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The presidency of Calvin Coolidge

AP.USH:
KC‑7.2.I.D (KC)
,
MIG (Theme)
,
Unit 7: Learning Objective I
Calvin Coolidge presided over the Roaring Twenties. 

Overview

  • Calvin Coolidge became the 30th president of the United States in 1923, after the death of Warren G. Harding. He was elected president in 1924 and served until 1929.
  • Although Coolidge was a fiscally conservative Republican who believed that the size and scope of the federal government should be limited, he held some progressive beliefs and supported women’s suffrage.
  • Coolidge is known for being one of the very few US presidents who left office with a federal debt and budget deficit that was smaller than when he entered office.

The early life of Calvin Coolidge

John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. was born in Vermont on July 4, 1872, and was the only president in US history to be born on Independence Day. He served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Massachusetts Senate, establishing a reputation as a Progressive Republican due to his support for women’s suffrage and the direct election of Senators.
Photograph of Calvin Coolidge.
Calvin Coolidge. Image courtesy Library of Congress.
In 1918, Coolidge ran for governor of Massachusetts, campaigning on a platform of fiscal conservatism, support for female enfranchisement and US involvement in the First World War, and opposition to Prohibition. He won the election by a narrow margin.
As governor of Massachusetts, Coolidge pursued policies that reflected both his fiscal conservatism and his social progressivism. He cut state spending, trimmed the public debt, and supported legislation lowering the work week for women and children from fifty-four to forty-eight hours. He also famously vetoed legislation that would have raised the salaries of state legislators by 50 percent. In the Boston Police Strike of 1919, Coolidge deployed the National Guard and asserted control over the police. His approach to the strike gained him national prominence and the admiration of conservative Republicans.start superscript, 1, end superscript

Calvin Coolidge as vice president

In the presidential election of 1920, Coolidge was nominated to run as Vice President on the Republican ticket, alongside presidential candidate Warren G. Harding, a Senator from Ohio. They won in a landslide, garnering over 60 percent of the popular vote—the largest margin of victory since the advent of reliable record-keeping.squared
Although the office of vice president was largely ceremonial, Coolidge became the first vice president in US history to be invited to sit in on cabinet meetings.cubed Despite Coolidge’s public speaking skills, he developed a reputation as a taciturn man, earning the nickname “Silent Cal.”
On August 2, 1923, while on a speaking tour of the Western states, President Harding died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. Harding had been a popular president, and the nation was shocked and saddened to hear the news of his death. Coolidge took the oath of office and ascended to the presidency on August 3.

The presidency of Calvin Coolidge

As president, Coolidge immediately set to work on cutting taxes and reducing federal spending. In 1924, he signed the Immigration Act, which imposed limits on immigration from parts of eastern and southern Europe, though he inserted a statement expressing personal disapproval of the clause that specifically excluded Japanese immigrants.start superscript, 4, end superscript
In 1924, Coolidge ran for president in his own right, on the Republican Party ticket. He won the popular vote and almost every state outside of the South. During his second term in office, the country experienced a period of economic growth and low unemployment. Coolidge subscribed to the laissez-faire ideology of free-market capitalism, and his administration lowered income tax rates, cut spending, and limited federal regulation of the economy. The federal debt and budget deficit shrank, and the economy boomed.start superscript, 5, end superscript Some have argued, however, that Coolidge’s laissez-faire approach to the economy brought on the Great Depression.start superscript, 6, end superscript
In foreign policy, the Coolidge administration was hesitant to cultivate alliances with foreign powers. Coolidge himself was ambivalent about US entry into the League of Nations. Though he did not oppose the League in principle, he doubted that it would effectively serve American interests. His major foreign policy initiative was the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which was an agreement between the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Italy, and Germany to renounce war as an instrument of national policy. Though the pact did not stave off a second world war, it did constitute one of the enduring principles of international law in the postwar period.start superscript, 7, end superscript
Coolidge chose not to run for re-election in the 1928 presidential campaign. He was succeeded in office by Herbert Hoover, a Republican who had served as Secretary of Commerce in the Coolidge administration.

What do you think?

How would you characterize the Coolidge administration’s approach to the economy and labor relations?
Was Coolidge more of a conservative or a Progressive?
Do you think Coolidge was an effective president? Why or why not?

Want to join the conversation?

  • hopper cool style avatar for user ☣Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ☢
    This article makes Coolidge seem like a really great president but I want to know, what are some of the bad things about his presidency?
    (25 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user PoorJHarrison
      The majority of Coolidge dissenters fall into one of two categories. Either people say he didn't take strong enough positions on key issues (women's rights, black rights etc.) or he was too laissez-faire laying the foundations for the Great Depression.

      On his reluctance to take a strong position, this can largely be tied to his belief in state over federal power. When he was governor of Massachusetts he displayed strong preferences regarding women's rights and the KKK. So if you take him to issue on his noncommittal stances, you must first take to issue his belief in state power over federal.

      As for his economics, the field is complex, and a swing back and forth between laissez-fair and progressive tends to be healthy.

      Saying he caused it ignores thousands of written volumes which seek to determine the cause. To say that this was a classic case of economic over-heating (producing more than you can sell) grossly over simplifies an incredibly complex matter. That being said, causes of the Great Depression belongs to another thread.
      (19 votes)
  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    What were some of the reasons that Calvin Coolidge chose not to run for office for re-election in the 1928 presidential campaign?
    (7 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user John Ma
    Why did Coolidge’s laissez-faire approach to the economy bring on the Great Depression?
    (0 votes)
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    • primosaur tree style avatar for user Grace
      I beg to differ that Coolidge is not totally to blame for the Great Depression. First of all, the laissez-faire approach was not something unique to him. It had been used time and time before by previous presidents in similar positions. During Coolidge's presidency, the economy prospered. Coolidge's conservative policies made life better for many Americans. However, a problem was created as the Federal Reserve began printing excess money in swaths, and Coolidge didn't recognize this until it was a problem. Second, both Hoover and FDR made the Depression worse. The policies they implemented did not fix the problem. Hoover, for example, signed the Smoot-Hawley tariff. The more he and FDR tampered with the economy, the worse it became. And - myth busted - the New Deal did NOT end the depression. As Roosevelt pushed cartels onto American industries, prices became extremely high and so did the rate of unemployment.

      I would highly recommend reading "The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and the New Deal" by Robert P. Murphy. It explains what I've mentioned above in much more detail. The title's daunting, but the book explores the policies of these presidents AND presents them in a way which makes sense. Economics normally is confusing to me, but a lot of my questions were answered when I read this book for school last year.
      (13 votes)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Samantha Moone #Writer's Alliance
    Wasn't a bank, and the stock market, at fault for the great depression? How could it be Coolidge's fault?
    (2 votes)
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    • starky sapling style avatar for user benjaminking
      Many people actually blamed Hoover for the great depression. But most historians don’t blame President Herbert Hoover for causing the Great Depression. The Depression was caused by several factors, some of which were: America’s reliance on the gold standard, No cohesive economic policy, The banking system, Stock market speculation, and a drop in consumer spending.
      (3 votes)
  • starky ultimate style avatar for user Payton Daley
    What was a positive and lasting legacy of Coolidge?
    (1 vote)
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    • male robot hal style avatar for user Stephen White
      President Coolidge restored confidence in the office of the president after the scandals of the previous administration, and it is said that he embodied the hopes and dreams of the middle class at that time.

      He was also praised by those who wanted smaller government, but presumably condemned by those who wanted larger government or more government control over the issues of the day.

      So, where you stand politically may determine what you think of his legacy - positive or negative - lasting or not.
      (3 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user kiduszerihun9
    what were some of the reasons why Calvin Coolidge came to not like bureaucracy and how he attempted to combat it.
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user jb268536
    What happen in 1924.
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby purple style avatar for user Sierra
    why dd he do the oath of office so quickuly
    (1 vote)
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  • stelly green style avatar for user nielsen, siena
    sorta
    (0 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user 柯一鸣
    any other topics of 1920
    (0 votes)
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