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
Coolidge attended Black River Academy and then Amherst College, where he distinguished himself in the debating class, as a senior joined the fraternity Phi Gamma Delta and graduated cum laude.
At his father's urging after graduation, Coolidge moved to Northampton, Massachusetts to become a lawyer. To avoid the cost of law school, Coolidge followed the common practice of apprenticing with a local law firm, Hammond & Field, and reading law with them. 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.
In 1905, Coolidge met Grace Anna Goodhue, a University of Vermont graduate and teacher at the Clarke School for the Deaf. That year they were engaged in early summer and married in October.
The Coolidges had two sons: John (September 7, 1906 – May 31, 2000) and Calvin (April 13, 1908 – July 7, 1924). Calvin died at age 16 from blood poisoning brought on by an infected blister.
In 1896 Coolidge campaigned for Republican presidential candidate William McKinley, and the next year he was selected to be a member of the Republican City Committee.
Instead of vying for another term in the State House, Coolidge returned home to his growing family and ran for mayor of Northampton when the incumbent Democrat retired. He was well liked in the town, and defeated his challenger by a vote of 1,597 to 1,409. He was renominated in 1911, and defeated the same opponent by a slightly larger margin.
In 1911, the State Senator for the Hampshire County area retired and successfully encouraged Coolidge to run for his seat for the 1912 session.
After winning reelection to the Senate by an increased margin in the 1914 elections, Coolidge was reelected unanimously to be President of the Senate.
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 to their respective one-year terms, with Coolidge defeating his opponent by more than 50,000 votes.
Coolidge was unopposed for the Republican nomination for Governor of Massachusetts in 1918.
Coolidge was renominated in 1919. 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.
At the 1920 Republican National Convention, most of the delegates were selected by state party conventions, not primaries. 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, Coolidge was unexpectedly nominated. Harding and Coolidge were victorious in a landslide, winning more than 60 percent of the popular vote, including every state outside the South.
The U.S. vice presidency did not carry many official duties, but Coolidge was invited by President Harding to attend cabinet meetings, making him the first vice president to do so. He gave a number of unremarkable speeches around the country.
As the U.S. vice president, Coolidge and his vivacious wife Grace were invited to quite a few parties, where the legend of "Silent Cal" was born. It is from this time that most of the jokes and anecdotes involving Coolidge originate. Although Coolidge was known to be a skilled and effective public speaker, in private he was a man of few words and was commonly referred to as "Silent Cal". A possibly apocryphal story has it a matron, seated next to him at a dinner, said to him, "I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you." He replied, "You lose." Dorothy Parker, upon learning that Coolidge had died, reportedly remarked, "How can they tell?" Coolidge often seemed uncomfortable among fashionable Washington society; when asked why he continued to attend so many of their dinner parties, he replied, "Got to eat somewhere." Alice Roosevelt Longworth, a leading Republican wit, underscored Coolidge's silence and his dour personality: "When he wished he were elsewhere, he pursed his lips, folded his arms, and said nothing. He looked then precisely as though he had been weaned on a pickle."
As president, Coolidge's reputation as a quiet man continued. "The words of a President have an enormous weight," he would later write, "and ought not to be used indiscriminately." Coolidge was aware of his stiff reputation; indeed, he cultivated it. "I think the American people want a solemn ass as a President," he once told Ethel Barrymore, "and I think I will go along with them." Some historians would later suggest that Coolidge's image was created deliberately as a campaign tactic, while others believe his withdrawn and quiet behavior to be natural, deepening after the death of his son in 1924.
On August 2, 1923, President Harding died suddenly in San Francisco 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. He 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 a.m. on August 3, 1923; President Coolidge then went back to bed. He 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, to forestall any questions about the authority of a notary public to administer the presidential oath.]
First term, 1923–1925
Coolidge addressed Congress when it reconvened on December 6, 1923, giving a speech that supported many of Harding's policies, including Harding's formal budgeting process, the enforcement of immigration restrictions and arbitration of coal strikes ongoing in Pennsylvania. Coolidge's speech was the first presidential speech to be broadcast over the radio Just before the Republican Convention began, Coolidge signed into law the Revenue Act of 1924, which reduced the top marginal tax rate from 58% to 46%, as well as personal income tax rates across the board, increased the estate tax and bolstered it with a new gift tax.
Nomination for Reelection
The Republican Convention was held on June 10–12, 1924, in Cleveland, Ohio; Coolidge was nominated on the first ballot. Coolidge ran his standard campaign, not mentioning his opponents by name or maligning them, and delivering speeches on his theory of government, including several that were broadcast over radio It was easily the most subdued campaign since 1896. Coolidge won every state outside the South except Wisconsin. Coolidge won the popular vote by 2.5 million over his opponents' combined total.
Second term, 1925–1929
He signed a bill granting Native Americans U.S. citizenship.
Coolidge spoke in favor of the civil rights of African-Americans, saying in his first State of the Union address that the rights of the former were "just as sacred as those of any other citizen" under the U.S. Constitution and that it was a "public and a private duty to protect those rights." He appointed no known members of the Ku Klux Klan to office; indeed, the Klan lost most of its influence during his term. His administration commissioned studies to improve programs for Native Americans.
Coolidge repeatedly called for laws to prohibit lynching, saying in his 1923 State of the Union address that it was a "hideous crime" of which African-Americans were "by no means the sole sufferers," but consisted of the "majority of the victims." However, 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.
On June 2, 1924, Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act, which granted 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. His administration appointed the Committee of One Hundred, a reform panel to examine federal institutions and programs dealing with Indian nations. This committee recommended that the government conduct an in-depth investigation into reservation life (health, education, economics, justice, civil rights, etc.). This was commissioned through the Department of Interior and conducted by the Brookings Institution, resulting in the groundbreaking Meriam Report of 1928.
A few days later, on June 6, 1924, Coolidge delivered a commencement address at Washington, D.C.'s Howard University, in which he thanked and commended African-Americans for their rapid advances in education and their contributions to U.S. society over the years, as well as their eagerness to render their services as soldiers in World War I, all while being faced with discrimination and prejudices at home:
In August 1924, Coolidge responded to a letter from a New York man claiming that the United States was a "white man's country" and that African-Americans should therefore not be allowed to hold elected office. Echoing his June 1924 speech at Howard University, Coolidge refuted the man's statement, saying that African-Americans were "just as truly citizens" of the United States "as are any others," and commended the service of black U.S. soldiers during World War I:
I was amazed to receive such a letter. During the war 500,000 colored men and boys were called up under the draft, not one of whom sought to evade it. [As president, I am] one who feels a responsibility for living up to the traditions and maintaining the principles of the Republican Party. Our Constitution guarantees equal rights to all our citizens, without discrimination on account of race or color. I have taken my oath to support that Constitution. It is the source of your rights and my rights. I propose to regard it, and administer it, as the source of the rights of all the people, whatever their belief or race. A colored man is precisely as much entitled to submit his candidacy in a party primary, as is any other citizen. The decision must be made by the constituents to whom he offers himself, and by nobody else.
Speaking before a group of naturalized Americans of European background at the White House in October 1924, Coolidge stressed tolerance of differences as an American value and thanked immigrants for their contributions to U.S. society, saying that they have "contributed much to making our country what it is." He stated that although the diversity of peoples was a detrimental source of conflict and tension in Europe, it was peculiar for the United States that it was a "harmonious" benefit for the country. Coolidge further stated the United States should assist and help immigrants who come to the country, and urged immigrants to reject "race hatreds" and "prejudices":
Among these I should place, first, the broadly tolerant attitude that has been a characteristic of this country. I use the word in its most inclusive sense, to cover tolerance of religious opinion, tolerance in politics, tolerance in social relationships; in general, the liberal attitude of every citizen toward his fellows. ... As a Nation, our first duty must be to those who are already our inhabitants, whether native or immigrants. To them we owe an especial and a weighty obligation. They came to us with stout hearts and high hopes of bettering their estate. They have contributed much to making our country what it is. ... They cannot help other nations by bringing old world race prejudices and race hatreds into action here. In fact, they can best help other countries by scrupulously avoiding any such motives.
In December 1924, Coolidge delivered his second State of the Union address, in which he commended African-Americans for their advances, and stressed that their constitutional rights should be respected and protected:
These developments have brought about a very remarkable improvement in the condition of the negro race. Gradually, but surely, with the almost universal sympathy of those among whom they live, the colored people are working out their own destiny. I firmly believe that it is better for all concerned that they should be cheerfully accorded their full constitutional rights, that they should be protected from all of those impositions to which, from their position, they naturally fall a prey, especially from the crime of lynching and that they should receive every encouragement to become full partakers in all the blessings of our common American citizenship.
In a May 1926 speech delivered at Arlington to commemorate the U.S. military, Coolidge praised the linguistic, ethnic, and religious diversity of the U.S. population, citing it as an example of American exceptionalism. He spoke out against "race hatred" and "religious intolerance," saying that engaging in such actions would be an "injury" and not a "benefit" to the country:
We are situated differently in this respect from any other country. All the other great powers have a comparatively homogeneous population, close kindred in race and blood and speech, and commonly little divided in religious beliefs. Our great Nation is made up of the strong and virile pioneering stock of nearly all the countries of the world. We have a variety of race and language and religious belief. ... race hatred, religious intolerance, and disregard of equal rights ... are ... a positive injury.
Coolidge appointed one justice to the Supreme Court of the United States, Harlan Fiske Stone in 1925. Stone was Coolidge's fellow Amherst alumnus, a Wall Street lawyer and conservative Republican. Stone was serving as dean of Columbia Law School when Coolidge appointed him to be attorney general in 1924 to restore the reputation tarnished by Harding's Attorney General, Harry M. Daugherty. Stone proved to be a firm believer in judicial restraint and was regarded as one of the court's three liberal justices who would often vote to uphold New Deal legislation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt later appointed Stone to be chief justice.
For 88 years he was the only sitting president to have visited Cuba, until Barack Obama did so in 2016.
1928 Coolidge did not run for reelection
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 a terse statement that he would not seek a second full term as president: "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 endorse 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 nomination of the popular commerce secretary.
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 degree 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. Hoover then lost the general election to Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt in a landslide.
Coolidge died suddenly from coronary thrombosis at "The Beeches," at 12:45 p.m., 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 Plymouth Notch Cemetery, Plymouth Notch, Vermont, where the nearby family home is maintained as one of the original buildings on the Calvin Coolidge Homestead District site. The State of Vermont dedicated a new visitors' center nearby to mark
An old joke about Calvin Coolidge when he was President … The President and Mrs. Coolidge were being shown (separately) around an experimental government farm. When Mrs. Coolidge came to the chicken yard she noticed that a rooster was mating very frequently. She asked the attendant how often that happened and was told, "Dozens of times each day." Mrs. Coolidge said, "Tell that to the President when he comes by." Upon being told, the President asked, "Same hen every time?" The reply was, "Oh, no, Mr. President, a different hen every time." President: "Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge."