Twelve Words that Changed History

Presidential politics were in the air as the election of 1928 loomed on the horizon. Leaders in the Republican Party expected Coolidge to run for reelection, but potential challengers threatened to put up a fight. Meanwhile, Coolidge’s well-regarded Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover was being touted by progressives to replace Coolidge in the White House.

As speculation grew, Coolidge was characteristically silent about his plans. Reporters suggested that Coolidge had decided to summer in South Dakota to help improve his popularity among farmers in the Midwest who had been disappointed by his vetoes of the farm price supports included in the McNary-Haugen Farm Relief Act, but it seems likely that Coolidge had already made up his mind.

In late July during his stay in the Black Hills, Coolidge said to his secretary, Everett Sanders, “Now—I am not going to run for president. If I should serve as president again, I should serve almost ten years, which is too long for a president in this country.”

On August 2, four years after his accession to the presidency, Coolidge noted the anniversary to his wife Grace over breakfast. Then he set off for his office in Rapid City. He told Sanders that he would tell reporters that morning that he would not run for reelection in 1928. Sanders suggested he should wait until after the stock market closed on the East Coast.

Shortly before noon, Coolidge had a staff member type a single sentence multiple times on sheets of paper. Coolidge himself cut the paper into strips. Reporters were then admitted to his office, and Coolidge handed a strip of paper to each newsman, while an aid prevented anyone from leaving the room until all had received their note. The message read: “I do not choose to run for President in nineteenth twenty-eight.”

Astonished, the reporters asked if Coolidge would elaborate, but he shook his head. Released from the room, they dashed for the telephones to tell the nation. Later that day, when a visiting senator remarked to Grace Coolidge that her husband had surprised the country, she responded: “Isn’t that just like the man! He never gave me the slightest intimation of his intention. I had no idea!”

Twelve Words that Changed History