Calvin Coolidge

 

President Calvin Coolidge was born on the 4th of July in the year of our Lord, 1872 in the small community of Plymouth Notch, Windsor County, Vermont.  He is the only one of our presidents to be born on our nation’s birthday. Although, his birth name was John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. even his own family called him Calvin or Cal.

 

President Coolidge’s family immigrated to New England in the 1600’s. His great-great grandfather, John Coolidge, was an officer in the Revolutionary War. Although his ancestors held various occupations, they were for the most part farmers. Calvin himself worked on the family farm, and helped his father at their country store. From his family he learned the values of honest hard work, faith, duty, honor, common sense and love of family.  As a boy he enjoyed fishing, hunting and riding. He particularly liked tapping the maple trees during the maple sugar season.

 

Coolidge was a good student at the local school, but was shy. During his youth he experienced two personal tragedies. The first was the loss of his mother Victoria in 1885 and then the loss of his sister, Abigail, in 1890. Coolidge attended the Black River Academy where he took college preparatory course of study, (including the classics, Latin, Greek, history and mathematics). His father remarried in 1891 to a local schoolteacher Caroline Brown.  After completing his studies at the Black River Academy he went to Amherst College in Massachusetts.  He studied law at Amherst and graduated with his A.B. cum laude degree in 1895.

Coolidge apprenticed at a local law firm and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1897. He opened his own law office in early 1898 in Northampton, Massachusetts where his practice thrived as his reputation for diligence, devotion and saving his clients’ money grew. He never turned away a client because they were poor and in fact his fees were so low that other attorneys complained to him about it.

 

In 1898 he was elected to the City Council of Northampton, an unpaid post.  This was to be the beginning of his career in public service.  Then in 1905 Coolidge meet, courted and married the love of his life Grace Anna Goodhue who was a teacher at the Clarke School for the Deaf. They complimented each other perfectly, Grace being charming and outgoing and Cal stoic and solemn.  They had two children John in 1906 and Calvin Jr. in 1908. They were completely devoted to one another and their marriage was a happy one.

In 1907 Coolidge was elected over an incumbent Democrat to serve in the state House of Representatives of Massachusetts. There he supported the vote for women.  He returned to Northampton in 1910 and was elected mayor. As mayor he retired some of the city’s debt and even managed to lower taxes while increasing teacher’s salaries. After serving two terms as mayor he moved on to be elected as a state senator of Massachusetts. In 1915 he was elected as lieutenant governor and in 1918 he was elected governor of Massachusetts. His platform was one that included fiscal conservatism, support for the right of women to vote and opposition to Prohibition.

 

In 1919 Coolidge was cast into the national eye by the police strike in Boston. He sent in the National Guard to maintain order and saw to it that the strikers were fired and a new police force hired. His famous statement says it all: "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anytime, anywhere."  While governor he trimmed over $4 million from the state budget and reduced the debt load of the state. He vetoed a bill which would have increased Massachusetts lawmaker’s salaries by fifty percent. Coolidge was personally against Prohibition, but he refused to use his executive power to circumvent it. He was a firm believer in the Constitution and fulfilled the mandates of his office as given in it.

 

In 1920 he was elected Vice-President of the United States and soon developed the nickname “silent Cal” due to his stoic and laconic manner. There is one story that well-known satirist and author Dorothy Parker made a bet at a dinner party that he would say more than two words. After an evening of silence on the part of Silent Cal she confronted him about her bet. He famously replied “You lose.”

On the evening of August 2nd of 1923 President Harding died. It took over four hours for the news to reach Vice President Coolidge who was visiting with his family in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. So it was in the wee hours of the morning on August 3rd that Calvin’s father, who was a notary public, gave the presidential oath of office to his son. Coolidge reassured the people that he would continue with Harding’s policies until the end of the term.

 

Coolidge was the first president to give a speech over national radio in December of 1923. He was elected in his own right in 1924; however, that joy was to be overshadowed by tragedy in his personal life with the death of his son Calvin Jr. in July of that year.

 

As president, he oversaw the reduction in the size and scope of the federal government. Due to his management and programs, there was a federal budget surplus in every year of his presidency and thus a reduction in the national debt every year as well. He oversaw the lowering of income tax rates, the highest tax bracket was reduced from 58% to 25% and the number of tax brackets were reduced from 51 to 21. Tax rate reductions in lower bracket were so large that by 1927 only the wealthiest 2% of Americans were paying federal income taxes. Under his administration, the American middle-class enjoyed the greatest increase in wealth in our nation’s history.

 

Coolidge obtained the right of citizenship for Native Americans. His goal was protecting the rights of individuals in accordance with the principles of the Foundering Fathers and he was a firm believer in the importance of religion in American society. He believed that it was more important that bad laws be repealed than new good ones passed and most of all that laws were constitutional and truly needed.

 

His presidency was a return to high moral standards which he set by personal example in stark contrast to the scandal ridden days of the Harding administration.  He understood that good local government was needed not more federal government. When his term ended in 1928, he decided not to run again for the presidency and like Washington and Cincinnatus he retired into a humble private life even though there is no doubt that he would have be reelected in a landslide victory.

 

President Coolidge passed into history on January 5th 1933.