Calvin Coolidge was born in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, on July 4, 1872. Coolidge rose through the ranks of Massachusetts government as a Progressive Republican. Elected U.S. vice president in 1920, he became president following the death of Warren G. Harding in 1923. Coolidge, also known as "Silent Cal," chose not to seek a second term. He died in Northampton, Massachusetts, on January 5, 1933.
Early Life and Career
John Calvin Coolidge Jr. was born in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, on July 4, 1872. His father, John Coolidge, was a successful farmer and small businessman who served in the Vermont House of Representatives and the Vermont Senate, as well as other local offices. Coolidge's mother died when he was 12 years old, and his teenage sister, Abigail Grace Coolidge, died several years later.
Coolidge’s earliest American ancestor, John Coolidge, emigrated from England around 1630, settling in Massachusetts. Coolidge's great-great-grandfather, also named John Coolidge, was an officer in the Revolutionary War.
Coolidge attended Amherst College in Massachusetts, and later apprenticed at a law firm in Northampton. In 1897, he was admitted to the bar, opening his own law office in 1898.
In 1905, Coolidge married Grace Anna Goodhue, a teacher at a school for the deaf. The two were nearly opposites: While Grace was talkative and social, Calvin was stoic and serious. The marriage would prove to be very happy and successful over the coming decades.
In 1896, Coolidge campaigned locally for Republican presidential candidate William McKinley. In 1898, he won election to the Northampton City Council, and then to the offices of city solicitor and clerk of courts. In 1906, Coolidge was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives as a Progressive Republican. He went on to serve as mayor of Northampton before returning to the state legislature, this time serving in the Senate.
After his election in January 1914, Coolidge delivered a speech entitled Have Faith in Massachusetts, which summarized his philosophy of government. His reputation grew with the publication of his speeches. He was elected lieutenant governor and then governor in the 1918 race.
A crisis during Coolidge’s tenure as governor brought him national attention. In 1919, many Boston policemen went on strike after the city's police commissioner tried to block their unionization with the American Federation of Labor. Coolidge took control of the situation, calling in the National Guard and speaking candidly with AFL leader Samuel Gompers. His actions, while discouraging to supporters of organized labor, made Coolidge a favorite among the nation's conservatives, and laid the groundwork for his presidential run in 1920.
Vice Presidency and Presidency
After 10 ballots, Republican delegates settled on Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio as their presidential nominee in 1920, and Coolidge was nominated as vice president. Harding and Coolidge beat opponents James M. Cox and Franklin D. Roosevelt in a landslide, taking every state outside of the South.
Coolidge was the first vice president to attend cabinet meetings, in addition to giving speeches and performing other official duties. The Coolidges attended Washington parties, where guests remarked on the terse and quiet demeanor of "Silent Cal.”
On August 2, 1923, President Harding died while traveling in California. Coolidge was in Vermont visiting his family home, which had neither electricity nor a telephone, when a messenger brought word of Harding’s death. He was sworn in by his father, who was a notary public.
Coolidge addressed Congress in December, giving the first presidential speech to be broadcast to the nation over the radio. His agenda mirrored Harding’s to a large extent. Coolidge signed the Immigration Act later that year, restricting immigration from southern and eastern European countries.
President Coolidge was nominated for the presidency in 1924. Shortly after the convention, however, he experienced a personal tragedy. Coolidge's younger son, Calvin Jr., developed an infected blister and, several days later, died of sepsis. Coolidge became depressed. In spite of his subdued campaigning, he won a popular vote majority of 2.5 million over his two opponents' combined total.
During Coolidge's presidency, the United States experienced the period of rapid economic growth that characterized the "Roaring Twenties." With the exception of favoring tariffs, Coolidge disdained regulation. Some contemporaries and historians have blamed his laissez-faire ideology for the Great Depression. Coolidge was also suspicious of foreign alliances, discouraging American membership in the League of Nations. Like Harding, Coolidge refused to recognize the Soviet Union.
Coolidge spoke out in favor of civil rights. He refused to appoint any known members of the Ku Klux Klan to office, appointed African Americans to government positions and advocated for anti-lynching laws. In 1924, Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act, granting full citizenship to all Native Americans while permitting them to retain tribal land rights.
In the summer of 1927, Coolidge traveled to the Black Hills of South Dakota. During his vacation, Coolidge issued a short statement indicating that he would not seek a second full term as president. The statement read: "I do not choose to run for President in 1928.”
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