Silent? Not exactly…

Calvin Coolidge: The Quiet President by Donald R. McCoy
Coolidge. Really, what can one say?
God knows he didn’t say much. But when he did speak, usually it was worth the wait.

(That’s him on the left, with his wife Grace next to him. March 4, 1925 — Inauguration Day)

(photo credit: Library of Congress)

This book, which gives a clear sense of the type of person—and president—Coolidge was, gave me a much greater appreciation for the guy. I like the dry-witted folks, so Coolidge is my kind of fellow. I feel like I can understand him.
The thing that still stuns me is that he became president. Actually, I’m stunned that he wanted to become president. Such an introvert really isn’t particularly suited to the role, methinks.
And, yes, as a president, we’re looking at a fairly mediocre specimen. (And it ain’t just me; the 2009 C-SPAN Historians Presidential Leadership Survey places him in 26th place. Not horrible, but not where you really want to be. But hell, he edged out Nixon for 26th!)
The other thing that becomes evident is that Grace Coolidge, beyond having one of the greatest First Lady portraits ever, was enormously helpful to her husband because of her social skills. She had the gift.
Coolidge biographies aren’t exactly thick on the ground. So I turned to the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop’s “Essential Presidential Book Shelf” to find a recommendation. This is one of two Coolidge biographies they suggest, and it does everything a presidential biography should do.
It gives us the human being, and it shows us how he gained the presidency and how he performed there. And I think McCoy gives a clear-eyed view. Also, some of his sentences are beautiful things.
Some of the material (dear heaven, please cut it out with the farm subsidy talk and all that discussion of tariffs!) was a bit dry, but some of it was surprising. For example, did you know the whole Harding scandal blew up during Coolidge’s presidency? Harding was already safe in his grave, and Coolidge was left to deal.
And I tend to forget that the Coolidge’s eldest son, still a teenager, died during their White House years, due to an infection. So they were dealing with grieving, in addition to the usual grief that the presidency entails.
Reading this book before a visit to the fine Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum (which displays Coolidge’s mechanical horse! And the Sioux headdress!) made the experience all the richer.

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