Soft-spoken Calvin Coolidge was an unlikely choice for Vice President of the United States, but in 1920, he made it to this position nonetheless.
Born on the fourth of July, 1872, in Plymouth, Vermont, John Calvin Coolidge (he would later drop the “John” from his name) was born from a long line of American patriots, dating as far back as the immigration of his ancestors to the country in the early decades of the seventeenth century.
Coolidge attended a private school as a youth, and attempted twice to continue his education at the prestigious Amherst College in Massachusetts. After failing his entrance exam the first time, Coolidge attended another college briefly before trying again, this time with greater success.
Once he made it into Amherst, Calvin Coolidge gained great success, joining a fraternity and the college young republican group, graduating cum laude in 1895 at the age of twenty three.
Massachusetts Lawyer and Politician
After graduation, Coolidge moved to Northampton, Massachusetts to become a lawyer, apprenticing with a local law firm for two years instead of attending a costly law school. In 1898, the young man opened up his own law firm, focusing on settlement cases which would not make it to court (as opposed to other Presidents who had gained some fame as courtroom lawyers).
The very same year that his career as a lawyer began, so did Calvin Coolidge’s career in politics, being elected to the Northampton City Council in 1898.
The following two decades saw Coolidge move through a steady succession of political positions, including City Solicitor (1900-1902) and Clerk for the County Court (1903). The only election Coolidge would ever lose in his career took place when he attempted to run for the local school board in 1904 (in part because he had no children in the schools – his first of two sons would be born in 1906).
State Senator Coolidge
1906 saw Calvin Coolidge make his way to state politics, with victory in his campaign for the state legislature, where he served two terms, generally voting as a progressive republican (like then-President Roosevelt and President McKinley who would follow).
In 1910, Coolidge declined to run for reelection to the legislature and returned to Northampton, where he ran for mayor, winning four successive terms and achieving a good deal of success.
At the end of 1911, Coolidge (then 39 years old) was encouraged by the state republicans to run for a newly-vacated seat in the state senate, where he would represent Hampshire County. The able politician won two terms in this position as well. While in the senate, Coolidge was caught in the middle of the party split during the Presidential election of 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt left the Republican Party to form his own “Progressive” party.
Coolidge remained loyal to his republican party, and it was here that his affiliation with the progressive faction effectively ended. For his third and fourth terms, Coolidge was elected President of the senate (the second time by unanimous vote), where he presided over mostly uneventful terms with a decent amount of success.
In 1915, Coolidge was persuaded to run for Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor alongside Samuel McCall, an election which he handily won, thanks to his increasing popularity throughout the state.
Coolidge and McCall went on to victory in three consecutive gubernatorial elections, in 1915, 1916, and 1917 (the position served only single year terms at that point). In 1918, however, McCall declined renomination and Coolidge became an obvious choice to run for the highest state office himself.
In 1918, Coolidge ran for governor of Massachusetts on a platform which could be described as progressive-conservative. He supported fiscal conservatism and favored American involvement in World War I.
As governor, Coolidge’s most famous action was surely his handling of the Boston police strike of 1919. When the police went on strike and violence broke out in the city, Coolidge took action to oppose Boston Mayor Andrew Peters by calling up the National Guard and forcefully declaring that the striking police officers would not be allowed to resume their positions, as they had left the city unguarded.
The strength and assertiveness of Coolidge’s response to this single issue is what gave him his first boost into national consciousness.
The very next year, in fact, Coolidge had become popular enough that his name was actually proposed at the Republican national convention as a candidate for the highest office in the nation (along with many other names put forward by the many party factions).
After 10 ballots, however, the party’s decision went to Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding instead, but Coolidge’s name quickly caught on for the second place on the ticket, and this governor of Massachusetts – a soft-spoken politician who had worked hard to rise in politics over two decades – found himself running for Vice President.
Like almost every other election he had been a part of during his career, Coolidge, alongside Harding, won the election handily.
As Vice President, Coolidge was renowned for using few words, earning the nickname “Silent Cal.” It was not a trait which seemed especially Presidential, but when Warren G. Harding unexpectedly died on August 2, 1823, it would have to do.