Coolidge Museum Blog

VOTE!!!

Tuesday September 9, 2014 is Primary Day in Massachusetts!Who would Coolidge vote for?

The answer is a simple one. Calvin Coolidge would tell his constituents to get out and vote, to care about their government, and to exercise their duty as citizens. As you make your decision whether or not to go to the polls and then how to vote, remember the words of Calvin Coolidge, “We have a tendency to be too indifferent before primaries and elections and too critical after. Public officers can and do exercise large influence over our daily life but the main course of events is in our own hands.”

From a November 4, 1930 newspaper column

Vice President Charles Dawes-Part 2

Coolidge left the selection of his vice presidential candidate to the 1924 convention delegates since that was how he had gotten the nomination in 1920. The Republican convention first nominated Illinois Governor Frank Lowden. He had already said he would not accept the office and promptly declined. So the convention turned to Charles G. Dawes, Harding’s Director of the Bureau of the Budget. See the last post for Dawes’ background.

Dawes campaigned hard and after the ticket won office in a Republican landslide, he made several mistakes early in his tenure. Even before being sworn in, he baffled Coolidge by saying he would not attend cabinet meetings. Coolidge was the first vice president to attend these meetings at the invitation of Harding and felt  it was important. Coolidge does not mention Dawes in his autobiography, but says this about the vice presidency, “If the Vice-President is a man of discretion and character…he should be in the Cabinet because he might become President and ought to be informed on the policies of the administration…My experience in the Cabinet was of supreme value to me when I became President.” (Coolidge, Autobiography, page 163-164)

It was the custom at that time that the vice president was inaugurated inside the Senate Chambers where he gave a few remarks. So on March 4, 1925, after taking the oath, Dawes lectured the gathered senators for about one half hour, advocating changes in the seniority system and limits on the use of the filibuster. The senators were not happy and neither was Coolidge, because the press focused on Dawes remarks more than the president’s inaugural address.

Later, Dawes left Capitol Hill to take a nap when Coolidge’s nominee for attorney general, Charles Warren, was up for confirmation in the Senate. There was an unexpected tie which the vice president could break, if he could get back in time. Unfortunately, he did not return to the chambers in time, a pro vote change to a ‘no’ vote, and the candidate was defeated. It was the first rejection of a cabinet appointee since the presidency of Andrew Johnson, and Coolidge held Dawes responsible.

Dawes served out his term out of favor with the president, but was appointed ambassador to Britain (1929–32) by Herbert-Hoover His home in Illinois is preserved as the Evanston Historical Center.

Dawes has the distinction of being the only vice president to write the melody, but not the lyrics, to a No. 1 pop single. He knew it as “Melody in A Major” which he composed in 1911. It is too bad this multi-talented man did not live to get solace from the lyrics penned in 1958, “It’s All in the Game.”

Vice President Dawes

Illustrious ancestors, a profitable business career, and remarkable civilian and military government service does not guarantee successful electoral office.  In Calvin Coolidge’s world, no one better demonstrates this than his vice president, Charles Gates Dawes. Although one of his forebears was the William Dawes who rode with Paul Revere to warn Lexington and Concord that the British were coming, Charlie Dawes never recovered from some missteps early in his vice presidential term.
Born in Ohio, Dawes made his name in business and banking in Lincoln, Nebraska and later Chicago, Illinois, after graduating from Marietta College. He turned to politics as an Illinois campaign worker for President William McKinley, who appointed him Comptroller of the Currency, a post he held from 1898 to 1901. He immediately ran for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator from Illinois in 1902, but lost to Albert J. Hopkins (R), the eventual winner, who was backed by the new president, Theodore Roosevelt.
Dawes then returned to banking until World War I when he was head of supply procurement for the American Expeditionary Force in France and became a brigadier general.  He received a nickname when testifying in front of a congressional committee looking into overspending during the war. When a member of the committee asked Dawes if it was true that excessive prices were paid for mules in France, he replied, “Hell and Maria, I’d have paid horse prices for sheep, if the sheep could have pulled artillery to the front!” Thus he was ‘Hell and Maria’ Dawes or ‘Helen Maria’ Dawes, as he always insisted.
Dawes was appointed the first Director of the Bureau of the Budget in 1921 by President Harding. He served on the Allied Reparations Commission negotiating with European colleagues to find a plan for Germany to pay war compensation to the victors. The Dawes Plan provided for a reorganization of German finances with loans from American investors. For his effort, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925. He gave the money from the prize to Johns Hopkins University. Unfortunately, the plan was not a long term solution, and the German economy collapsed.
Many have struggled with being vice president of this country. Dawes was one of them in part because he had strong convictions and self-confidence, but the office does not lend itself to advocating for a cause. See the next blog posting for Dawes’ troubles in the office.

Silent Cal Was Orator

On September 4, 1923, the Associated Press (AP) reported that according to a biographical sketch in the Amherst College 25th Reunion Annual of the Class of 1895, Calvin Coolidge “always said something worth hearing.”  

When Calvin Coolidge became president after the sudden death of Warren G. Harding in August 1923, the country was anxious for information about him. Coolidge had gotten the public’s attention in 1919, when as the Massachusetts Governor, he handled the Boston Police Strike well. As we know, memories are short, and people wanted all the information that they could get about the new president. A frenzy of articles about Coolidge’s personality and character were feeding the public’s right and need to know.

In Oakland, California, Nelson Kingsland, a reporter and Coolidge classmate, had his copy of the Reunion Annual from 1920 and included the text of the bio in the AP article that he wrote. The Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton, Mass. published it the same day, one month into the Coolidge presidency.

Coolidge was selected Grove Orator by his college class. The person the student’s selected needed a sense of humor since his job was to award funny prizes to popular students during graduation celebrations, according to this article.

In the fall of 1895, two other Amherst alumni, John Hammond and Henry P. Field agreed to train Coolidge at their law firm in Northampton, Massachusetts. At least one of them had heard the Grove Oration in June, and Coolidge’s wit entered into their decision.

His former classmates were generous with their praise in the 25th Annual:

“The fact that he has risen high in public office…does not rest at all upon self-seeking ambition, for he does not seek office, offices seek him…

We in ’95 do not honor him for his office; we honor him just as all people do – because he is Calvin Coolidge. Like Abraham Lincoln, a unique personality, a real man in an age when the world needs real men.”

*Nelson Kingsland had a career as an itinerant reporter and editor in New York City, Denver, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and on the west coast. He died at age 49 in May 1924, less than a year after his article helped the country understand its new president.

Happy Thanksgiving

“On this day, in home and church, in family and in public gatherings, the whole nation has for generations paid the tribute due from grateful hearts for blessings bestowed.”
From Calvin Coolidge’s 1923 Thanksgiving Proclamation

As President, Calvin Coolidge delivered a Thanksgiving Proclamation each year.  Thanks to the American Presidency Project, you can read the complete proclamations online.  Click on the year to take you to proclamation on their website.
1923
1924
1925
1926
1927
1928

Another Royal Visitor

Queen Marie of Romania and her two youngest children, Prince Nicholas and Princess Ileana, traveled across the U.S. in 1926 with a stop in the capital to call on the President on their way to the State of Washington. Queen Marie was the consort of King Ferdinand and a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
Her father was Prince Alfred, Victoria and Albert’s second son. Her mother was Grand Duchess Marie, the daughter of the Russian czar, Alexander II. Marie’s father chose a naval career, and the family lived in Malta for many years so she grew up away from English court life.

At age 17, she married a man ten years her senior. She went to live in a country ruled by her husband’s uncle, King Carol who was very unsure how to use the talents of this worldly young woman. Marie’s marriage was unhappy, but she was able to use the media to bring attention to this country which had only recently gained freedom from the Ottoman Empire. She wrote books and articles for the English speaking world, and she mothered six children.

The Queen of Romania had become renown after World War I when she argued personally and passionately at the peace talks in Paris for an increase to Romania’s territory to include all areas where people spoke Romanian. She was successful in expanding her country’s footprint by more than 60 percent.

The Chief Usher at the White House remembered the October 19th visit this way:

“Of course all eyes were on the Queen, especially during her efforts to engage the President in conversation. In this she was not any more successful than others who had tried it before. Before the dinner was over, the Queen realized that most of the published reports of the President’s uncommunicative disposition were true. She also seemed to appreciate that the President was paying more attention to the Princess than he was to her, for she was heard to remark to the Princess, upon leaving the White House, that the latter had made more impression during the evening than she had herself.”

Source: Hoover, Irwin H. (Ike). 42 Years in the White House.Cambridge, Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, The Riverside Press, 1934, Chapter XVI, We Entertain Queen Marie.

Coolidge and Al Smith: After Retirement

Even if opposing politicians do not forge a political bond, they seem to have a personal bond – common stresses, family issues and experiences. Coolidge and Al Smith lunching with their wives on Friday, July 16, 1926 at White Pine Camp at Paul Smiths in the Adirondacks is an example. (See the last post.)

Coolidge was born on the fourth of July, 1872 just eighteen months before Al Smith was born on Dec. 30, 1873.  Although nearly the same age, they had different world views that was reflected in their political beliefs, since the president was born in a small town in rural Vermont, and the governor was born on the teeming lower east side of Manhattan. Coolidge was a lawyer who graduated from Amherst College; Al Smith dropped out of school to help support his widowed mother and siblings during the eighth grade.

Their political education was similar. They learned on the job holding many of the same offices. Coolidge was a City Councilor, State Representative, Mayor, State Senator, Lt. Governor, Governor. Smith was Sheriff, State Assemblyman, president of the New York City Board of Aldermen, and four-term Governor.

After 1929, both Smith and Coolidge retired from public life, and they worked together for philanthropic causes. In early 1931, Coolidge was appointed honorary chairman of the National Red Cross fundraising drive to aid people suffering from the drought: Al Smith was one of four vice chairmen.

Conrad Hubert, a Russian Jewish immigrant, was the founder of the Ever Ready Company, which made flashlights and batteries. His will bequeathed about $8,000,000 to be administered jointly by a Protestant, a Catholic, and a Jew and given to organizations that served the general public welfare. Coolidge and Smith were joined by Julius Rosenwald, an owner of Sears, Roebuck and Company as trustees of this estate.

Al Smith came to Northampton, Massachusetts for Coolidge’s funeral in January 1933.  Smith is quoted as saying that Coolidge was distinguished for character more than for heroic achievement. His great task was to restore the dignity and prestige of the Presidency when it had reached the lowest ebb in our history…” (1)

(1). www. WhiteHouse.gov from “The Presidents of the United States of America,” Copyright 2006 by the White House Historical Association.

Coolidge and Al Smith: Summer 1926

Coolidge had opportunities to meet and work with Democratic leaders during his lengthy career. Despite recent press coverage of President Obama and Governor Christie, working with officials of the other party is not new. The relationship between Calvin Coolidge and Alfred E. (Al) Smith, the Democratic Governor of New York, was based more on the common experiences they had in political life, and less or not at all on their political beliefs.

The summer White House was in New York State’s Adirondack region in 1926. Before the president left Washington, he received a welcoming letter and a fishing license from Governor Smith who expressed interest in greeting the president in person. By an exchange of letters between the principals and later their staffs, the two men and their wives had lunch at White Pine Camp in Paul Smiths, NY, the Coolidges’ headquarters, on Friday, July 16th.

The President had put the fishing license to good use, and since the Smiths were Catholic, the main course was fish caught by Coolidge.  The President gave Smith a three pound live pike which the governor held up for waiting photographers.

Smith had presidential ambitions and had run for his party’s nomination in both 1920 and 1924. His chance was to come in 1928 when as the Democratic nominee, he lost to Herbert Hoover.  Smith’s Catholic faith was a deciding factor. However, in the summer of 1926, many people might have seen this lunch as a meeting of the two men who would head their party’s ticket in 1928.

Calvin Coolidge and Al Smith had huge policy differences. For example, Smith was a notorious ‘wet’ who seemed to not follow the spirit or the letter of the prohibition laws. Coolidge followed the law by not serving alcohol in the White House.

As the Coolidge/Smith lunch was being arranged in writing, Coolidge comments about one of the common bonds:

           “We are anticipating the change, as you know from your own experience it is not possible to get a vacation.”

Sometimes an office holder of one party simply does his job when an official of another party visits his state. Coolidge, while Governor of Massachusetts, welcomed President Woodrow Wilson home, when his ship docked in Boston after the WWI peace conference in Paris. Wilson was promoting the League of Nations which was not supported by many Republicans. Perhaps Smith too was just doing his job in the Adirondacks one day in the summer of 1926.

The Coolidge Museum has just opened a small exhibition titled, Across Party Lines: Coolidge and Al Smith.

The Prince of Wales and Other Royal Visitors

In the 1920s, the President was expected to entertain on a demanding schedule steeped in tradition. Royals and foreign heads of state came to meet the President, even when the purpose of their trip took them primarily to other parts of the country. When compared with the annual receptions for the diplomatic corps, the Senate, the House and the Supreme Court when about 2000 guests were invited each time, the Coolidges’ parties for royalty were smaller and more intimate.

Calvin and Grace’s most famous royal guest was the Prince of Wales (later the Duke of Windsor) who spent less than two hours in the capital for an informal reception on August 30, 1924, just after death of Calvin Coolidge, Jr. According to a newspaper account, both the Prince and the Coolidges were happy to keep the event low key. The Prince was often in the popular press, a celebrity in his era. He was the great-grandson of Queen Victoria, and later royal visitors were also descendants of the venerable monarch.

In 1926, the Crown Prince and Princess of Sweden came to the United States to promote their country’s interests. Prince Gustaf Adolph became king in 1950 at age 67 and reigned until his death in 1973. His wife, Crown Princess Louise was a great granddaughter of Queen Victoria, born Princess Louise of Battenberg (now Mountbattan). She was Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh’s aunt.

During a trip across the country from New York to San Francisco with a stop in Washington, D.C., public interest was great, and the Swedish couple acquired a reputation for having the common touch. On May 28, 1926, the President and First Lady entertained 52 people at an 8 p.m. dinner. The table was decorated with pink roses, snapdragons and maidenhair fern. The White House staff kept good records of these details.

The Princess expressed her strong ideas about the equality of women during the trip, because of her experience as a nurse before her marriage and her work with the Red Cross later. She and Grace Coolidge might have had an interesting chat.

The Queen of Romania and two of her children visited in the same year, 1926. Queen Marie was a celebrity in the 1920s so her visit will be described in our next blog post.

Coolidge Commutes to Boston

Have you ever wondered how Coolidge, who didn’t drive, got to the State House to serve as a state rep, state senator, lieutenant governor and governor? There was no turnpike as we know it so one hundred years ago, he took the train.

When in Boston, Coolidge and some of the other Western Mass legislators stayed at the Adams House. The legislature was in formal session during the first half of the year giving Coolidge a chance to continue his law practice and see his family in Northampton summer and fall. This chart gives information on the sessions during Coolidge’s time in the senate.

Length of Massachusetts State Senate Sessions- 1912-1915

Year
Dates
Total Days
Days Sitting
 
 
 
 
1912
Jan 3 – June 13
163
113
 
1913
Jan 1 – June 20
171
120
 
1914
Jan 7 – July 7
182
127
 
1915
Jan 6 – June 4
150
104
 
Average
 
166.5
116

       Data Source: Dalton, Wirkkala and Thomas. Leading the Way, A History of the Massachusetts General

                       Court, 1629-1980

 

 

 

Preparing for the Great War

Calvin Coolidge’s terms in the Massachusetts Senate coincided with the beginning of World War I in Europe (1912 – 1915). The great debate about America’s role and participation in the conflict began. The Massachusetts legislature appointed a Committee to Study Preparedness in 1915.

The Hampshire Gazette reported on a union service at the Methodist Church marking a day of prayer for peace in its October 5, 1914 issue. Among State Senator Coolidge’s reported remarks were these:

            “Science, while it makes men wiser, makes the instruments of destruction more deadly… Therefore, it seems that the only hope for permanent peace is to be found in the hearts of men.”

A State Senator and His Committees

After serving as mayor of Northampton in 1910 and 1911, Coolidge was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate. He would serve four years before being elected Lieutenant Governor and Governor.

In 1912, Coolidge was appointed to the Cities, Agriculture, and Legal Affairs Committees. He chaired the last two. In the summer, he also led a special recess committee, the Western Mass. Trolleys Committee. These appointments were good for a freshman senator since they related to his background and experience.

He had been the mayor of a small city and a lawyer so the first and third appointments made sense. In Boston, Western Mass still means agriculture so this committee was appropriate.

In 1913, his committees changed completely to the Municipal Finance, Rules, and Railroads Committees (chair). His assignments still seem to fit his background quite well.

During his last two years in the senate (1914-1915), he was its President, a position of great influence, not least of which was the power to appoint members to committees. The museum has a letter in its collection from Coolidge to a fellow Senator asking his preferences for committee assignments.

Note: The display at the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum about his Senate career has been refurbished recently so the next few posts will highlight some of the new information.