After the sudden death of Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge became the unlikely 30th President of the United States, attempting to bring a nation back together.
After two years of Warren G. Harding’s term as President, the nation had begun to reel under the corruption that was allowed to imbed itself into the federal government, culminating in such scandals as the Teapot Dome Scandal, which surely would have mired the remainder of Harding’s time in office, had he not suddenly died in August of 1823.
Calvin Coolidge, an altogether different kind of politician than his predecessor, was visiting his father in Vermont when he found out that the President had died. His father, living in a home which lacked electricity, was a notary public, and as such administered the oath of office by light of a kerosene lamp at 2:30 am the following morning.
Laissez Faire President
After Coolidge had returned to Washington in order to formally take over the office of President, he offered America a clean slate. He was a different kind of politician – he would not seek any further power with himself, and he would not offer patronage.
Coolidge adopted a sort of governing style known as Laissez Faire, where he presided in an administorial position mostly, allowing the government to operate, while offering it the occasional nudge in the right direction. He might in this sense be seen as one of the first of today’s “limited government” conservatives.
Finishing the final years of Harding’s term, Coolidge’s popularity among the American people (who had previously not known much of him) improved, as did the economy as a whole.
The “roaring 20’s” had begun, with the American economy finally growing after a post-war slump under Woodrow Wilson.
Calvin Coolidge, in his first term, approved of the Revenue Act of 1924, which lowered certain taxes in hopes of further advancing the economy. In addition, he vetoed the farm relief laws passed by congress, believing that it was not government’s job to offer such funds for agricultural purposes. Today, historians view these laws very differently, some praising his limiting of the government, while others blame him, in part, for creating a depression-precipitating economy.
Coolidge was a breath of fresh air to the people in terms of his openness to the public, presiding over more press conferences than any other President during his time in office (520 during his six years), and issued many radio addresses as well.
The 1924 campaign for Coolidge’s reelection (after an easy nomination process) was a rather subdued one against West Virginia congressman John W. Davis. Coolidge, running on his foundational principles of government and refusing to mention his opponent by name, won handily (by nearly 250 electoral votes), winning every state outside of the south (which still voted chiefly democratic) except for Wisconsin (his opponent’s home state).
Coming into his second term with a strong mandate, Calvin Coolidge continued in his same well-tested Presidential style, lowering taxes, limiting government, and presiding over a relatively isolationist foreign policy (he opposed America’s entry into the league of nations, but favored an international court which would attempt to “outlaw” war as a means of settling disputes – which did not work).
Leaving the Office and Legacy
Calvin Coolidge, like many other Presidents before him, refused to run for a third term of office. Giving up the office to his secretary of commerce (Herbert Hoover, with whom the President often disagreed), Coolidge “retired” to private life, serving in several capacities after the Presidency, including on a railroad commission, a life insurance company, the American Antiquarian Society, and his alma mater, Amherst College.
Coolidge also wrote a great deal after this, including a frequently published syndicated newspaper column and a 1929 autobiography.
After leaving office, Coolidge’s legacy was marred greatly by the quick onset of the Great Depression (which began in 1929, just after Coolidge had left office), which many blamed on his economic policies (which were also a product of President Hoover, who was then secretary of Commerce).
As the decades have passed, however, Coolidge has retained some of his stature among historians of the Presidency, especially as his conservatism has regained its stature throughout the eighties and nineties. Today, he is generally ranked somewhere below average in lists of Presidents, though this very well may change as time continues to pass.