Life After the White House, Part 5

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The White House

Warren Harding, elected in 1920, died suddenly in 1923 and was followed in office by Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge proved to be a popular President and was elected to a full term of his own in 1924. In 1927, Coolidge stunned the political world by announcing he would not run for another term in the election of 1928. After attending the inauguration of his successor, Coolidge retired to the Beeches, his estate home in Northampton, Massachusetts. He wrote his autobiography as well as articles for national magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s. During 1930-1931, he wrote a daily newspaper column called “Thinking Things Over With Calvin Coolidge” for the McClure Newspaper Syndicate.

He wrote mainly about government, economics and politics. He continued to serve as a trustee of Amherst College, a position he had held since 1921, and in 1929 was named a director of the New York Life Insurance Company. In October 1931, Coolidge spoke on the radio warning his listeners to beware of insurance agents who frequently advised their clients to alter their policies. Lewis B. Tibbet, a St. Louis insurance agent, sued Coolidge for $100,000.00 because of the business he claimed to have lost because of that speech. Coolidge, wishing to avoid the publicity of a trial, settled out of court for $2,500.00. In 1932, Coolidge campaigned for the re-election of President Herbert Hoover, saying that the depression would have happened no matter who had been the President.

Coolidge’s health, always worrisome, declined after he left the White House. He often complained of difficulty breathing, indigestion and listlessness. In the early afternoon on January 5, 1933, Mrs. Coolidge found him on the floor of their bedroom. He had died of a coronary thrombosis. Keeping in character, his will consisted of one 23-word sentence: “Not unmindful of my son John, I give all my estate, both real and personal, to my wife, Grace Coolidge, in fee simple.”

Herbert Hoover was elected by a landslide in 1928, and defeated for re-election by a landslide in 1932, due to the Great Depression, which began shortly after he took office. After attending the inauguration of his successor, he retired to his home in Palo Alto, California. Hoover was an “ex-President” longer than any other person in our history. In his later years, he lived mostly at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. He was a vocal critic of the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt, calling most of its programs “fascistic.” He was especially critical of Roosevelt’s decisions to go off the gold standard, recognize the Soviet Union, and his attempt to “pack” the Supreme Court. He campaigned for Alf Landon, the Republican candidate opposing Roosevelt in 1936.

In 1938, Hoover toured Europe and met with Adolf Hitler. He found Hitler “partly insane” but intelligent and well informed. Hoover opposed U.S. entry into World War II until the attack on Pearl Harbor. During the war, he served as chairman of the relief organizations for Poland, Finland, and Belgium, and opposed dropping the atomic bomb on Japan. After the war ended, President Truman appointed Hoover coordinator of the Food Supply for World Famine, a position he filled in 1946-1947. His most prominent service during his retirement was as chairman of the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, popularly called the Hoover Commission, in 1947-1949, and of the Commission on Government Operations, called the second Hoover Commission, 1953-1955. The first commission made 273 recommendations for streamlining the government, roughly three-fourths of which were adopted.

The second commission made 314 recommendations, about three-fourths of which were adopted. The most significant of these recommendations resulted in the combination of functions into new cabinet level Department of Defense and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Hoover opposed U.S. participation in the Korean War. Shortly before his death on October 20, 1964, he endorsed Barry Goldwater, the conservative Republican candidate for President. Among the books Hoover wrote during his retirement years were “The Challenge to Liberty” in 1934, “The Problems of Lasting Peace” in 1943, his “Memoirs” in 1952, “The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson” in 1958, and the three-volume “An American Epic” in 1961.

Franklin Roosevelt defeated Hoover in 1932, and was elected for a record four terms. He died shortly after beginning his fourth term, and was succeeded by his Vice President, Harry Truman. Truman went on to be re-elected to a full term of his own in the election of 1948. He declined to run for another term in 1952, and retired to his home in Independence, Missouri. He remained active in Democratic politics, campaigning for Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956 (even though he had supported Missouri Senator Stuart Symington for the nomination in 1956) and John Kennedy in 1960 (in spite of misgivings about his inexperience). In 1964, he represented the United States at the funeral of King Paul I of Greece. In 1965, he welcomed President Lyndon Johnson to Independence, Missouri, for the signing of the Medicare Act. Johnson went to Independence for the signing to honor Truman, who had been an early advocate of national health insurance. Truman’s health began to decline in 1966, necessitating numerous hospital visits. He died on December 26, 1972 of “organic failures causing a collapse of the cardiovascular system.”

Dwight Eisenhower followed Truman in the White House. After serving two terms (he was the first President limited to two terms by the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution), he retired to his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He wrote several books, the most popular being his best-selling “Crusades in Europe” about World War II. In spite of arthritis, he continued to play golf regularly. He scored a hole-in-one in 1968. “Ike,” as he was called, continued to be active in Republican councils. He reluctantly supported Goldwater in 1964, and broke his own rule about supporting candidates for the nomination by endorsing Nixon for the nomination in 1968. He also supported the war in Vietnam. Eisenhower had survived a heart attack while he was President, and his heart trouble grew progressively worse. He suffered two heart attacks in November 1965, one in March 1968, another in June 1968, and two more in August 1968. Each time, he recovered, but with a progressively weaker heart. In February 1969, he contracted pneumonia after surgery. From March 1965, he declined steadily with congestive heart failure and died on March 28, 1969.

In the last article in this series, we will review the retirement years of the most recent Presidents.