On this day in 1924, Calvin Coolidge is elected President of the United States. He’d won 35 states and 382 electoral votes in the Electoral College, compared to 12 states for the Democratic candidate and a single state for a third-party candidate.
The result was unsurprising. Americans loved Coolidge!
Coolidge was then serving out the end of Warren Harding’s term, as he had been ever since President Harding’s sudden heart attack in August 1923. Harding’s death took everyone off guard. Then-Vice President Coolidge was on vacation at his family’s home in Vermont when he learned of Harding’s death. He took the oath of office from his father, a local notary, in the middle of the night.
Harding’s administration had been plagued by scandals, but Coolidge’s honest, hardworking ways stood in stark contrast to that of his predecessor.
No wonder Americans loved him?
Less than a year later, Coolidge was easily nominated on the first ballot at the 1924 Republican convention. One of the people who seconded the nomination explained his support for the President: “Coolidge never wasted any time, never wasted any words, and never wasted any public money!”
Coolidge’s campaign slogan was “Keep Cool with Coolidge.” He believed in lower taxes, reduced regulations and a balanced budget. The nation prospered during his time in office. Indeed, the federal budget was lower—actually lower, not just lower relative to GDP—when he left office. He reduced both taxes and the federal debt simultaneously
Coolidge has been criticized for not doing more to stop the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. However, it should be noted that some historians and economists dispute this reading of history. They argue that the stock market crash did not *have* to lead to a 10-year depression. To the contrary, the stock market crash could have simply been a self-correcting mechanism. Indeed, there were several smaller crashes during Coolidge’s administration and the market DID correct itself with much less pain. However, Herbert Hoover and FDR approached their crashes differently than Coolidge did his, and they used government power to intervene more forcefully. Some economists argue that this government intervention undermined the free market’s ability to correct itself and move on.
In 1927, as the end of his term approached, Coolidge announced his intention to retire from the presidency. His statement to the press was simple: “I do not choose to run for president in 1928.” The people were very unhappy! But Coolidge was determined. He did not think it was possible to stay in office for too long without losing perspective.
“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.” Coolidge chose a different path: “It is a wholesome thing for [Presidents] to return to the people. I came from them. I wish to be one of them again.”
Amity Shlaes, Coolidge (2013)
Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (2007)
Calvin Coolidge, The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge (1929)
Gil Troy et al., History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-2008 (4th Edition 2011)
Paul F. Boller, Jr., Presidential Campaigns (rev ed. 1996) (updated version available HERE)
Rushad Thomas, Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge: the Story of the 1924 Presidential Election (February 17, 2016)