Calvin Coolidge: A Man of Many Offices

April 3, 2015

By Rushad L. Thomas

On January 6, 1933, the day after President Coolidge died, The New York Times, in its obituary for the departed president, recalled an anecdote about Silent Cal. A woman at a dinner party asked the president what his hobby was? Calvin’s reply: “Holding Office.”

In this day and age, given the state of our economy, most 26 year olds are lucky if they aren’t living in their parents’ basements. It’s astonishing to think that President Coolidge began a political career that would culminate in his accession to the White House at the tender age of 26! Even more remarkable is the fact that Coolidge’s journey began in the most provincial of offices, on the city council of his adopted hometown of Northampton, MA.

unnamed

Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

We should also remember that President Coolidge died at the age of 60, after having served, successively, as a city councilman, city solicitor, clerk of the county courts, state representative, mayor, state senator, state senate president, lieutenant governor, governor, vice president of the United States, and president of the United States. That’s a tremendous number of offices packed into three brief decades. In studying the political careers of other presidents, it’s difficult to find another who held such a vast array of offices, municipal, state-level, statewide, etc…, and held them in a succession that almost seems like a step-ladder. Few politicians have climbed the “greasy pole” of politics in the way of our Calvin Coolidge.

Coolidge’s example provides many good lessons for civic culture today. One should not underestimate the importance of lower level public service as proving grounds for future top leaders. The skills in statecraft that one learns in fixing the pot holes and making sure the trash is picked up on time can prepare one well to tackle the complex questions of national policy. This is key to understanding the importance of Coolidge’s example. His mettle was forged in city hall and on the backbenches of the State House in Boston. Weathering those smaller storms gave him the skills he needed to slay larger dragons.

The same holds true today.

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