Coolidge restored public confidence in the White House after the scandals of his predecessor's administration, and left office with considerable popularity. As a Coolidge biographer put it, "He embodied the spirit and hopes of the middle class, could interpret their longings and express their opinions. That he did represent the genius of the average is the most convincing proof of his strength." Some later criticized Coolidge as part of a general criticism of laissez-faire government. His reputation underwent a renaissance during the Ronald Reagan administration, but the ultimate assessment of his presidency is still divided between those who approve of his reduction of the size of government programs and those who believe the federal government should be more involved in regulating and controlling the economy.
Marriage and family
Coolidge met with his only defeat before the voters, losing an election to the Northampton school board in 1904. When told that some of his neighbors voted against him because he had no children in the schools he would govern, Coolidge replied "Might give me time!"
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.
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.
Massachusetts State Senate
Expect to be called a stand-patter, but don't be a stand-patter.
Coolidge's speech was well received, and he attracted some admirers on its account. Towards the end of the term, many of them were proposing his name for nomination to lieutenant governor.
"he was drawn into a circle of campus demagogues"
thoroughgoing, thorough, complete, total, absolute, utter, comprehensive, sweeping, far-reaching, extensive, profound
"a revolutionary kind of wheelchair"
By the time Coolidge was inaugurated on January 2, 1919, the First World War had ended, and Coolidge pushed the legislature to give a $100 bonus to Massachusetts veterans. He also signed a bill reducing the work week for women and children from fifty-four hours to forty-eight, saying, "We must humanize the industry, or the system will break down." He signed into law a budget that kept the tax rates the same, while trimming $4 million from expenditures, thus allowing the state to retire some of its debt.
Coolidge also wielded the veto pen as governor. His most publicized veto was of a bill that would have increased legislators' pay by 50%. Although Coolidge was personally opposed to Prohibition, he vetoed a bill in May 1920 that would have allowed the sale of beer or wine of 2.75% alcohol or less, in Massachusetts in violation of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. "Opinions and instructions do not outmatch the Constitution," he said in his veto message, "Against it, they are void."
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. 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.
"Silent Cal"The 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 speeches around the country, but none were especially noteworthy.
As 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.
1924 electionThe Republican Convention was held from June 10–12, 1924 in Cleveland, Ohio; President Coolidge was nominated on the first ballot.
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 standard 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.
During Coolidge's presidency the United States experienced the period of rapid economic growth known as the "Roaring Twenties". He left the administration's industrial policy in the hands of his activist Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, who energetically used government auspices to promote business efficiency and develop airlines and radio. With the exception of favoring increased tariffs, Coolidge disdained regulation, and carried about this belief by appointing commissioners to the Federal Trade Commission and the Interstate Commerce Commission who did little to restrict the activities of businesses under their jurisdiction. The regulatory state under Coolidge was, as one biographer described it, "thin to the point of invisibility."
Coolidge's economic policy has often been misquoted as "generally speaking, the business of the American people is business". Some have criticized Coolidge as an adherent of the laissez-faire ideology, which they claim led to the Great Depression. On the other hand, historian Robert Sobel offers some context based on Coolidge's sense of federalism: "As Governor of Massachusetts, Coolidge supported wages and hours legislation, opposed child labor, imposed economic controls during World War I, favored safety measures in factories, and even worker representation on corporate boards. Did he support these measures while president? No, because in the 1920s, such matters were considered the responsibilities of state and local governments.
Coolidge's taxation policy was that of his Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon, the ideal that "scientific taxation", lower taxes, actually increase not decrease government receipts. Congress agreed, and the taxes were reduced in Coolidge's term.
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.