John Calvin Coolidge The Man Years 1872 1933 Presidential Term 1923 1929

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John Calvin Coolidge - The Man

Years - 1872 - 1933

Presidential Term - 1923 - 1929
Material taken partly from Pictorial History of American Presidents by John and Alice Durant @ 1955

The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents by William A. DeGregorio @ 1984

Presidential Anecdotes by Paul F. Boller, Jr. @ 1981

The Presidents Tidbits and Trivia by Sid Frank & Arden Davis Melick @ 1984
John Calvin Coolidge was named after his father but was always called Calvin or Cal at home to avoid confusion. He dropped the first name after graduating from college. He was of English, Scotch, and Welsh heritage. He also had a trace of Indian blood, he believed. His great-great-grandfather fought at Lexington during the American Revolution, and his grandfather served in the Vermont legislature. His father, John Calvin Coolidge was a farmer, storekeeper, and served in the Vermont Senate and House of Representatives. Cal was born on July 4, 1872, at the family home in Plymouth, Vermont. The only president to be born on the 4th of July.

Coolidge was shy, undemonstrative, restrained, cautious, wholly self-reliant, and a man of few friends. “When I was a little fellow, as long as I can remember, I would go into a panic if I heard strange voices in the kitchen. I felt I just couldn’t meet the people and shake hands with them…The hardest thing in the world was to have to go through the kitchen door and give them a greeting. I was almost ten before I realized I couldn’t go on that way. And by fighting hard I used to manage to get through that door. I’m all right with old friends, but everytime I meet a stranger, I’ve got to go through the old kitchen door, back home, and it’s not easy.” (DeGregorio p. 447)

Having failed the entrance exam to Amherst College, he took preparatory instruction and entered Amherst the next year. “Coolidge ate his meals in a boardinghouse for $3.50 a week. A big black cat occasionally prowled around the dining room. One evening the main dish was hash. When Cal was served, he looked critically at his plate for a few seconds and then called the waiter in. “Bring me the cat,” he said. The waiter brought the cat in, spitting and clawing. Taking a look at her, Coolidge murmured “Thank you,” and began eating the hash.” ((Boller p. 236) He was a bit of a loner on campus and graduated cum laude in 1895. The outstanding graduate of the year was Dwight Morrow, later ambassador to Mexico under Coolidge. Cal went on to study law and was admitted to the bar in July 1897.

Calvin, 33, married Grace Anna Goodhue, 26, on October r, 1905, at the home of the bride’s parents. She was on the faculty of the Clarke Institute for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts, as a lip reading instructor. Grace’s vivacity and charm proved a perfect compliment to Coolidge’s reserved manner. To them were born two children. Grace’s mother objected to their marriage and Coolidge never reconciled with his mother-in-law, who later insisted that Grace had been largely responsible for Coolidge’s political success.

Mrs. Coolidge used to tell the story of her first attempt to make apple pie “such as mother used to make.” It was so tough that neither she nor Cal got very far with it at dinner. Later in the evening, some friends dropped in and Coolidge insisted they have some pie. Somehow they managed to eat it all up. When they were finished, Coolidge exclaimed: “Don’t you think the Road Commissioner would be willing to pay my wife something for her recipe for pie crust?” (Boller p.237)

Coolidge once spoke of his wife, “We became engaged in the early summer of 1905 and were married at her home in Burlington, Vermont, on October 4 of that year. I have seen so much fiction on the subject that I may be pardoned for relating the plain facts. We thought we were made for each other. For about a quarter of a century she has borne with my infirmities, and I have rejoiced in her graces.” (Sid Frank and Arden Melick p. 33)

Having studied law, Calvin opened a law office in Northampton, Massachusetts and became active in local Republican affairs. He was elected to the Northampton City Council, Hampshire County clerk of courts, Chairman of the local Republican Party organization. In 1905 he was defeated for a seat on the Northampton School Board, his only loss at the polls in his career. He served as Member of Massachusetts General Court, Mayor of Northampton, Massachusetts, Massachusetts State Senator, Senate President, Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, Governor of Massachusetts, Vice President of the United States, and then President of the United States. He has the credit of holding more elective offices than any other president. (19) in all, and defeated only once – for the P.T.A.

Vice President Coolidge was woken up at 2:30 a.m. with news that President Harding had died. He was vacationing at his father’s home. He was sworn into office by his father, who was a notary public, using the family Bible. The people welcomed to the White House this solid, determined man who was to be a different breed from the pleasure loving Harding. “The business of America is business,” said Coolidge, and rolled up his sleeves. He did not play golf, or cards, ride horseback, swim, hunt, or bowl. His only recreation was walking, and fishing on vacation.

Coolidge stood about 5’9” tall and was slightly built. He had finely chiseled features, a narrow pointed nose, cleft chin, small deeply set blue eyes, and then pursed lips. The red hair of his youth turned sandy in maturity. He spoke with a New England nasal twang. He suffered from chronic respiratory and digestive ailments. As president he underwent frequent attacks of asthma, hay fever, bronchitis, and upset stomach. He relied on nasal sprays to relieve his swollen sinuses and took a variety of pills for other symptoms. He coughed so often that he feared he had tuberculosis. He tired easily and usually slept about 11 hours a day, 9 hours a night and a 2-hour nap in the afternoon. (DeGregorio p. 447) One evening when he went to the theater to see the Marx brothers in Animal Crackers, Groucho spied him in the audience and cried, “Isn’t it past your bedtime, Calvin?” (Boller p. 244)

After moving into the White House, he put a rocking chair out on the front porch and sat there evenings smoking cigars. He did less work and made fewer decisions than just about any other President. His chief feat during five years and seven months in office, was to sleep more than any other President – to sleep more and say less. Wrapped in magnificent silence, his feet upon his desk, he drowsed away the lazy days. (Boller p. 234)

Coolidge could indeed be a man of few or no words if he so choose. During the 1924 campaign, eager reporters sought him out. “Have you any statement on the campaign?” asked one. “No,” replied Coolidge. “Can you tell us something about the world situation?” asked another. “No.” “Any information about Prohibition?” “No.” Then, as the disappointed reporters started to leave, Coolidge said solemnly: “Now, remember—don’t quote me.” (Boller p. 234)

President Coolidge usually went out walking twice daily, weather permitting. He loved to window-shop; he said it relaxed his mind. He enjoyed horseback riding but as president gave it up for a mechanical horse. Occasionally he even whooped it up like a real cowboy astride his electric steed. (DeGregorio p. 450) A real prankster, he loved to play practical jokes on his staff. “He would press all the buttons on the President’s desk, hide behind a door in his office, and watch secretaries, aides, military men and members of his staff rush in. When the Secret Service arrived with guns drawn, Cal popped out from behind the door and said, “Just wanted to see if everyone’s working.” (Frank & Melick p. 33)

Coolidge was very fond of animals and at time could be seen strolling through the White House with a kitten or raccoon clinging about his neck. He cared little for the theater or musical entertainment but did enjoy the circus. (DeGregorio p. 450)

As First Lady Grace was a popular hostess. The social highlight of the Coolidge years was the party for Charles Lindbergh following his transatlantic flight in 1927. The Coolidges were a particularly devoted couple, although the president never discussed state matters with her. She did not even know that he had decided not to seek reelection in 1928 until he announced it to the press. After Coolidge’s death in 1933, Mrs. Coolidge continued her work on behalf of the deaf. During World War II, she was active in the Red Cross, civil defense, and scrap drives. She died in Northampton on July 8, 1957, and was buried next to the president at Plymouth, Vermont. (DeGregorio p. 451)

Calvin Coolidge gave the following advice for handling White House visitors to incoming President Herbert Hoover. “If you keep dead still they will run down in three or four minutes. If you even cough or smile, they will start up all over again.” (Frank & Melick p. 47)

During his last months Coolidge complained often of difficulty in breathing, indigestion, and listlessness. On January 5, 1933 he suffered a coronary thrombosis (heart attack) and died. When New Yorker writer Dorothy Parker was told that Coolidge was dead, she exclaimed: “How can they tell?” Characteristically, Coolidge’s last will and testament, executed in December 1926, was just 23 words in length: “Not unmindful of my son John, I give all my estate, both real and personal, to my wife, Grace Coolidge, in fee simple.” His estate was valued at about $700,000.

“Ranking in 1962 Historians Poll: Coolidge ranked 27th of 31 presidents.” (DeGregorio p. 459)

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