Investigating Liquor at Amherst

May 2, 2014

Will my child get in trouble at college? And how can I stop it?

Those are the questions parents ask themselves when their children set out for university. President Coolidge was no different — as evidenced by a telegram recently uncovered in the Library of Congress by researcher Sim Smiley. The wire was from Attorney General Harlan Stone, Amherst Class of 1894, to a federal agent.

Stone wrote about the president:


The fraternity Stone referenced was Phi Gamma Delta, which President Coolidge, Amherst ‘95, had joined in his senior year.

But why should Coolidge care?

In 1924, Prohibition was the law of the land. Coolidge hadn’t led the dry movement, but he always believed in upholding the law.  Reports were that bootleggers were selling liquor to the campus.

What’s interesting about this letter is the direct approach. Unlike many other presidents, Coolidge understood that the presidency was no throne. His job, as chief executive was to serve the office and restore the country’s trust in it. He was loath to take advantage of his status to get help for a personal issue.

This aversion played out even his personal life. Theodore Roosevelt’s children had treated the White House like it was their own. Coolidge however made sure that his sons moved with respect through the rooms on Pennsylvania Ave. One night when John Coolidge, the President’s son, returned late from a party and in casual clothes, he asked his father if he might come to dinner. Coolidge told him he must dress up because he was dining with the president.

The answer to the mystery of the uncharacteristic intervention lies in the date. The telegram went, on “official business,” on June 20 1924. That was the June before John would enter Amherst. Coolidge was worried John would drink in college. The president cared so much about John that he would breach his own rules. In this one moment Coolidge reminds us that presidents are like the rest of us.

A full investigation into this matter ensued. Even J. Edgar Hoover, then acting director of the Bureau of Investigation, got involved. To read the investigation’s correspondences, click here.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Coolidge Blog

Old Home Day Commemoration

On August 2nd, 1923, Vice-President Calvin Coolidge received stunning news: President Warren Harding had died. At the time, Coolidge was visiting his father at the Coolidge Homestead in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. Preparations for the transfer of presidential power began immediately. In the early morning of August 3rd, Coolidge was sworn in as the 30th President […]

The Inauguration of Cavin Coolidge as Vice President of the United States, March 4, 1921: A Centennial Remembrance

By Jerry L. Wallace An excerpt from Mr. Wallace’s full article, accessible in the Coolidge Virtual Library: Essays, Papers & Addresses. This March 4th marked the 100th anniversary of Calvin Coolidge’s inauguration as Vice President of the United States.  He, as Warren G. Harding’s running mate, had been elected in a landslide victory for the […]

The Flu in Coolidge’s Time

In 1918, while Calvin Coolidge was Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, the outbreak of Spanish Influenza hit the United States and wreaked havoc across the nation. Massachusetts was hit hard. By late September of that year, there had been an estimated 50,000 cases of flu in the Bay State. Within two weeks, 850 Bostonians had died. […]

Mr. & Mrs. Coolidge Go to Florida

By Daniel Wright The Coolidges had been eager to travel since leaving public life in 1929. Invited numerous times to see sunny Florida, this was their first opportunity to visit as private citizens but it came with obligation: the request to deliver a speech. Coolidge spoke on “The Economics of Life Insurance” at Vinoy Park […]