The Presidency of Calvin Coolidge

Robert H. Ferrell

Perhaps no American president has seemed less suited to his office or his times than Calvin Coolidge. The taciturn New Englander became a vice presidential candidate by chance, then with the death of Warren G. Harding was thrust into the White House to preside dourly over the Roaring Twenties.

Robert Ferrell, one of America's most distinguished historians, offers the first book-length account of the Coolidge presidency in thirty years, drawing on the recently opened papers of White House physician Joel T. Boone to provide a more personal appraisal of the thirtieth president than has previously been possible. Ferrell shows Coolidge to have been a hard-working, sensitive individual who was a canny politician and a clever judge of people. He reveals how after being dubbed the "odd little man from Vermont" by the press, Coolidge cultivated that image in order to win the 1924 election. Alas, Coolidge's long-suffering wife often had to serve as a safety valve for his temper.

“Robert Ferrell, one of America’s most deservedly acclaimed presidential historians, continues his surprising work on the 1920s with a portrait of Calvin Coolidge that somehow manages to be both sympathetic and uncompromising. Coolidge here emerges for the first time as a three-dimensional figure, a man of genuine idealism, powerful emotions, and a coherent if limited philosophy of government. The title Calvin, We Hardly Knew Ye would more nearly do justice to this deeply researched, elegantly written reappraisal.”

—Richard Norton Smith, author of An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover

“A welcome addition to a distinguished series and a delight to read. Robert Ferrell combines a persuasive portrait of Coolidge with a judicious assessment of his administration's performance and shrewd commentary on the polity, economy, society, and international outlook over which he presided. Ferrell underscores aspects of Coolidge’s ambition, political savvy, and sense of service long obscured by historical caricature. This book can be read with interest and profit by anyone seeking a better understanding of a presidency condemned or dismissed in progressive historiography and idealized in conservative revisionism.”

—Ellis W. Hawley, author of The New Deal and the Problem of Monopoly

Ferrell's analysis of the Coolidge years shows how the President represented the essence of 1920s Republicanism. A believer in laissez-faire economics and the separation of powers, he was committed to small government, and he and his predecessors reduced the national debt by a third. More a manager than a leader, he coped successfully with the Teapot Dome scandal and crises in Mexico, Nicaragua, and China, but ignored an overheating economy. Ferrell makes a persuasive case for not blaming Coolidge for the failures of his party's foreign policy; he does maintain that the President should have warned Wall Street about the dangers of overspeculating but lacked sufficient knowledge of economics to do so.

Drawing on the most recent literature on the Coolidge era, Ferrell has constructed a meticulous and highly readable account of the President's domestic and foreign policy. His book illuminates this pre-Depression administration for historians and reveals to general readers a President who was stern in temperament and dedicated to public service.

About the Author

Robert H. Ferrell is professor of history at Indiana University and the author of numerous other books, including American Diplomacy: A History and Harry S. Truman: A Life.

Additional Titles in the American Presidency Series Series