Two powerful men of the early twentieth century met and interacted. General of the Armies John Joseph ‘Black Jack’ Pershing, (1860-1948) and President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933).

Pershing, the most illustrious military man of his times, led the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. His career began at West Point and continued in a cavalry unit in the West. After law school at the University of Nebraska, he commanded an African-American cavalry regiment in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Service in the Philippines followed. During World War I: “First, Pershing had to build an army almost from scratch, organizing, training, and supplying an inexperienced force that eventually numbered two million. Then, he had to fight a war on two fronts: one against the Germans, the other against his Allies, who sought to fill their depleted ranks with his fresh troops. But after months of reinforcing the British and French, Pershing’s Army started operating on its own in the summer of 1918, and played a decisive role in defeating the Germans that fall.” (For more information see: General John J. Pershing from PBS’s American Experience).

In circumstances that might have changed history, Pershing’s name was floated for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1920, but did not progress very far as he refused to campaign. In a newspaper Story, he said that he “wouldn’t decline to serve” if the people wanted him. Instead Warren G. Harding was elected President with Calvin Coolidge as his Vice President. Coolidge and Pershing had a meeting in Boston in February 1920 while Coolidge was governor. Between 1921 and 1924, Pershing was Chief of Staff of the United States Army. .

On November 1, 1921, Pershing and Vice President Coolidge were in Kansas City, Missouri at the groundbreaking ceremony for a large World War I monument, the Liberty Memorial. On that day, more than 100,000 people assembled to hear the supreme Allied commanders, who were together for the only times in their lives: General John J. Pershing of the United States Lieutenant General Baron Jacques of Belgium General Armando Diaz of Italy Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France Admiral David Beatty of Great Britain.

Three years later, the Liberty Memorial was completed, and President Calvin Coolidge delivered the dedication speech to an even larger crowd. He said “the magnitude of this memorial, and the broad base of popular support on which it rests, can scarcely fail to excite national wonder and admiration.” The monument’s companion museum was designated by Congress as the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial in 2004. For more information on the Liberty Memorial see

The General appears on a guest list for a White House Garden Party in May 1924. On his 64th birthday in September 1924, Pershing retired from active military service as required by army regulations.Tragedy affected both men’s lives. Pershing’s wife and three daughters had perished in a fire at the Presidio, San Francisco in 1915. His son survived. Many said that the general was never the same after that disaster. In the early summer of 1924, Coolidge’s son, Calvin Coolidge, Jr., age 16 died from blood poisoning from blisters received playing tennis. Some thought the President was never same. Coolidge wrote of his son’s death in his Autobiography that “When he went the power and glory of the Presidency went with him. The ways of Providence are often beyond our understanding…I do not know why such a price was exacted for occupying the White House.” .


  • The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial
  • Coolidge, Calvin. The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge. New York: Cosmopolitan Book Corporation, 1929.

Post researched and written by Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum Volunteer Susan Well