Silent Cal Fun Fact: Calvin Coolidge, a president of few words, was so famous for saying so little that aWhite House dinner guest made a bet that she could get the president to say more than two words.
She told the president of her wager. His reply: “You lose. ” At 2:30 on the morning of August 3, 1923, while visiting in Vermont, Calvin Coolidgereceived word that he was President. By the light of a kerosene lamp, his father, who was a notarypublic, administered the oath of office as Coolidge placed his hand on the family Bible. Coolidge was “distinguished for character more than for heroic achievement,” wrote a Democraticadmirer, Alfred E. Smith.
“His great task was to restore the dignity and prestige of the Presidencywhen it had reached the lowest ebb in our history . . . in a time of extravagance and waste. . .
. ” Born in Plymouth, Vermont, on July 4, 1872, Coolidge was the son of a village storekeeper. He wasgraduated from Amherst College with honors, and entered law and politics in Northampton,Massachusetts. Slowly, methodically, he went up the political ladder from councilman inNorthampton to Governor of Massachusetts, as a Republican. En route he became thoroughlyconservative. As President, Coolidge demonstrated his determination to preserve the old moral and economicprecepts amid the material prosperity which many Americans were enjoying.
He refused to useFederal economic power to check the growing boom or to ameliorate the depressed condition ofagriculture and certain industries. His first message to Congress in December 1923 called forisolation in foreign policy, and for tax cuts, economy, and limited aid to farmers. He rapidly became popular. In 1924, as the beneficiary of what was becoming known as “Coolidgeprosperity,” he polled more than 54 percent of the popular vote. In his Inaugural he asserted that the country had achieved “a state of contentment seldom beforeseen,” and pledged himself to maintain the status quo.
In subsequent years he twice vetoed farmrelief bills, and killed a plan to produce cheap Federal electric power on the Tennessee River. The political genius of President Coolidge, Walter Lippmann pointed out in 1926, was his talent foreffectively doing nothing: “This active inactivity suits the mood and certain of the needs of the countryadmirably. It suits all the business interests which want to be let alone. .
. . And it suits all those whohave become convinced that government in this country has become dangerously complicated andtop-heavy. .
. . ” Coolidge was both the most negative and remote of Presidents, and the most accessible. He onceexplained to Bernard Baruch why he often sat silently through interviews: “Well, Baruch, many timesI say only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to people. Even that is too much.
It winds them up for twenty minutes more. ” But no President was kinder in permitting himself to be photographed in Indian war bonnets orcowboy dress, and in greeting a variety of delegations to the White House. Both his dry Yankee wit and his frugality with words became legendary. His wife, Grace GoodhueCoolidge, recounted that a young woman sitting next to Coolidge at a dinner party confided to himshe had bet she could get at least three words of conversation from him. Without looking at her hequietly retorted, “You lose.
” And in 1928, while vacationing in the Black Hills of South Dakota, heissued the most famous of his laconic statements, “I do not choose to run for President in 1928. ” By the time the disaster of the Great Depression hit the country, Coolidge was in retirement. Beforehis death in January 1933, he confided to an old friend, “. . . I feel I no longer fit in with these times.”