The 30th President

President and Grace Coolidge, August 5, 1923.

Grace and Calvin Coolidge, August 5, 1923, three days after Warren G. Harding's death made Coolidge president. Note the black arm band as a sign of mourning. (Library of Congress.)

Calvin Coolidge became the nation’s 30th president on the night of August 2, 1923. On vacation in his home state of Vermont, he was awakened by his father at 2:30 a.m. to hear the news that President Warren G. Harding had died of a mortal illness earlier that evening. As his father, a notary public, administered the office, Coolidge became one of eight vice presidents in American history to inherit the office following the death of his predecessor.

To many people Coolidge was an enigma. Born on July 4, 1872, he grew up in Plymouth, Vermont. After graduating from Amherst College, he began a career in the law and politics. In 1905, he married Grace Anna Goodhue, a teacher. The couple had two sons: John and Calvin, Jr.

Coolidge served in various positions and emerged as a progressive leader in the Republican Party in Massachusetts before he was elected governor in 1918. As a politician, he was noted for his honesty and his refusal to attack his opponents. In 1920, he was elected vice president of the United States. In 1924, after completing Harding’s term, he was elected president in his own right.

Coolidge tolerated the pomp and circumstance of the presidency, but he preferred simplicity in his life and his words. He spoke in short sentences and in meetings often said nothing. According to one famous story, when a young woman seated next to him at dinner said that she had made a bet that she could get him to say more than three words, he quietly responded, “You lose.”

Some biographers have suggested that Coolidge’s reticence reflected a deep depression that set in following the sudden death of his sixteen-year old son Calvin, Jr. in 1924. It certainly did not reflect a lack of intellect. “Coolidge was the most Jeffersonian in philosophy and practice” of all the men who occupied the White House in the twentieth century, writes Robert Sobel. He believed in the limited role of the federal government. 

The 30th President