See you in C-U-B-A: Calvin Coolidge in Havana

Irving Berlin’s hit song, “See you in C-U-B-A,” popular in the 1920s, touted the “lively atmosphere” on the largest Caribbean island, exhorting would-be revelers to escape the land of Prohibition and to “travel with us on a train or a bus to Miami where we can begin to plan a wonderful trip on a plane or a ship that’ll take us from Florida to Havana – see you in C-U-B-A!” President Coolidge took that advice, but with a different purpose in mind.

President Coolidge attending a chirch service aboard the U.S.S. Texas

President Coolidge attending a church service aboard the U.S.S. Texas

On his only foreign visit, Calvin Coolidge went to Havana in early 1928 to address the Sixth Pan American Conference there. Coolidge and his delegation, which included Secretaries Kellogg and Wilbur, former Secretary Hughes and Ambassador Morrow as well as journalist/writer H.L. Mencken and humorist Will Rogers, had left Washington by rail (the “Coolidge Special”) on January 13 for Key West (not Miami!) and, having departed there on the battleship (and flagship of the U.S. Navy) U.S.S.Texas early on January 15, arrived at Havana on the afternoon of that same day. Along with hosting Cuban president Gerardo Machado, a large and enthusiastic crowd welcomed him there, celebrating the fact that his visit marked the first time a sitting U.S. president had put his foot not only on the soil of Cuba, but of any foreign nation on the American continent. Coolidge’s address on the occasion of the opening of the conference on January 16 also marked the first time that a U.S. president had thus spoken to a non-U.S. audience.

Continue reading

LDS politicians and prophets

I’m using the upcoming (Apr. 2 and 3) semiannual general conference of the LDS Church as an admittedly thin pretext to note that, all publicity surrounding Mitt Romney aside, Mormons were prominent in U.S politics a century ago and in Coolidge’s day as well.

While one prominent turn-of-the-century Utahn, B.H. Roberts, was denied the seat he had won in the U.S. House of Representatives because he practiced polygamy, Reed Smoot , not tainted by a multiplicity of wives, was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican in 1902 and served until 1933. Serving as Senate Finance Committee Chairman from 1923 to 1933, he certainly worked with president Coolidge on many occasions. His claim to fame (or infamy) came late in his Senate career as co-sponsor of the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff, widely understood to have exacerbated the Great Depression. Smoot concurrently served as an apostle of the LDS Church, a body of 12 senior church leaders, from his appointment to that post to his death in 1941.

Reed Smoot made the cover of TIME

Another prominent LDS church official was J. Reuben Clark, very nearly a contemporary of president Coolidge.

Continue reading