Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
Sworn in as President upon Harding's death, Coolidge continued on for a full elected term in his own right. A New Englander who embodied the legendary Yankee qualities of honesty, thrift, solemnity, and taciturnity, he restored confidence in Government after the exposure of the Harding scandals and symbolized stability during a period of drastic social and economic changes. He held that any increase in Federal governmental activities would endanger the prosperity that prevailed and destroy individual freedom and initiative.
John Calvin Coolidge (his family called him Calvin or “Cal”) was born on Independence Day 1872 in a house attached to his father's general store in Plymouth (Plymouth Notch), VT. Calvin lived at the homestead until 1887, when he went away to school. In 1895, he graduated with honors from Amherst College in Massachusetts. He then moved to nearby Northampton to study law. Northampton would be his home for the rest of his life. After admittance to the bar in 1897, he established his law practice and soon became involved in local politics.
Coolidge began a steady rise in the State Republican Party in 1899. He started as city councilman in Northampton and ended as mayor. He later served in both houses of the Massachusetts State Legislature. From 1916 to 1919, he held the positions of lieutenant governor and governor of Massachusetts.
Coolidge gained national attention during the Boston police strike of 1919. When the strike resulted in a day and two nights of rioting, Governor Coolidge ordered the National Guard to Boston to restore order. In a famous letter, he told Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, that there was “no right to strike against public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime.” His firm position made him popular with many people, and the Republican National Convention selected him as running mate for Warren G. Harding in 1920. The Harding-Coolidge ticket won the election by a comfortable majority.
When Harding died in 1923, Coolidge was visiting his family in Vermont. His father administered the oath of office to him in the home where he had passed his boyhood. As the scandals of the Harding administration surfaced, Coolidge encouraged governmental prosecution of offenders. This action and his personal integrity restored public confidence in the Presidency and the Republican Party. He was nominated for reelection in 1924 and won with the promise of a continuation of "Coolidge prosperity." He captured more than 54 percent of the popular vote in defeating Democrat John W. Davis and Progressive Robert M. La Follette.
Coolidge's emphasis on traditional moral and economic precepts reassured people in a time of social flux. Although affluence was unprecedented, the Ku Klux Klan perpetrated acts of violence, prohibition violations were common, and some segments of the population frowned on traditional morality.
Coolidge’s actions as president and his reputation for personal honesty went a long way toward restoring public confidence in the government and the Republican Party. He encouraged prosecution of those involved in the scandals of the Harding administration. He stood for traditional moral principles at a time when those values seemed under attack. Running for reelection in his own right in 1924, he promised a continuation of "Coolidge prosperity." He captured more than 54 percent of the popular vote defeating Democrat John W. Davis and Progressive Robert M. La Follette.
President Coolidge was a traditional conservative Republican in his domestic policy, committed to maintaining the status quo. He proposed little new legislation to Congress and opposed Federal programs that he saw as threats to individual freedom and initiative. He vetoed a proposed Federal power project on the Tennessee River; reduced the number of antitrust suits; blocked plans to subsidize farmers, who had been in a deep agricultural depression since 1920; and advocated tax cuts, governmental economy, and high protective tariffs. In 1924, he signed an immigration bill that set strict quotas favoring immigrants from Northern Europe. In foreign affairs, his administration’s most important achievement was the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, a multinational agreement to outlaw war, largely negotiated by Frank Kellogg, his secretary of state. Otherwise, Coolidge opposed international agreements.
Coolidge was extremely shy as a child and a reluctant conversationalist as an adult. His popular wife, Grace, whom he married in 1905, was an asset to him. The sudden death of his younger son from an infected blister on his heel in 1924 brought him much sympathy. Coolidge was the last president to hold White House receptions open to the general public. Oddly enough, he did not seem to mind posing for photographs with a variety of visiting groups, delivering speeches, and receiving scores of delegations.
Despite his popularity, Coolidge chose not to run for reelection in 1928. He retired to Northampton the next year—before Wall Street’s “Black Thursday” ushered in the Great Depression. In retirement, he published his autobiography and wrote newspaper articles. In 1933, he died suddenly in Northampton at the age of 60.
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