Coolidgean humor

Calvin Coolidge met the White House press twice weekly, and revealed an uncharacteristically talkative side of his personality in those conferences. Of course, press conferences of the 1920s in no way resembled the ones contemporary presidents hold. For one thing, the number of reporters attending was much smaller then, perhaps no more than a dozen at any given session. For another, these were of course newspaper reporters; no microphones were allowed, and those intrusive television cameras had not yet been invented. Also, questions were handed in in advance, and the president decided which ones to answer. Most importantly, correspondents were not allowed to directly quote the president or attribute verbatim statements to him. Accordingly, newspapers of the period reveal little of what Coolidge said; the convention was to quote a “White House spokesman”.

From official transcripts of these sessions, historian Robert Ferrell has compiled a book aptly titled The Talkative President. Besides extensive, and usually well-informed and well-reasoned presidential statements on domestic and international matters great and small, the book contains a generous sampling of the wry Coolidge wit. This blog will return to this well of material in the future, but here is one little exchange from the time of the 1924 election:

PRESS: Mr. President, what are the reports from Minnesota? I understand the latest report is that the Republicans are going to carry Minesota?

PRESIDENT: I haven’t any specific reports about any states. My reports indicate that I shall probably carry Northampton*. That is about as far as I can go into details. That is based more on experience.

*Northampton, MA was Coolidge’s longtime city of residence. He also served as mayor.