The 1920s was a boisterous, hectic time in American history. After President Warren G. Harding’s corrupt administration, Coolidge was perfect to succeed him to the presidency. He was elected President by a landslide victory during the Roaring Twenties, and he was often called “Silent Cal” because he was shy and somber. He was a republican, born and raised in a small rural New England community. He was extraordinary in politics at both the state and national levels. Coolidge was remarkably successful as president during the 1920s. Calvin Coolidge was the oldest child of John Calvin Coolidge and Victoria Josephine Moor (Sisung 4).
He was born John Calvin Coolidge (though he later dropped the John and became Calvin Coolidge) on July 4, 1872 in Plymouth, Vermont. As a child, Calvin was shy and sensitive, and often had difficulty interacting with people. He only had one sister, Abigail, who died in 1890 at the age of 15 (4). Calvin’s father prospered as a shopkeeper and a farmer. His father also served three years in the Vermont House of Representatives, and one year in the Senate, as well as many local public offices (Gilbert 7). His mother, Victoria Josephine Moor, died when Calvin was just 12 years old.
Calvin attended the local elementary school in his hometown, and then started at Black River Academy in 1887, two years after his mother’s death. He also attended St. Johnsbury Academy in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, in order to qualify for admittance to Amherst College (6). He continued to Amherst, and then graduated cum laude in 1895. While he was attending college, he was very quiet and shy, and often spent his time studying, but he did join the Amherst Republican Club (6). His favorite subjects were French, Italian, political science, philosophy, and modern history (6).
He also developed strong debating skills at Amherst (Howes 3). After he graduated, Coolidge worked at the law firm of Hammond and Field in Northampton, Massachusetts (Gilbert 10). After he passed the Massachusetts bar examination in 1897, he started his own practice in Northampton. There he made a good living, but was never rich. In 1904, he met his wife, Grace Anna Goodhue. She was a teacher at the Clark School for the Deaf in Northampton (12). She was quite the opposite of Coolidge – she was fun loving and talkative, unlike Calvin, who was shy and reserved. Together they had two sons, John and Calvin Jr. Calvin Coolidge first entered into the world of politics in 1896. In 1897, he was appointed to the Republican City Committee (Gilbert 11). Then in 1898, he was elected to the Northampton City Council, and became city solicitor in 1900 (11). However, it was in 1907 that Coolidge’s political career took off. He served two terms in the Massachusetts General Court and compiled a record as a progressive in this legislative body. (Sisung 14). Coolidge also was elected to four terms in the Massachusetts State Senate from 1912-1915, and became president of the Senate in 1913 (14).
After serving his terms in the Senate, he was elected lieutenant governor in 1915, and was reelected twice. Then Coolidge was finally elected governor of Massachusetts in 1918. As governor of Massachusetts, Coolidge sustained a moderately progressive agenda and secured much of its passage (Gilbert 14). However, what made him nationally distinguished was how he handled the Boston Police Strike of 1919. Police officers were on violent strike all over the city, and Coolidge mobilized the state guard, which restored order to Boston (15). He was reelected by a landslide victory, and even received votes for the presidential nomination.
Ohio senator Warren G. Harding was chosen to run instead, but an Oregon delegate suddenly nominated Coolidge to run as vice president (Lane 5). Coolidge happily accepted this position. Then when Warren G. Harding died suddenly in 1923, Calvin Coolidge became America’s 30th president. Calvin Coolidge was visiting his father in Vermont when early in the morning on August 2, 1923, he received news that the president had died of heart failure. He was immediately sworn in by his father, a local official. The oath of office was administered to him again at an official ceremony in Washington, D. C.
During his first term as president (1923 – 1924), Coolidge inherited some of the scandals that Harding and his administration created. However, Coolidge successfully distanced himself from the scandals. He continues with his promise of probusiness policies that Harding had established (Howes 18). Coolidge also supported Mellon’s policies to cut taxes, reduce national debt, and keep tariffs high (18). He had natural honesty, integrity, and reserve that attracted Americans (Sisung 19). Coolidge also favored a program called “constructive economy” and declared that “the chief business of the American people is business” (Gilbert 23).
The government that Coolidge supported was booming, and by the election of 1904, Coolidge was identified as a comforting presence in a world that seemed to be changing rapidly (Howes 21). In the election of 1924, Coolidge won by a landslide. Only a few people were willing to vote for Coolidge’s progressive opponents. The republicans nominated politician Charles Dawes to run for vice president. He did not do much campaigning, partly because he didn’t need to and partly because he lost his son in the summer of 1924 (Howes 22). His campaigning slogan was “Keep it Cool with Coolidge”.
The election results showed that Calvin Coolidge had won 54% of the popular vote (22). For the most part, Coolidge decided to keep Harding’s policies in his second term. He kept most of Harding’s cabinet officials, with the exception of Albert Fall who had caused the Teapot Dome scandal. In 1926, he passed a bill that drastically cut income taxes (Lane 12). He also averaged a budget surplus of roughly $800 million, reducing the national debt by one fifth (12). He also pursued a policy of limited government throughout his presidency, which resulted in tax reductions and tariff protection for industry (Sisung 19).
However, when war veterans asked for their bond early, Coolidge denied them. Congress did end up passing the World War I veterans’ bonus bill over his veto (Gilbert 23). When Coolidge’s son had died from blood poisoning, Coolidge wrote his autobiography, and made remarks that inferred his interest in politics and the presidency had waned (32). Calvin’s father also died in 1926, just two weeks before his 81st birthday (32). A year later, the Coolidge family went on vacation in Black Hills, South Dakota (32).
On the fourth anniversary of his election, he called some newsmen to his office, and announced that he would not be running for another term in the White House (32). America was shocked by his decision. Calvin said that the presidency had weighed heavily on him and his wife, and he wished not to run again in 1928. A typical response for him when asked about leaving the White House was: “Good-by, I have had a very enjoyable time in Washington” (34). Herbert Hoover succeeded Calvin Coolidge on March 4, 1929 (34). After leaving office, Coolidge returned to his hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts.
He never fully recovered from his son’s death in 1924. He also maintained a law office, but did little work there (Lane 16). He wrote many articles, had a newspaper column for a year, and even served on the board of the New York Life Insurance Company (16). Also during his retirement, he wrote The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge, and many memoirs, which were well regarded, and also explained further his reasons for not running for president again (16). Among his reasons was his failing health, which was perhaps the most significant (16). He truly doubted that he would live through another term in office.
He did in fact die from a heart attack in his home in Northampton on January 5, 1933. His wife, Grace Coolidge, died in 1957 and is buried next to Calvin in the Plymouth Notch Cemetery. Calvin Coolidge had a noteworthy impact on America during his terms as president. He presided honestly and competently over the nation in a time of relative peace and prosperity (17). His policies have continued to influence Republican conservatives (17). In fact, his antigovernment sentiments would make him the hero of another popular Republican president, Ronald Reagan (ABC-CLIO 11).
In conclusion, Calvin Coolidge was very successful as president of the United States. He was sworn in to office by his father after Warren G. Harding’s sudden death, and immediately became well liked by the majority of Americans. Coolidge kept most of Harding’s policies, but also put new ones in place. He passed a bill in 1926 that drastically cut income taxes, and estimated a surplus of $800 million budget surplus, cutting the national debt by one fifth. Overall, Calvin Coolidge was honest, had integrity, and reserve which made him an iconic president.