Having fought its own war for sovereignty with New York and Massachusetts, the fiercely- independent Republic of Vermont only reluctantly joined the Union to add a fourteenth star to the flag in 1791. For the next 160 years the tiny, rugged “Green Mountain State” would proudly lay claim to the distinction of being populated by “more cows than people”. Yet this staunchly abolitionist northern anchor of the “Underground Railroad” which made freedom possible for unknown thousands of former slaves can also lay claim to producing two U.S. Presidents, both of whom were born in small farming towns and both of whom assumed the nation’s highest office upon the unexpected death of their predecessors. Chester A. Arthur became our 20th President upon the assassination of William McKinley in 1881 and John Calvin Coolidge, our 30th, upon the sudden death of Warren G. Harding while the latter was touring in the west in 1923.
Known to his family as Calvin almost from the time of his birth on July 4th, 1872, the Coolidge who would one day be President was no stranger to hard work and economic uncertainty. Among New Englanders of the period, the term “hill farm” conveyed a picture of hard-won rocky soils, remoteness from population centers, long hard winters and constant struggle; all of which was well-known to the handful of hardy settlers who had pioneered the cross-roads hamlet known first as Saltash, and finally as Plymouth Notch in the central Vermont county of Windsor. Calvin lost his mother to Tuberculosis when he was only 12, and his only sibling, Abigail to a mysterious illness a year later. And that would not be all. Many years later, while visiting the White House, a strapping, athletic and promising 18-year-old son named Calvin, Jr. would die from sepsis four days after suffering a toe blister while playing a game of tennis.
Highly motivated to avoid the crippling debt he had seen bring about the ruination of many neighboring rural families, young Calvin, like his father grew up husbanding resources, practicing great frugality and carefully honoring obligations. Determined to get an education, he refused to be diverted by distance or difficulty, actually graduating with honors from Amherst College. Unable to afford law school, he “read for the law” (as had Lincoln), working for a prominent Massachusetts law firm. Again like his father, he sought and won elective office on local, city, and county levels within the Massachusetts Republican Party, then serving in both the State House and Senate of his adopted state. With a sterling record of accomplishment, and the respect of members of both parties, he became the Republican Governor of one of the most “Democratic” states in the country before moving on to the U.S. Senate. He gained nationwide prominence by supporting the Boston Police Commissioner in facing off the powerful police union, in the end initiating legislation to protect the public from such actions.
He was a strong vice president to Warren Harding in his commitment to achieving “normalcy” for a nation staggered by the effects of World War I and became wedded to the goal of erasing a burdensome national debt. As President, he not only remained true to that promise, but presided over a budget surplus in every year of his presidency while bringing a renewed emphasis to the importance of asserting the sovereignty of individual states in planning and funding those areas where he felt the Federal government should “stay out”. He was a very “modern” president, encouraging highway and aviation advancement, in the process hosting Charles Lindbergh in the White House. Giving a lie to the sobriquet “Silent Cal”, he used radio in speaking directly to the American people on important issues, and never held back in telling Congress exactly how he felt on matters of government. He did not believe any one group of citizens should benefit by taxing any other segment of society, and even paid his own way when traveling or feeding his white house family.
The living room of the Coolidge family home and the bible with which his father, Colonel John Coolidge, a Notary Public, administered the oath of office of President of the United States to his son Calvin in the early morning hours of August 3rd, 1923.
Over the years, the author has been a regular visitor to Plymouth Notch, and an aficionado of the aged “Hunter” cheddar cheese still made from the same “culture” used by the Coolidge family. Al Cooper photos
Our freedom-loving and tax-cutting 30th President is buried on a high rise of ground on the farm his family worked since the American Revolution. There is no expensive “Presidential Library” there at Plymouth Notch, Vermont; only a humble State Historic Park operated by the proud State of Vermont.