John Calvin Coolidge, Jr., was born in Plymouth Notch, Windsor County, Vermont, on July 4, 1872, the only U.S. President to be born on Independence Day. He was the elder of the two children of John Calvin Coolidge, Sr. (1845–1926) and Victoria Josephine Moor (1846–85). Coolidge Senior engaged in many occupations, and ultimately enjoyed a statewide reputation as a prosperous farmer, storekeeper and public servant; he farmed, taught school, ran a local store, served in the Vermont House of Representatives and the Vermont Senate, and held various local offices including justice of the peace and tax collector. Coolidge's mother was the daughter of a Plymouth Notch farmer. Coolidge's chronically ill mother died, perhaps from tuberculosis, when he was twelve years old. His sister, Abigail Grace Coolidge (1875–90), died at the age of fifteen, when Coolidge was eighteen. Coolidge's father remarried in 1891, to a schoolteacher, and lived to the age of eighty.
Coolidge's family had deep roots in New England. His earliest American ancestor, John Coolidge, emigrated from Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, England, around 1630 and settled in Watertown, Massachusetts. Another ancestor, Edmund Rice, arrived at Watertown in 1638. Coolidge's great-great-grandfather, also named John Coolidge, was an American military officer in the Revolutionary War and one of the first selectmen of the town of Plymouth Notch. Most of Coolidge's ancestors were farmers. Other prominent Coolidges, architect Charles Allerton Coolidge, General Charles Austin Coolidge, and diplomat Archibald Cary Coolidge among them, were descended from branches of the family that had remained in Massachusetts. Coolidge's grandmother Sarah Almeda Brewer had two famous first cousins: Arthur Brown, a United States Senator from Utah, and Olympia Brown, a women's suffragist. It is through Sarah Brewer that Coolidge believed that he inherited American Indian blood, but this descent has never been established by modern genealogists. Fellow Massachusetts politicians, U.S. Senator Marcus A. Coolidge and Lieutenant Governor Arthur W. Coolidge, were also distant relatives.
Coolidge attended Black River Academy and then Amherst College, where he joined the fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta. At his father's urging, Coolidge moved to Northampton, Massachusetts, after graduating to take up the practice of law. Avoiding the costly alternative of attending a law school, Coolidge followed the more common practice of the time, apprenticing with a local law 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, becoming a country lawyer. 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. As his reputation as a hard-working and diligent attorney grew, local banks and other businesses began to retain his services.
In 1905, Coolidge met and married Grace Anna Goodhue a teacher at the Clarke School for the Deaf. While Grace was watering flowers outside the school one day in 1903, she happened to look up at the open window of Robert N. Weir's boardinghouse and caught a glimpse of Calvin Coolidge shaving in front of a mirror with nothing on but long underwear and a hat. Coolidge later explained that he wore the hat to keep his unruly red hair out of his eyes while shaving. After a more formal introduction sometime later, the two were quickly attracted to each other. They were married on October 4, 1905, in the parlor of her parents' home in Burlington, Vermont.
They were opposites in personality: she was talkative and fun-loving, while he was quiet and serious. Not long after their marriage, Coolidge handed her a bag with fifty-two pairs of socks in it, all of them full of holes. Grace's reply was "Did you marry me to darn your socks?" Without cracking a smile and with his usual seriousness, Calvin answered, "No, but I find it mighty handy." They had two sons: John, born in 1906, and Calvin, Jr., born in 1908. The marriage was, by most accounts, a happy one. As Coolidge wrote in his Autobiography, "We thought we were made for each other. For almost a quarter of a century she has borne with my infirmities, and I have rejoiced in her graces."
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 he was still not one of the leaders in the legislature.
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 Massachusetts 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 leave the Republican 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 summarized his philosophy of government. It was later published in a book, and frequently quoted.
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 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, support for women's suffrage, and support for American involvement in World War I. 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.
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 published in book form. He faced 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 run for President in 1920.
At the 1920 Republican National 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 more than 60 percent of the popular vote, including every state outside the South. They also won in Tennessee, the first time a Republican ticket had won a Southern state since Reconstruction.
On August 2, 1923, President Harding died suddenly while on a speaking tour of the western United States. Vice-President Coolidge was in Vermont visiting his family home, which had neither electricity nor 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 am on August 3, 1923; Coolidge then went back to bed. He returned to Washington the next day, and was re-sworn in by Justice Adolph A. Hoehling, Jr. 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 appointed C. Bascom Slemp, a Virginia Congressman and experienced federal politician to work jointly with Edward T. Clark, a Massachusetts Republican organizer whom he retained from his vice presidential staff, as Secretaries to the President (a position equivalent to the modern White House Chief of Staff). Although a few 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. Coolidge's speech was the first Presidential speech to be broadcast to the nation over the radio. 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' World War Adjusted Compensation Act or "Bonus Bill" was passed over his veto. Coolidge signed the Immigration Act later that year, which was aimed at restricting southern and eastern European immigration, though he appended a signing statement expressing his unhappiness with the bill's specific exclusion of Japanese immigrants. Just before the Republican Convention began, Coolidge signed into law the Revenue Act of 1924, which decreased personal income tax rates while increasing the estate tax, and creating a gift tax to reinforce the transfer tax system.
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 by 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 his 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. Coolidge's younger son, Calvin, Jr., developed a blister from playing tennis on the White House courts. The blister became infected, and within days Calvin, Jr. developed sepsis and died. After that Coolidge became withdrawn. He later said that "when he died, the power and glory of the Presidency went with him." 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.
Coolidge's taxation policy was that of his Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon: taxes should be lower and fewer people should have to pay them. Congress agreed, and the taxes were reduced in Coolidge's term. In addition to these tax cuts, Coolidge proposed reductions in federal expenditures and retiring some of the federal debt. Coolidge's ideas were shared by the Republicans in Congress, and in 1924 Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1924, which reduced income tax rates and eliminated all income taxation for some two million people. They reduced taxes again by passing the Revenue Acts of 1926 and 1928, all the while continuing to keep spending down so as to reduce the overall federal debt. By 1927, only the richest 2% of taxpayers paid any federal income tax. Although federal spending remained flat during Coolidge's administration, allowing one-fourth of the federal debt to be retired, state and local governments saw considerable growth, surpassing the federal budget in 1927.
Coolidge spoke in favor of the civil rights of African Americans and Catholics. He appointed no known members of the Ku Klux Klan to office; indeed the Klan lost most of its influence during his term.
On June 2, 1924, Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act, which granted full U.S. citizenship to all American Indians, while permitting them to retain tribal land and cultural rights. However, the act was unclear on whether the federal government or the tribal leaders retained tribal sovereignty.
Coolidge repeatedly called for anti-lynching laws to be enacted, but most Congressional attempts to pass this legislation were filibustered by Southern Democrats. Coolidge appointed some African Americans to federal office. He retained Harding's choice of Walter L. Cohen of New Orleans, Louisiana, as the comptroller of customs and offered Cohen the post of minister to Liberia, which the businessman declined.
In the summer of 1927, Coolidge vacationed in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where he engaged in horseback riding and fly fishing and attended rodeos. He made Custer State Park his "summer White House". While on vacation, Coolidge surprisingly issued his terse statement that he would not seek a second full term as President in 1928: "I do not choose to run for President in 1928." After allowing the reporters to take that in, Coolidge elaborated. "If I take another term, I will be in the White House till 1933 … Ten years in Washington is longer than any other man has had it - too long!" In his memoirs, Coolidge explained his decision not to run: "The Presidential office takes a heavy toll of those who occupy it and those who are dear to them. While we should not refuse to spend and be spent in the service of our country, it is hazardous to attempt what we feel is beyond our strength to accomplish." 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 reluctant to choose Hoover as his successor; on one occasion he remarked that "for six years that man has given me unsolicited advice - all of it bad." Even so, Coolidge had no desire to split the party by publicly opposing the popular commerce secretary's nomination.
After his presidency, Coolidge retired to the modest rented house on residential Massasoit Street in Northampton before moving to a more spacious home, "The Beeches". He kept a Hacker runabout boat on the Connecticut River and was often observed on the water by local boating enthusiasts. During this period he also served as chairman of the non-partisan Railroad Commission, as honorary president of the American Foundation for the Blind, 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 and wrote a syndicated newspaper column, "Calvin Coolidge Says", from 1930 to 1931. Faced with looming defeat in the 1932 presidential election, some Republicans spoke of rejecting Herbert Hoover as their party's nominee, and instead drafting Coolidge to run, but the former President made it clear that he was not interested in running again, and that he would publicly repudiate any effort to draft him, should it come about. Hoover was renominated, and Coolidge made several radio addresses in support of him.
He died suddenly from coronary thrombosis at "The Beeches", at 12:45 pm, January 5, 1933. Shortly before his death, Coolidge confided to an old friend: "I feel I no longer fit in with these times."
Coolidge is buried beneath a simple headstone in Notch Cemetery, Plymouth Notch, Vermont, where the family home is maintained as one of the original buildings on the site, all of which comprise the Calvin Coolidge Homestead District. The State of Vermont dedicated a new visitors' center nearby to mark Coolidge's 100th birthday on July 4, 1972.
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