Robert Ferrell

90 Years Ago Today, The First Conservative President Of The 20th Century, Calvin Coolidge, Became President!

On August 2, 1923, the short, tragic, scandal ridden Presidency of Warren G. Harding came to an end with the death of Harding in San Francisco, and Calvin Coolidge, his Vice President, became the sixth Vice President to succeed to the Presidency, due to the death of the incumbent.

Coolidge went on to an easy victory over John W. Davis and Robert La Follette, Sr. in the Presidential Election of 1924, and then chose not to run in 1928, therefore avoiding the oncoming Great Depression faced by his successor, Herbert Hoover.

The five and a half years of Coolidge’s Presidency, the first conservative President of the 20th century (with Ronald Reagan being the second one), has been judged by most scholars as mediocre at best, including scholars Donald McCoy, Robert Sobel, Robert Ferrell, and David Greenberg.

But just this year, Amity Shlaes has published a massive biography of Coolidge, attempting to redeem him as a reform oriented President, who has been overlooked and misjudged by historians.

What seems clear for sure is that Coolidge was a different President in his first year, much more activist and outgoing, than in his full term, and it seems as if the death of his son Calvin, Jr, of a blood infection from a leg blister while playing tennis, a truly tragic event, created a sense of depression and sadness in Coolidge, which he never really overcame, and within four years of his leaving the Presidency, he died at the young age of 60, probably of a broken heart.

Coolidge certainly deserves more historical analysis, but to make him out to be a reform oriented President seems a bit of a stretch, but the old quest for further interpretation of any President, his life, and his impact on the nation will always continue, and might be spurred further by Shlaes’s book and the 90th anniversary of Coolidge becoming President!