July 4, 1872 – Birthdate of Calvin Coolidge

On this day in history, the future 30th president of the United States was born in Plymouth, Vermont.

President Calvin Coolidge, May 9, 1924 (Library of Congress)

President Calvin Coolidge, May 9, 1924 (Library of Congress)

Coolidge went to Amherst College in nearby Amherst, Massachusetts, where he graduated with honors in 1895. He won a reputation on campus for his wit and his public speaking skills. He shared the junior prize for oratory, and took first prize in a national contest for his senior essay, “The Principles Fought for in the American Revolution.”

After college, Coolidge read law in a firm in Northampton, Massachusetts, passing the bar in the summer of 1897. He then opened a law office and began participating in local Republican politics in Northampton.

He entered local politics and narrowly won the governorship of Massachusetts in 1918. As governor, he garnered national attention when he called out the state’s National Guard to break a strike by Boston city police, exclaiming to the American Federation of Labor union leader Samuel Gompers, “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime.”

Coolidge was his state’s favorite-son candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1920, and received a spot on the ticket as the vice-presidential candidate to Warren G. Harding.

In the ensuing campaign, the Republicans won 61 percent of the vote. As vice president, Coolidge played little role in the Harding administration.

Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge

Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge

On August 2, 1923, President Harding died suddenly while on a speaking tour of the western United States. Coolidge was in Vermont visiting his family home, which had neither electricity nor a telephone; a messenger brought word of Harding’s death. Coolidge dressed, said a prayer, and came downstairs, where his father, a notary public, administered the oath of office at 2:47 a.m. before the assembled reporters. President Coolidge then went back to bed. Coolidge returned to Washington the next day, and was sworn in again by Justice Adolph A. Hoehling, Jr. of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia.

As President, Coolidge refused to use federal economic power either to check the growing boom or to ameliorate the depressed condition of certain industries. But he became popular as the beneficiary of what was becoming known as “Coolidge prosperity.”

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….”

Coolidge was known for being parsimonious with words as well as with money; his wife told the story 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.”

In 1928, while vacationing in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Coolidge announced he would not run for President again.

He died in January, 1933.


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