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Calvin Coolidge

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History

Calvin Coolidge was the thirtieth President of the United States and was in office from 1923 until 1929. He was a Republican, and fiercely conservative in his views and policies. Coolidge inherited an administration that was tainted by the scandal of the Harding administration, so he was tasked with restoring integrity to the government. He became popular and presided over the majority of the ‘Roaring Twenties’.

Conservatism is a political, social, and economic philosophy, which favours a free economy, private ownership, a limited federal government, and maintaining traditional social ideas.

Calvin Coolidge’s Background

Calvin Coolidge Portrait of Calvin Coolidge StudySmarterPortrait of Calvin Coolidge, Wikimedia Commons.

Coolidge was born on 4 July 1872 in Plymouth, Vermont. His parents instilled in him the puritan values that would characterise Coolidge’s political career: honesty, reserve, virtue, thrift, and industry.

He graduated from Amherst College with an honours degree in law and began practising in 1897 in Massachusetts. Almost simultaneously, Coolidge entered politics. He became a councilman in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1898. In 1905, he married Grace Anna Goodhue who was a teacher for deaf people; they would go on to have two sons.

Coolidge methodically climbed the political ladder, holding positions in the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1906-09), as Mayor of Northampton (1910-12), in the Massachusetts senate (1912-15), as Lieutenant Governor (1916-19), and as Governor of Massachusetts (1919-21), before entering the federal government.

In 1919, Coolidge was cast into the spotlight for his decision to send the state guard to restore order during a strike by the Boston police for better pay and working conditions. Leaders of the labour union asked Coolidge to support rehiring police officers that had been fired for striking but he refused. In response, he said:

There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime.

Calvin Coolidge as the thirtieth US President

Calvin Coolidge was chosen as the running mate of Senator Warren Harding of Ohio in the 1920 presidential election. Harding won the election with a huge landslide of 61% of the popular vote, having campaigned on the promise of a ‘return to normalcy’ after the First World War and the reform policies of the Progressive Era.

Coolidge served as Harding’s Vice President until Harding died unexpectedly in 1923, making Coolidge President.

When Harding died, Coolidge was at his childhood home in Vermont and was sworn in by his father – a notary public – in the middle of the night by candlelight.

As the Republican candidate in the 1924 election, Coolidge ran on the slogan ‘Keep Cool with Coolidge’ and won a landslide victory in his own right. The election of 1924 has been said to be the high point of conservatism in the United States, as both the Republican and Democratic candidates campaigned on conservative principles.

What was Calvin Coolidge like as president?

Warren Harding’s administration was exposed as being involved in a number of scandals. Coolidge, therefore, inherited a government that the people did not have faith in, but he quickly set about fixing this.

The most notable scandal was the Teapot Dome oil-lease scandal, and Coolidge appointed a counsel specifically to investigate this, as well as dismissing Harry M Daugherty, Harding’s corrupt attorney. He quickly regained the faith of the American people and became respected. Coolidge was also known as a man of few words and earned the nickname Silent Cal.

He was dedicated to maintaining what he referred to as ‘a state of contentment seldom before seen’ in America and epitomised the laissez-faire style of government. Businesses were allowed to grow freely under his administration, and he famously said:

The chief business of the American people is business.

Laissez-faire literally means ‘let them do [what they will]’ and refers to limited government intervention in a country’s economy.

Accomplishments of the Calvin Coolidge administration

Coolidge’s accomplishments while in office included reducing government debt from over $22 billion to under $17 billion by 1929, reducing unemployment, reducing the federal budget, and reducing taxes.

A key figure in the Coolidge administration was Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, who served under all three presidents of the 1920s to oversee conservative economic policies.

Domestic policy

Calvin Coolidge Coolidge signing the 1926 income tax bill StudySmarterCalvin Coolidge signing the 1926 income tax bill, Wikimedia Commons.

Key pieces of domestic legislation passed by his administration included the following.

  • The Indian Citizenship Act (1924) gave citizenship rights to the Indigenous Peoples of America.
  • The Immigration Act (1924) restricted immigration from parts of Europe and Asia.
  • The Revenue Acts (1924 and 1926) reduced inheritance and personal income taxes.
  • The Radio Act (1927) created the Federal Radio Commission to regulate radio communications.

Perhaps more notably than legislation passed was legislation vetoed by Coolidge. In 1924, he vetoed the Veterans Bonus Bill which would give compensation to First World War veterans for their loss of earnings whilst at war. This veto was later overridden by Congress but is a key example of Coolidge’s laissez-faire beliefs.

He also vetoed the McNary-Haugen Bill twice, in 1927 and 1928. The bill proposed to have the federal government purchase surplus crops from farmers in order to alleviate their economic troubles, but Coolidge’s veto again reflects his laissez-faire policies.

Although he was fiercely conservative in his economic views, Coolidge held some progressive social beliefs. He spoke out subtly against the terrorist white-supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan, supported women’s suffrage, and gave citizenship to Indigenous Peoples. He was also hesitant about signing the 1924 Immigration Act.

Foreign Policy

Calvin Coolidge was not overly interested or involved in international affairs. He was neither isolationist nor interventionist, leaving US involvement in world affairs largely up to members of his administration. He did, however, strongly oppose US membership in the League of Nations.

Isolationism means playing no role in the internal affairs of other nations.

In 1924, the Dawes Plan was introduced to give long-term loans to Germany as they struggled to pay their war reparations to Britain and France. As Britain and France then used this money to pay back war debt to the US, this program – named after Vice President Charles Dawes – benefitted American bankers.

In 1928, Calvin Coolidge signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which outlawed war as foreign policy. It was signed by the US, France and 12 other nations and was named after Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and the French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand. Both Charles Dawes and Frank Kellogg won a Nobel Peace Prize for their work on international affairs.

The US remained heavily involved in Latin American countries during Coolidge’s time in office. Investments rose from $1.26 billion in 1920 to $3.52 billion in 1928, tipping the economies of these countries to the United States.¹ Coolidge travelled to Cuba in 1928 to address Latin American leaders and the Coolidge administration recognised the need for change in how the US engaged with the rest of the Western Hemisphere, although no concrete action was taken.

Calvin Coolidge - Key takeaways

  • Calvin Coolidge was a conservative Republican president who supported laissez-faire to allow businesses to grow.
  • Coolidge restored faith in the government and was respected by the American people after the scandals of the Harding administration.
  • During his time in office, Coolidge drastically reduced government debt, unemployment, and taxes.
  • He vetoed bills that would aid First World War veterans and farmers, demonstrating his commitment to laissez-faire.
  • He was not overly involved in international affairs although members of his administration, Charles Dawes and Frank Kellogg, won Nobel Peace Prizes.


Sources

1. David Greenberg, ‘Calvin Coolidge: Foreign Affairs’, UVA Miller Center: https://millercenter.org/president/coolidge/foreign-affairs

Calvin Coolidge

Calvin Coolidge was born on 4 July 1872.

Calvin Coolidge was known for his conservative policies as US president. He was also known as a man of few words, earning the nickname Silent Cal.

Calvin Coolidge was the 30th president of the United States, serving from 1923 until 1929.

Coolidge was Warren Harding's Vice-President and became president after Harding died unexpectedly in 1923. He then won the 1924 presidential election and remained in office until 1929.

Coolidge reduced government debt, the federal budget, unemployment, and taxes. He also restricted immigration, gave Indigenous Peoples citizenship rights, and vetoed economic assistance to veterans and farmers. In terms of foreign policy, he presided over the Dawes Plan and the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

Final Calvin Coolidge Quiz

Question

When was Calvin Coolidge president?

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Answer

1923–29

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What political philosophy did Coolidge believe in?

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Answer

Conservatism

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What year was Calvin Coolidge born?

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1872

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What event cast Coolidge into the spotlight in 1919?

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Answer

His use of the state guard to restore order during a strike by the Boston police.

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Where did Coolidge practice law and hold political office before he entered the federal government?

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Answer

Massachusetts

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Who was President whilst Calvin Coolidge was Vice President?

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Answer

Warren Harding

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What slogan did Coolidge run on during the 1924 presidential election?

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Answer

‘Keep Cool with Coolidge’.

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How did Coolidge restore faith in the federal government after the scandals of the Harding administration?

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He appointed a counsel to investigate the Teapot Dome Scandal and dismissed Harding’s corrupt attorney, Harry M Daugherty.

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What did Coolidge famously say about business?

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‘The chief business of the American people is business.’

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What is the definition of laissez-faire?

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 Laissez-faire literally means 'let them do [what they will]' and refers to limited government intervention in a country's economy.

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Question

Name three pieces of domestic legislation passed by the Coolidge administration.

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Answer

Any three of:

  • The Indian Citizenship Act (1924) 
  • The Immigration Act (1924) 
  • The Revenue Acts (1924 and 1926) 
  • The Radio Act (1927) 

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Which two bills did Coolidge veto?

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The Veterans Bonus Bill and the McNary-Haugen Bill

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Coolidge supported US membership in the League of Nations.

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Answer

False

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Name the two most important pieces of foreign policy passed under Coolidge.

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Answer

The Dawes Plan and the Kellogg-Briand Pact

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Name three members of the Coolidge administration.

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Answer

Andrew Mellon, Charles Dawes, and Frank Kellogg

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