CALVIN COOLIDGE, 1923-1929
Coolidge was the reserved, socially awkward New Englander who took over when Warren Harding died in 1923. His reticence and dry wit were legendary. As head of the Massachusetts State Senate, he had worked successfully to stop unfair landlord practices, raise workmen’s compensation, and limit the work week to 48 hours for women and children. He urged pay increases for factory workers, teachers, and policemen.
As President, he took a calm, collected, laissez-faire approach to governing through an era of tremendous prosperity. “If you see ten troubles coming down the road,” he would say, “you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you and you have to battle with only one of them.”
The problem was, one of those “troubles” was the hyperactive stock speculation that led to the Great Depression—though he didn’t recognize it at the time. Herbert Hoover often takes flak for the Depression since the crash happened under his watch, and his efforts fix it fell short—but many economists blame Coolidge’s earlier failure to intervene.
The presidency was exhausting for the introverted and bereaved Coolidge, whose son died in 1924. He declined to run for a second full term.
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