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John C. Coolidge
40th President of the United States
30th under the US Constitution
 

 

Citation awarding the Medal of Honor to Commander Richard E. Byrd for his participation in first flight over the North Pole -- Courtesy of: National Archives and Records Administration

 

JOHN CALVIN COOLIDGE was born July 4, 1872 in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. He was the only son of John Calvin Coolidge, a jack-of-all-trades, teacher, storekeeper, farmer, politician, and even mechanic when necessary and Victoria Josephine Moor, a handsome woman who loved poetry and natural beauty, who died when Calvin was 12. The Coolidges lived in the rear of the combined general store and post office, and young Coolidge attended the local school. He was later enrolled in the Black River Academy in Ludlow, Vermont and in 1891, attended Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, being the first of the Vermont Coolidges to attend college.

Following his graduation cum laude from Amherst in 1895, Coolidge read law in the offices of John Hammond and Henry Field in Northampton, Mass. Two years later he was admitted to the bar. He decided to practice law in Northampton, and although he never prospered as an attorney, he was able to earn enough to become financially independent in a short time.

On October 4, 1905 Coolidge married Grace Anna Goodhue from Vermont, who taught at the Clarke Institute for the Deaf in Northampton. Vivacious, witty, and friendly, with a pleasant smile, she was the opposite of her quiet husband. They had two sons, John Coolidge (1906 - ) and Calvin Coolidge, Jr. (1908 – 1924).

His relationship with Hammond and Field led him into politics, which came easily to him because his father was a frequent officeholder in Vermont. In Northampton, Hammond and Field were political leaders and found Coolidge a willing political apprentice. In 1898 he was elected as a city councilman. From that day until his retirement from the presidency he was seldom out of public office. In 1905 he suffered his only election defeat, in a contest for school committeeman. In 1906 he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. During his two one-year terms in the state house, Coolidge made little impression. Coolidge was elected mayor of Northampton in 1909 and reelected in 1910. In 1911 he was sent to the state Senate, where he became a Republican leader. After his election to a third Senate term in 1913, Coolidge was elected to the powerful position as president of the state Senate. In 1915 he ran successfully for lieutenant governor. Coolidge used his three years as lieutenant governor to acquire more knowledge of government, and in 1918 he was elected governor of Massachusetts.

As governor, Coolidge became nationally known in 1919, when the Boston policemen went on strike. Coolidge, who had earlier refused to take action, brought in troops and asked for federal soldiers in case a general strike should occur. The policemen returned to work and when Coolidge was asked to let suspended policemen return to their jobs, Coolidge refused, saying, "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime." His statement was applauded throughout the nation. At the Republican National Convention in 1920, he won the nomination for vice president, joining Warren G. Harding on the ticket. Harding and Coolidge received an overwhelming victory of 7 million votes. The vote in the Electoral College was 404 to James M. Cox’s 127.

Little was expected of the vice president, and Coolidge was not very active. He presided over the Senate, attended Cabinet meetings, and ranked next to the president in ceremonial affairs. "Silent Cal," as he was called, started to convey himself more in longer speeches and in newspaper articles, but he had little enthusiasm for his job and had developed no power as a national political figure. When Harding died suddenly in San Francisco, California, on August 2, 1923, Coolidge was visiting his father in Vermont. He received the news of the president's death in the early hours of August 3 and took the presidential oath in the farmhouse parlor by the light of kerosene lamps. Coolidge’s father, who was a justice of the peace, administered the oath of office. However, because his father could only swear in people for Vermont offices, Coolidge had to repeat the oath in Washington, D.C., 18 days later.

Coolidge’s reputation for honesty served him well when the Harding scandals came to light. He moved swiftly to restore confidence in the White House, and otherwise followed his conviction that “the business of America is business.” The country was enjoying high productivity and low unemployment and he was the apostle of prosperity, economy, and respectability during the 1924 presidential campaign. His opponents exhausted themselves with charges about the government's deficiencies, while he received credit for his equanimity and the economic upturn. With his slogan, “Keep cool with Coolidge”, he won easily, but 1924 was a sad year for Coolidge, for in July his younger son, Calvin, Jr., died of blood poisoning.

Coolidge, the dour and frugal teetotaler from Vermont was utterly out of step with the Jazz Age of his second term. As bootlegging, corruption and stock market speculating became rampant, Coolidge, who preferred to lead by example, tended to administrative affairs and quietly trimmed $2 billion from the national debt. He did not seek reelection in 1928. He retired in 1929 to Northampton, where he busied himself writing newspaper and magazine articles. He seldom took an active role in politics. His health declined rapidly, and on January 5, 1933, he died of coronary thrombosis.


 

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