Calvin Coolidge was the thirtieth President of the United States.
Born: Plymouth, Vermont, July 4, 1872.
Graduated from Amherst College.
Entered law and politics in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Served as Governor of Massachusetts.
Served as President from 1923 to 1929.
Died in January 1933.
Calvin Coolidge Biography:
John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. (July 4, 1872 - January 5, 1933) was the 30th President of the United States (1923-1929). A Republican lawyer from Vermont, Coolidge worked his way up the ladder of Massachusetts state politics, eventually becoming governor of that state. His actions during the Boston Police Strike of 1919 thrust him into the national spotlight. Soon after, he was elected as the 29th Vice President in 1920 and succeeded to the Presidency upon the death of Warren G. Harding. Elected in his own right in 1924, he gained a reputation as a small-government conservative. In many ways Coolidge's style of governance was a throwback to the passive presidency of the nineteenth century. He restored public confidence in the White House after the scandals of his predecessor's administration, and left office with considerable popularity.
John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. was born in Plymouth, Windsor County, Vermont, on July 4, 1872, the only U.S. President to be born on the fourth of July. He was the elder of two children of John Calvin Coolidge (1845 - 1926) and Victoria Josephine Moor (1846 - 1885). He had a sister, Abigail Grace Coolidge (1875 - 1890). The Coolidge family had deep roots in New England. His earliest American ancestor, John Coolidge, emigrated from Cambridge, England, around 1630 and settled in Watertown, Massachusetts. Most of Coolidge's ancestors were farmers. The more well-known Coolidges, such as architect Charles Allerton Coolidge and diplomat Archibald Cary Coolidge, were descended from other branches of the family that had stayed in Massachusetts.
Coolidge's grandfather Calvin Coolidge held some local government offices in Plymouth. Sarah Brewer was also of New England. It is through this ancestor that Coolidge claimed to be descended in part from American Indians. Coolidge's father was a farmer, but spent some time as a schoolteacher and justice of the peace. His mother Victoria (Moor) Coolidge was the daughter of another Plymouth Notch farmer.
After graduating from Amherst College, at his father's urging Coolidge moved to Northampton, Massachusetts to take up the practice of law. Avoiding the costly alternative of attending a law school, Coolidge followed the more common practice at the time of apprenticing with a local firm, Hammond & Field and reading law with them. John C. Hammond and Henry P. Field, both Amherst graduates, introduced Coolidge to the law practice in the county seat of Hampshire County. In 1897, Coolidge was admitted to the bar. With his savings and a small inheritance from his grandfather, Coolidge was able to open his own law office in Northampton in 1898. He practiced transactional law, believing that he served his clients best by staying out of court.
In 1905 Coolidge met and married a fellow Vermonter, Grace Anna Goodhue, a local schoolteacher working at the Clarke School for the Deaf. They were opposites in personality: she was talkative and fun-loving, while Coolidge was quiet and serious. They had two sons; John Coolidge, born in 1906, and Calvin Coolidge, Jr., born in 1908. The marriage was, by most accounts, a happy one.
The Republican Party was dominant in New England in Coolidge's time, and he followed Hammond's and Field's example by becoming active in local politics. Coolidge campaigned locally for Republican presidential candidate William McKinley in 1896, and the next year he was selected to be a member of the Republican City Committee. In 1898, he won election to the City Council of Northampton, placing second in a ward where the top three candidates were elected. The position offered no salary, but gave Coolidge experience in the political world. In 1899, he declined renomination, running instead for City Solicitor, a position elected by the City Council. He was elected for a one-year term in 1900, and reelected in 1901. This position gave Coolidge more experience as a lawyer, and paid a salary of $600. In 1902, the city council selected a Democrat for city solicitor, and Coolidge returned to an exclusively private practice. Soon thereafter, however, the clerk of courts for the county died, and Coolidge was chosen to replace him. The position paid well, but barred him from practicing law, so he only remained at the job for one year. The next year, 1904, Coolidge met with his only defeat before the voters, losing an election to the Northampton school board.
In 1906 the local Republican committee nominated Coolidge for election to the state 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 his freshman term, Coolidge served on minor committees and, although he usually voted with the party, was known as a Progressive Republican, voting in favor of such measures as women's suffrage and the direct election of Senators. Throughout his time in Boston, Coolidge found himself allied primarily with the western Winthrop Murray Crane faction of the state Republican Party, as against the Henry Cabot Lodge-dominated eastern faction. In 1907, he was elected to a second term. In the 1908 session, Coolidge was more outspoken, but was still not one of the leaders in the legislature. Instead of vying for another term in the state house, Coolidge returned home to his growing family and ran for mayor of Northampton when the incumbent Democrat retired. He was well-liked in the town, and defeated his challenger by a vote of 1,597 to 1,409. During his first term (1910 to 1911), he increased teachers' salaries and retired some of the city's debt while still managing to effect a slight tax decrease. He was renominated in 1911, and defeated the same opponent by a slightly larger margin.
In 1911, the State Senator for the Hampshire County area retired and encouraged Coolidge to run for his seat for the 1912 session. He defeated his Democratic opponent by a large margin. At the start of that term, Coolidge was selected to be chairman of a committee to arbitrate the "Bread and Roses" strike by the workers of the American Woolen Company in Lawrence, Massachusetts. After two tense months, the company agreed to the workers' demands in a settlement the committee proposed. The other major issue for 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 bolt the party. When the new Progressive Party declined to run a candidate in his state senate district, Coolidge won reelection against his Democratic opponent by an increased margin. The 1913 session was less eventful, and Coolidge's time was mostly spent on the railroad committee, of which he was the chairman. Coolidge intended to retire after the 1913 session, as two terms were the norm, but when the President of the State Senate, Levi H. Greenwood, considered running for Lieutenant Governor, Coolidge decided to run again for the Senate in the hopes of being elected as its presiding officer. Although Greenwood later decided to run for reelection to the Senate, he was defeated and Coolidge was elected, with Crane's help, as the President of a closely divided Senate. After his election in January 1914, Coolidge delivered a speech entitled Have Faith in Massachusetts, which was later republished as a book. His speech, later much-quoted, summarized Coolidge's philosophy of government. Coolidge's speech was well-received and he attracted some admirers on its account. Towards the end of the term, many of them were proposing his name for nomination to lieutenant governor. After winning reelection to the Senate by an increased margin in the 1914 elections, Coolidge was reelected unanimously to be President of the Senate. As the 1915 session drew to a close, Coolidge's supporters, led by fellow Amherst alumnus Frank Stearns, encouraged him once again to run for lieutenant governor. This time, he accepted their advice. Coolidge entered the primary election for lieutenant governor and was nominated to run alongside gubernatorial candidate Samuel W. McCall. Coolidge was the leading vote-getter in the Republican primary, and balanced the Republican ticket by adding a western presence to McCall's eastern base of support. McCall and Coolidge won the 1915 election, with Coolidge defeating his opponent by more than 50,000 votes. Coolidge's duties as lieutenant governor were few; in Massachusetts, the lieutenant governor does not preside over the state Senate, although Coolidge did become an ex officio member of the governor's cabinet. As a full-time elected official, Coolidge no longer practiced law after 1916, though his family continued to live in Northampton. McCall and Coolidge were both reelected in 1916 and again in 1917 (both offices were one-year terms in those days). When McCall decided that he would not stand for a fourth term, Coolidge announced his own intention to run for governor.
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 and support for American involvement in the First World War. 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 state-wide campaigns. In 1919 in response to rumors that policemen of the Boston Police Department planned to form a trade union, Police Commissioner Edwin U. Curtis issued a statement saying that such a move would not be countenanced. In August of that year, the American Federation of Labor issued a charter to the Boston Police Union. Curtis said the union's leaders were insubordinate and planned to relieve them of duty, but said that he would suspend the sentence if the union was dissolved by September 4. The mayor of Boston, Andrew Peters, convinced Curtis to delay his action for a few days, but Curtis ultimately suspended the union leaders after a brief delay, on September 8. The following day about three-quarters of the policemen in Boston went on strike. Coolidge had observed the situation throughout the conflict, but had not yet intervened. That night and the next, there was sporadic violence and rioting in the lawless city. Peters, concerned about sympathy strikes, had called up some units of the Massachusetts National Guard stationed in the Boston area and relieved Curtis of duty. Coolidge, furious that the mayor had called out state guard units, finally acted. He called up more units of the National Guard, restored Curtis to office, and took personal control of the police force. Curtis proclaimed that none of the strikers would be allowed back to their former jobs, and Coolidge issued calls for a new police force to be recruited.
In the midst of the First Red Scare, many Americans were terrified of the spread of communist revolution, like those that had taken place in Russia, Hungary, and Germany. While Coolidge had lost some friends among organized labor, conservatives across the nation had seen a rising star. Coolidge and Cox were renominated for their respective offices in 1919. By this time Coolidge's supporters (especially Stearns) had publicized his actions in the Police Strike around the state and the nation and some of Coolidge's speeches were reissued as a book. He was faced with the same opponent as in 1918, Richard Long, but this time Coolidge defeated him by 125,101 votes, more than seven times his margin of victory from a year earlier. His actions in the police strike, combined with the massive electoral victory, led to suggestions that Coolidge should run for President in 1920.
By the time Coolidge was inaugurated on January 2, 1919, the First World War had ended, and Coolidge pushed the legislature to give a $100 bonus to Massachusetts veterans. He also signed a bill reducing the work week for women and children from fifty-four hours to forty-eight, saying "we must humanize the industry, or the system will break down." He signed into law a budget that kept the tax rates the same, while trimming four million dollars from expenditures, thus allowing the state to retire some of its debt. Coolidge also wielded the veto pen as governor. His most publicized veto was of a bill that would have increased legislators' pay by 50%. In May 1920, he vetoed a bill that would have allowed the sale of beer or wine of 2.75% alcohol or less, in contravention of the Eighteenth Amendment. Although Coolidge himself was opposed to Prohibition, he felt constrained to veto the bill.
At the 1920 Republican Convention most of the delegates were selected by state party conventions, 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 never considered him a serious candidate. After ten ballots, 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 party bosses had also made a decision on who they would nominate: Senator Irvine Lenroot of Wisconsin. A delegate from Oregon, Wallace McCamant, having read Have Faith in Massachusetts, proposed Coolidge for Vice President instead. The suggestion caught on quickly, and Coolidge found himself unexpectedly nominated.
The Democrats nominated another Ohioan, James M. Cox, for President and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, for Vice President. The question of the United States joining the League of Nations was a major issue in the campaign, as was the unfinished legacy of Progressivism. Harding ran a "front-porch" campaign from his home in Marion, Ohio, but Coolidge took to the campaign trail in the Upper South, New York, and New England. On November 2, 1920, Harding and Coolidge were victorious in a landslide, winning every state outside the South. They also won in Tennessee, the first time a Republican ticket had won a Southern state since Reconstruction.
The Vice-Presidency did not carry many official duties, but Coolidge was invited by President Harding to attend cabinet meetings, making him the first Vice President to do so. He gave speeches around the country, but none were especially noteworthy. As Vice-President, Coolidge and his vivacious wife Grace were invited to quite a few parties, where the legend of "Silent Cal" was born. As President, Coolidge's reputation as a quiet man continued. Coolidge was aware of his stiff reputation; indeed, he cultivated it. He was the first president to accept follow-up questions at press conferences.
On August 2, 1923, President Harding died while on a speaking tour in California. Vice-President Coolidge was in Vermont visiting his family home, which did not have electricity or a telephone, when he received word by messenger of Harding's death. Coolidge dressed, said a prayer, and came downstairs to greet the reporters who had assembled. His father, a notary public, 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; Coolidge then went back to bed. Coolidge returned to Washington the next day, and was re-sworn by Justice A. A. Hoehling of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, as there was some confusion over whether a state notary public had the authority to administer the presidential oath.
The nation did not know what to make of its new President; Coolidge had not stood out in the Harding administration and many had expected him to be replaced on the ballot in 1924. He chose C. Bascom Slemp, a Virginia Congressman and experienced federal politician, as his secretary (a position equivalent to the modern White House Chief of Staff). Although many of Harding's cabinet appointees were scandal-tarred, Coolidge announced that he would not demand any of their resignations, believing that since the people had elected Harding, he should carry on Harding's presidency, at least until the next election. He addressed Congress when it reconvened on December 6, 1923, giving a speech that echoed many of Harding's themes, including immigration restriction and the need for the government to arbitrate the coal strikes then ongoing in Pennsylvania. The Washington Naval Treaty was proclaimed just one month into Coolidge's term, and was generally well received in the country. In May 1924, the World War I veterans' Bonus Bill was passed over his veto. Coolidge signed the Immigration Act later that year, though he appended a signing statement expressing his unhappiness with the bill's specific exclusion of Japanese immigrants.
The Republican Convention was held from June 10-12, 1924 in Cleveland, Ohio; President Coolidge was nominated on the first ballot. The convention nominated Frank Lowden of Illinois for Vice President on the second ballot, but he declined via telegram. Former Brigadier General Charles G. Dawes, who would win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925, was nominated on the third ballot; he accepted.
The Democrats held their convention from June 24 to July 9 in New York City. The convention soon deadlocked, and after 103 ballots, the delegates finally agreed on a compromise candidate, John W. Davis, with Charles W. Bryan nominated for Vice President. The Democrats' hopes were buoyed when Robert M. La Follette, Sr., a Republican Senator from Wisconsin, split from the party to form a new Progressive Party. Many believed that the split in the Republican party, like the one in 1912, would allow a Democrat to win the Presidency. Shortly after the conventions Coolidge experienced a personal tragedy. In spite of his sadness, Coolidge ran his conventional campaign; he never maligned his opponents (or even mentioned them by name) and delivered speeches on his theory of government, including several that were broadcast over radio. It was easily the most subdued campaign since 1896, partly because the President was grieving for his son, but partly because Coolidge's style was naturally non-confrontational. The other candidates campaigned in a more modern fashion, but despite the split in the Republican party, the results were very similar to those of 1920. Coolidge and Dawes won every state outside the South except for Wisconsin, La Follette's home state. Coolidge had a popular vote majority of 2.5 million over his opponents' combined total.
During Coolidge's presidency the United States experienced the period of rapid economic growth known as the "Roaring Twenties."
While he was not an isolationist, Coolidge was reluctant to enter foreign alliances. Coolidge saw the landslide Republican victory of 1920 as a rejection of the Wilsonian idea 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 membership in it. He spoke in favor of the United States joining the Permanent Court of International Justice, provided that the nation would not be bound by advisory decisions. The Senate eventually approved joining the Court (with reservations) in 1926. The League of Nations accepted the reservations, but suggested some modifications of their own. The Senate failed to act; the United States never joined the World Court. Coolidge's best-known initiative was the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, named for Coolidge's Secretary of State, Frank B. Kellogg, and French foreign minister Aristide Briand. The treaty, ratified in 1929, committed signatories including the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan to "renounce war, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another." The treaty did not actually achieve its intended result the outlawry of war but did provide the founding principle for international law after World War II. Coolidge continued the previous administration's policy not to recognize the Soviet Union. He also continued the United States' support for the elected government of Mexico against the rebels there, lifting the arms embargo on that country. He sent his close friend Dwight Morrow to Mexico as the American ambassador. Coolidge represented the U.S. at the Pan American Conference in Havana, Cuba, making him the only sitting U.S. President to visit the country. The United States' occupation of Nicaragua and Haiti continued under his administration, but Coolidge withdrew American troops from the Dominican Republic in 1924.
President Coolidge signed a bill granting Native Americans full U.S. citizenship. Coolidge did not seek renomination. After leaving office, he and Grace returned to Northampton, where he wrote his memoirs. The Republicans retained the White House in 1928 in the person of Coolidge's Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover. Coolidge had been lukewarm on the choice of Hoover as his successor. Even so, Coolidge had no desire to split the party by publicly opposing the popular Commerce Secretary's nomination. The delegates did consider nominating Vice President Charles Dawes to be Hoover's running mate, but the convention selected Senator Charles Curtis instead.[
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 529 press conferences, meeting with reporters more regularly than any President before or since. Coolidge's inauguration was the first presidential inauguration broadcast on radio. On December 6, 1923, he was the first President whose address to Congress was broadcast on radio. On February 22, 1924, he became the first President of the United States to deliver a political speech on radio. On August 11, 1924, Lee De Forest filmed Coolidge on the White House lawn by in DeForest's Phonofilm sound-on-film process, becoming the first President to appear in a sound film. Coolidge was the only president to have his face on a coin during his lifetime, the sesquicentennial commemorative half dollar of 1926. After his death, he also appeared on a stamp.
After his presidency, Coolidge served as chairman of the non-partisan Railroad Commission, as a director of New York Life Insurance Company, as president of the American Antiquarian Society, and as a trustee of Amherst College. Coolidge received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Coolidge published his autobiography in 1929. He died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Northampton, "The Beeches," at 12:45 p.m., January 5, 1933. Coolidge's Brave Little State of Vermont speech is memorialized in the Hall of Inscriptions at the Vermont State House in Montpelier, Vermont.
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