John Calvin Coolidge Jr. was born the son of a
village storekeeper in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, on
4, 1872. His father was a pillar of the community,
holding a variety of local offices from tax collector to
constable. From him, Coolidge inherited his taciturn
nature, his frugality, and his commitment to public
service. The early death of his mother and sister
contributed to his stoical personality. Coolidge's
mother, Victoria, died when he was 12 years old. The
next year, he entered Black River Academy and graduated
in 1890. Upon graduating from college, he dropped his
In 1905, Coolidge met and married a fellow Vermonter, Grace Anna Goodhue, who was working as 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. They were married on October 4, 1905, in the parlor of her parents' home in Burlington, Vermont. 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.
Slowly, methodically, he went up the political ladder from councilman in Northampton to Governor of Massachusetts, as a Republican. Elected the Governor of Massachusetts in 1918, Calvin Coolidge became famous nationwide during the Boston Police Strike of 1919, when nearly three fourths of that force left work. Mobs roamed Boston, breaking windows and looting stores for two nights. The mayor managed to restore order with local militias. Then Coolidge called in the entire state militia, which broke the strikers' will. Coolidge made a famous declaration: "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time." Coolidge won reelection for governor by a record vote. In 1920, he garnered some votes for the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention. The delegates chose Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio, but gave Coolidge the vice-presidential nod on the first ballot. Harding and Coolidge won a big victory over their Democratic opponents, Governor James M. Cox of Ohio and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. As Harding's vice president, Calvin Coolidge did little, except to attend Cabinet meetings at the president's invitation. His fortunes would change. Harding died of a heart attack on August 2, 1923.
At 2:30 on the morning of August 3, 1923, while visiting in Vermont, Calvin Coolidge received word that he was President. By the light of a kerosene lamp, his father, who was a notary public, administered the oath of office as Coolidge placed his hand on the family Bible.
As President, Coolidge demonstrated his determination to preserve the old moral and economic precepts amid the material prosperity which many Americans were enjoying. He refused to use Federal economic power to check the growing boom or to ameliorate the depressed condition of agriculture and certain industries. His first message to Congress in December 1923 called for isolation in foreign policy, and for tax cuts, economy, and limited aid to farmers.
He rapidly became popular. In 1924, as the beneficiary of what was becoming known as "Coolidge prosperity," he polled more than 54 percent of the popular vote. In his Inaugural he asserted that the country had achieved "a state of contentment seldom before seen," and pledged himself to maintain the status quo. In subsequent years he twice vetoed farm relief bills, and killed a plan to produce cheap Federal electric power on the Tennessee River.
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 both the most negative and remote of Presidents, and the most accessible. He once explained to Bernard Baruch why he often sat silently through interviews: "Well, Baruch, many times I say only 'yes' or 'no' to people. Even that is too much. It winds them up for twenty minutes more." But no President was kinder in permitting himself to be photographed in Indian war bonnets or cowboy dress, and in greeting a variety of delegations to the White House.
Both his dry Yankee wit and his frugality with words became legendary. His wife, Grace Goodhue Coolidge, recounted 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." And in 1928, while vacationing in the Black Hills of South Dakota, he issued the most famous of his laconic statements, "I do not choose to run for President in 1928."