In this blog, I’ve frequently quoted from the syndicated daily column Coolidge contracted to write after leaving the presidency. He only did that for one year, and as his very lucrative contract was about to expire, he decided not to continue. Naturally, there was speculation as to his reasons. Henry Stoddard, at the time the former publisher of the New York Evening Mail, demanded of Coolidge why he had thus decided.
“I’ll tell you a story about reasons,” Coolidge responded. “A Massachusetts Governor some years ago appointed a judge. He named a young lawyer. The latter called and expressed his gratitude. ‘There’s just one piece of advice I care to give you as to your course on the bench,’ said the Governor. ‘Give your decisions – they may be right; but don’t give your reasons – they may be wrong.’ And so, I’m not going to give you my reasons. I’ve decided to stop.”
Come to think of it, similar reasoning may have been behind his refusal to elaborate on his 1927 statement that he “did not choose to run” for re-election. His decision made, he did not care to state his reasons.
When Coolidge’s first cabinet appointee, Navy Secretary Curtis Wilbur, visited the White House and noticed Coolidge had chosen a new rug, one with an elephant displayed squarely in the centre, he asked “Mr. President, what will be done with this rug if they elect a Democrat?”
“Don’t elect Democrats,” Coolidge shot back.
In her campaign to pester Coolidge into appointing a Chicagoan of Polish descent to a federal judgeship, Illinois Congresswoman Ruth Hanna McCormick once brought a group of Polish-Americans to visit the White House. The meeting didn’t go too well; the visitors didn’t really know what to say and Coolidge followed his usual policy of keeping as silent as possible while studying the floor. Finally he spoke: “Mighty fine carpet there.” His audience was relieved to hear the president converse and expressed their assent. “New one,” Coolidge added, “Cost a lot of money.” The group again nodded and smiled in agreement. Then Coolidge delivered the coup de grâce, pointing to the Congresswoman: “She wore out the old one trying to get you a judge,” thus ending the meeting.
TIME Magazine of Feb. 18 reports that in the preceding week,
in one day, there called at the White House: 1) Senator Magnus Johnson of Minnesota, to discuss farm matters; 2) Robert U. Johnson, former Ambassador to Italy, on a personal matter; 3) Dr. I Fred Johnson, prominent member of the Lee Highway Association, with his associates; 4) James W. Johnson, Secretary of the NAACP, with a petition for the release of 54 blacks of the 24th infantry in Leavenworth Penitentiary for the Houston Riot of 1917; and 5) Henry Lincoln Johnson, Republican National Committee member from Georgia. Even the president was reported to have found this a case of too much Johnson; he addressed one of them on a subject which pertained to another.
Colonel Edmund W. Starling’s book, Starling of the White House, is a treasure trove of Coolidge anecdotes collected by Col. Starling, head of the White House Secret Service detail and perhaps the one person closest to Coolidge during his presidential years. Starling served 5 U.S. presidents from Wilson to FDR, and while he held Wilson in particularly high esteem, he esteemed Coolidge highly and this shines through the pages of the book. Summing up his assessment of Coolidge, Starling writes:
Calvin Coolidge may or may not have been a great President. That is for history to decide. To me he was fundamentally and primarily something which I treasure above all the things of earth: he was a good man. He was thoughtful, he was intelligent, he was sentimental, he was wise. There were times when he was irascible; there were occasions when I was glad to be away from him. But I found him in the large and full portions of existence an admirable and a satisfying man, a peaceful and pleasing and loyal friend. His feelings, like his thoughts, ran deep and did not swerve. I liked him as a man; I loved him as a friend.
Here’s one anecdote about a VERY short Coolidge speech: