Calvin Coolidge I: On Parents & Children

Plymouth Notch, Vt.: Coolidge Historical Site 8/7/10

          Outside Vermont, Calvin Coolidge is remembered, if at all, as ‘Silent Cal’, the president notable only for keeping his mouth shut.

           The utter improbability of this persona in a man who rose from a city council through the legislative branch to Governor of Massachusetts and then to be elected vice president and president (1924) seems to have struck very few.  Talk is the coin of legislators.

          In reality, Coolidge possessed an eloquence and simplicity in style one wishes other presidents had had.  But, he did know when to keep his mouth shut, a virtue not always found in executives of any type.

          Coolidge left a memoir that is a model of grace – and brevity.  The following quotations are to be found in The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge [1929] (Plymouth, VT: The Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation, 1989).

          In these quotations, he speaks of his parents, his childhood and his son, Calvin.


[On his father:]  The lines he laid out were true and straight, and the curves regular.  The work he did endured.  [p. 12]


 It seems impossible that any man could adequately describe his mother. I can not describe mine. [p. 12]


 [On his mother:]  Whatever was grand and beautiful in form and color attracted her.  It seems as though the rich green tints of the foliage and the blossoms of the flowers came for her in the springtime, and in the autumn it was for her that the mountain sides were struck with crimson and gold. [p. 12]


 When she knew that her end was near she called us children to her bedside, where we knelt down to receive her final parting blessing.  In an hour she was gone.  It was her thirty-ninth birthday.  I was twelve years old.  We laid her away in the blustering snows of March.  The greatest grief that can come to a boy came to me.  Life was never to seem the same again.  Five years and forty-one years later almost to a day my sister and my father followed her.  It always seemed to me that the boy I lost was her image. [p. 13]


 But a horse is much company, and riding over the fields and along the country roads by himself, where nothing interrupts his seeing and thinking, is a good occupation for a boy.  The silences of Nature have a discipline all their own. [p. 42]


 [On his 16-year old son, Calvin:]  We do not know what might have happened to him under other circumstances, but if I had not been President, he would not have raised a blister on his toe, which resulted in blood poisoning, playing tennis on the South Grounds.  In his suffering he was asking me to make him well.  I could not.  When he went, the power and the glory of the Presidency went with him. [p. 190]


           H/T: The Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation which maintains the Calvin Coolidge Historical Site.  It is among my top five most beautiful places in Vermont.  The Foundation’s events are always superbly organized and worth doing.