entered Amherst College in 1891. He was very interested in political campaigns. Although he earned only fair grades his first two years at Amherst, he graduated cum laude in 1895. He read law with a law firm in Northampton, Massachusetts, passed the Massachusetts bar examination in 1897, and opened his own law office seven months later in Northampton.
Cal married Grace Anna Goodhue in 1904. She was happy, talkative and fun-loving - just the opposite of shy and silent Cal. They were blessed with two sons - John and Calvin, Jr.
Cal became active in politics by working for the Republican Party in 1896. His first elected office was as a member of the Northampton city council in 1898. He became city solicitor in 1900. He was elected to the Massachusetts house of representatives in 1906 and reelected the next year. He was elected mayor of Northampton in 1909 and reelected in 1910. He served in the state senate from 1912-1915, with two terms as senate president. He was elected lieutenant governor in 1915 and was reelected twice. He was elected governor in 1918.
During the Boston police strike of 1919, Coolidge came to national prominence when nearly three-fourths of Boston's police officers went on strike. After two nights of hoodlums roaming Boston streets, smashing windows and looting stores, Coolidge brought order to the city by ordering out the state guard. When nineteen leaders of the police union were fired, Coolidge made his famous statement: "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time."
Coolidge was reelected governor in 1919 by a record vote. In 1920 he became the Republican nominee for Vice President of the United States on the ticket with Warren G. Harding of Ohio. Harding was easy-going and friendly where Coolidge was silent and unsmiling, but they won an overwhelming victory. At President Harding's invitation, Coolidge became the first Vice President to regularly attend Cabinet meetings. Coolidge remained unchanged in the whirl of Washington's social life. He sat silently through official dinners, rarely smiled and almost never laughed.
Cal was vacationing on his father's farm when he was awakened early in the morning on August 3, 1923 to be alerted to the sudden death of President Harding. After dressing and personal prayer, Cal went downstairs to the dining room where his father administered the presidential oath by the light of a kerosene lamp at 2:45 a.m. He became the sixth Vice President to become President upon the death of a chief executive. Cal then went back to bed and slept, feeling like he was capable of handling his new job. He took a second oath of office eighteen days later - administered by a justice of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. The attorney general questioned the validity of the first oath because his father had authority to swear in only state officials of Vermont.
Just as Coolidge was entering the White House, the Teapot Dome and other scandals of the Harding Administration became public. His personal honesty was never questioned, and he made no efforts to shield the guilty. He later forced the attorney general to resign because of his connections to the scandals.
Coolidge was President during the boisterous Jazz Age - the Roaring 20's. He considered "the chief business of the American people is business." He continued the policy of President Harding of supporting American businesses at home and abroad. There were high tariffs on imports to help American manufacturers. Congress reduced income taxes which caused revenue from taxes to increase. The national debt was
reduced by about a billion dollars per year. Immigration was restricted. Coolidge stood for economy and a simple way of life but enjoyed great popularity even though the public was anything but thrifty. Most American's believed that good times were here to stay. Coolidge was unopposed for the Republican nomination and ran for the general election with the slogan "Keep Cool with Coolidge." He received more than half of the popular votes of the election. Chief Justice William Howard Taft administered the presidential oath on March 4, 1925, and became the first former President to administer the presidential oath of office. Coolidge's inaugural address was the first to be broadcast by radio.
Shortly after Coolidge was nominated for President in 1924, their sixteen-year son Calvin was playing tennis with his brother on the White House courts and developed a blister on a toe. The infection spread, and the young man died of blood poisoning. Coolidge wrote in his autobiography, "the power and the glory of the presidency went with him." The President's father died in 1926.
Americans respected Coolidge. He made few public statements and rarely wasted a word. He had a reputation for wisdom because of his common sense and dry wit. While on a summer vacation to the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1927, the President called newsmen to his office in the Rapid City high school on August 2. He handed each reporter a piece of paper containing the words, "I do not choose to run for President in 1928." The nation was caught by surprise by his announcement. He wrote in his autobiography, "The chances of having wise and faithful public service are increased by a change in the presidential office after a moderate length of time." He was also concerned how another term in office would affect his wife. His typical response for comments on leaving office: "Goodbye, I have had a very enjoyable time in Washington."
The Coolidge family returned to Northampton but could not enjoy a quiet life there due to the stream of tourists past their home. In 1930, Coolidge bought an estate in Northampton called The Beeches. It had iron gates to keep curious visitors at a distance.
Coolidge published his autobiography in 1929 in magazine installments and then in book form. He also wrote a series of newspaper articles called "Thinking Things Over with Calvin Coolidge" about government economics and politics. In 1921 he became a life trustee of Amherst College, and in 1929 he became a director of the New York Life Insurance Company.
Coolidge was distressed by the stock market crash of 1929 and the depression that followed it. He at first felt guilty about leaving office, thinking that he could have stopped it. Then he realized that the depression would have happened regardless of which party was in office. As the depression deepened during the fall and winter of 1932, Coolidge became increasingly unhappy. On January 5, 1933, he died of a heart attack in his bedroom. He was buried beside his son and father in the Plymouth Notch cemetery. Mrs. Coolidge sold The Beeches and built another home in Northampton. She died on July 8, 1957.
Some events from the world of President Coolidge are: 1) The Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of immigrants admitted to the United States. It also establish a quota system to prevent major changes in the racial or ethnic makeup of the nation's populations. 2) The Golden Age of radio broadcasting began about 1925. 3) The Scopes Trial of 1925 upheld the right of a state to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools. 4) Robert H. Goddard, the American rocket pioneer, launched the first successful liquid-fuel rocket in 1926. 5) Jazz was popular in the mid-1920's. Stars included Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Fletcher Henderson. 6) The American aviator Charles A. Lindbergh made the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. 7) Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs for the New York Yankees during the 1927 season. His record stood until 1961. 8) The Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact, also called the Pact of Paris, was signed in 1928 by fifteen nations and later by nearly all the nations of the world. The signers of this treaty agreed not to use war to solve international problems. 9) Sir Alexander Fleming, a British bacteriologist, discovered Penicillium mold in 1928. This mold produces the anti-biotic drug penicillin. 10) The Charleston was the dance craze of the Roaring Twenties.
Facts and quotes for this post came from an article by George H. Mayer in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 1030-1034.
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