This Day in History: “I do not choose to run for president”

On this day in 1927, Calvin Coolidge declines to run for re-election as President. His statement to the press was simple: “I do not choose to run for president in 1928.”

He didn’t actually speak these words. Instead, he had the statement printed on slips of paper. When journalists had finished assembling for the presidential briefing, he simply had the papers distributed. The doors to the room were barred so that no reporter could leave until everyone had received his slip of paper.

Meanwhile, Coolidge himself had nothing more to say. When asked for a comment, he simply responded: “No.”

Apparently, First Lady Grace Coolidge heard the news for the first time later that day. “Isn’t that just like that man,” she remarked. “He never gave me the slightest intimation of his intention. I had no idea.”

“Silent Cal” may have wanted to retire, but the American people did not want him to go.

Coolidge was sworn in as President when President Warren Harding died during the summer of 1923. The next year, Coolidge was elected on his own merit. He’d been President for only 15 months at that juncture, but the country already had confidence in him. In 1924, he was elected easily by an electoral vote of 382 to 136.

Four years later, the people seemed prepared to elect him again. Indeed, after he issued his “I do not choose to run” statement, a “draft Coolidge” movement began. Coolidge had said that he did not “choose” to run. But could he be drafted?

The draft movement was so strong that Coolidge made another statement several months later. In December 1927, he urged the Republican National Committee to “vigorously continue” with “the serious task of selecting another candidate from among the numbers of distinguished men available.”

Can you believe that this December statement *still* did not suffice? He had to tell party leaders again, in June 1928, that he was really very serious. He’d heard that many party leaders were ready to nominate him at the party convention. Coolidge later described what happened next:

“I therefore sent the Secretary to the President, Everett Sanders, a man of great ability and discretion, to Kansas City with instructions to notify several of the leaders of state delegations not to vote for me. Had I not done so, I am told, I should have been nominated. . . . My election seemed assured. Nevertheless, I felt it was not best for the country that I should succeed myself.”

After his retirement, Coolidge gave several reasons for his decision, but one stands out. Coolidge suggested that it would be difficult to stay in office for too long without drinking too much of the Kool-Aid (to use a modern phrase).

“It is difficult for men in high office to avoid the malady of self-delusion,” he observed. “They are always surrounded by worshipers. They are constantly, and for the most part sincerely, assured of their greatness. They live in an artificial atmosphere of adulation and exaltation which sooner or later impairs their judgment. They are in grave danger of becoming careless and arrogant.”

He concluded with a statement that showed that he, at least, was not there yet.

“While I had a desire to be relieved of the pretensions and delusions of public life, it was not because of any attraction of pleasure or idleness. We draw our Presidents from the people. It is a wholesome thing for them to return to the people. I came from them. I wish to be one of them again.”

What a guy! If only more people today had this attitude.