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Who is Calvin Coolidge? - Biography, Facts & Accomplishments

Instructor: Matthew Hill
Calvin Coolidge was the 30th president of the United States (1923-1929). He served during the heyday of the Roaring Twenties and an economically prosperous America. This study will focus on both between his domestic and foreign policy.

Background

The 1920s are remembered as a dynamic time of cultural change in America, including jazz, swing dances, radio, film, Model-T automobiles, changing women's fashions, and new household technologies such as washing machines and electric refrigerators. Yet, few consider what the politics of the 1920s were like. Born on July 4, 1872 in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, Calvin Coolidge was the 30th president of the United States and the only president born on Independence Day. He married Grace Goodhue and they had two sons, John and Calvin Jr., the latter of whom tragically died while Coolidge was president. Coolidge attended Amherst College in Massachusetts and remained there after graduation to pursue a law career. He was soon drawn into politics and served in various political roles in Massachusetts such as serving in the state legislature, Mayor of Northampton, Lieutenant-Governor of Massachusetts, and eventually as Governor. His most notable measure as governor was his firing of several policemen in response to the Boston Police Strike of 1919 because he felt they threatened public safety by striking.

Calvin Coolidge pictured raising his hat
Calvin Coolidge

His time in state politics proved short-lived as Coolidge was soon drawn into national politics as President Warren G. Harding chose Coolidge as his running mate in the 1921 election. Though the vice-presidency at this time was still largely a thankless and obscure position, Coolidge became the first vice-president to sit in on cabinet meetings. Though he played a marginal role, this symbolic practice helped elevate the status and visibility of the vice presidency. Harding's untimely death in 1923 elevated Coolidge to the Presidency and two years later Coolidge won in his own right on the 1924 Republican ticket. Followed in the White House by Herbert Hoover, the 1920s were dominated by Republican administrations.

Coolidge as President: Domestic Policy

Many presidents have nicknames and Coolidge was no exception. Dubbed 'Silent Cal' for his quiet and unassuming character, he was notoriously honest, and worked hard to clean up the corruption of the Harding administration. Although slow to act at times, he was generally socially progressive for his era. He supported anti-lynching laws, supported women's suffrage, and refused to appoint known KKK members to office. He also supported the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 which granted citizenship rights to Native Americans born in the United States. He was not without his blind spots though. He signed into law the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, which tightened immigration controls based on race and country of origin. This act was aimed to slowdown the increased flow of immigrants from non-western European countries.

A fiscal conservative, Coolidge generally supported minimum regulation and no government interference in the private sector. For example, he cut taxes, balanced the federal budget, and he twice vetoed the debt-relief scheme of the McNary-Haugen Farm Relief Bill which championed government purchase and sale of farm surpluses. His most controversial measure was his reluctance to appropriate federal funds for Midwestern homesteads devastated by the massive 1927 Mississippi flood. Though he eventually demurred given the scope of the natural disaster, he preferred local solutions to local problems. Though he appeared indifferent, in some ways he could not detach himself from his small-town roots where the federal government played a distant, rather than intrusive, role in local affairs. He also had one Supreme Court appointee, Harlan Fiske Stone. Finally, Coolidge tapped into the new technologies of his age, becoming the first president to routinely address the American people via radio and the first president to routinely entertain himself with Hollywood films. This may not 'wow' today, but most people had never even heard their president's voice before radio.

Coolidge as President: Foreign Policy

Many of his foreign policy measures were connected to the aftermath of the First World War. He did not cave to pressure to either forgive European debt or to lower the high import tariffs; he did support private American loans for debt relief and more importantly he supported the Dawes Plan to finance German loan payments. Although many would cry foul today, Coolidge unsuccessfully vetoed the Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924, which created a bonus plan for veterans of the First World War. He further opposed U.S. entry into the League of Nations. He did support membership in the World Hague, though U.S. membership was rejected given its insistence that the U.S. not be bound by its advisory council decisions without consent.

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