Coolidge admirers celebrated the 88th anniversary of his accession to the presidency this past week; almost unnoticed remained the 84th anniversary of his famous and somewhat cryptic statement the he “did not choose” to run for re-election in 1928, a statement he made while vacationing in South Dakota in August of 1927.
There was some debate at the time whether he meant what he said, or if the statement left open a door to being drafted at the 1928 GOP convention, but his biographers are in agreement that Coolidge did indeed mean what he said. In a Cosmopolitan article in 1929, Coolidge himself explained as follows:
His retirement was prompted more by an inner impulse of what is right than by specific facts. He chose the fourth anniversary of his taking office to issue his statement. While he felt that the no-third-term tradition did not apply to him, as he had come up from the vice presidency, he still felt that 10 years in the White House was too long for any one person. “It is difficult to conceive how one man can successfully serve the country for a term of more than eight years.” He sought to avoid the appearance of selfish “grasping for office.” Presidents, Coolidge remarked, “are always surrounded by worshipers. They are constantly … 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.”
Moreover, he felt the latter part of the adminstrations of two-term presidents often “showed very little in the way of constructive accomplishment” and were indeed “often clouded with grave disappointments.” These observations, coupled with his own desire to return to private life, Mr. Coolidge gave as his primary reasons for choosing to “retire voluntarily from the greatest experience that can come to mortal man.”
“We draw our presidents from the people,” wrote Citizen Coolidge. “It is a wholesome thing for them to return to the people. I came from them. I wish to be one of them again.”