Notes on The Hometown Coolidge Club and the Campaign of 1924
by Cyndy Bittinger, former Executive Director, CCMF
Vermont Public Radio is airing a series on Vermont presidents. Since Governor Howard Dean has put his toe in the water as being interested in a presidential run, John Van Heusen of Vermont Public Radio has interviewed a few people to assemble a radio show on the other Vermont president: Calvin Coolidge.
Basically, Van Heusen wanted to know about Calvin Coolidge and his campaign of 1924 when he ran to become president in his own right. Remember Vice President Calvin Coolidge became President Calvin Coolidge on August 3, 1923 when President Warren Harding died on a trip to the West Coast. Vice President Calvin Coolidge was visiting his father, Col. John Coolidge, in Plymouth, Vermont when the telegram arrived and Calvin needed to be sworn in as president. Col. John Coolidge, a notary public, swore his son into the presidency, a first in history. Thus the Vermont roots of this president were exposed very early on.
Actually, Calvin Coolidge had his political career in Massachusetts. He had risen up the ranks of state politics and become governor of Massachusetts in 1919. Why then did Coolidge become famous as a Vermont native son instead of a Massachusetts transplant? One reason was the homestead inaugural. The newspapers of the day played up the rustic simplicity of the Vermont farmhouse with kerosene lamps and no telephones. Also, this was re-assuring to the American public. Farm life was much safer and more understandable than the cities and urban politics.
Col. John Coolidge was an endearing figure to his son and the public. He gave tours of the village and spoke simply of the Vermont upbringing of his son. He was not from Massachusetts and really was authentic Vermont as well.
Why was it better to focus on Vermont than to focus on Massachusetts? Remember the cities and urban areas represented immigration, factories, pollution, and upheaval (red scares). So Vermont was a safe haven for many. In addition, as the Harding scandals broke in Washington, D.C., Vermont was a good place to identify with—clean politics and honesty.
As Coolidge faced running in his own right in 1924, he decided on a low key campaign. In April of 1924, The New York Times ran an article on how the hometown of Plymouth was boosting Calvin Coolidge’s campaign with a ”Hometown Coolidge Club”. CCMF archives have many samples of the certificates given out by the club signed by Edward J. Blanchard, President, and Dick P. Brown, Secretary. About 50 residents of Plymouth met in the Spring of 1924 to form The Home Town Coolidge Club. In their literature they note that his (Massachusetts) career ”had its origin in the homely virtues implanted by the simple life of the Vermont home which constitutes the background of his career.”
The following article on the Home Town Coolidge Club is from the NEW YORK TIMES, April 15, 1924.
J. L. Wallace, 12-13-2001
HOME TOWN BOOSTS COOLIDGE AS FARMER
Old Friends in Plymouth Start
National Move to Elect Ver-
mont’s Son President.
PLYMOUTH, Vt. April 14. — To further the Presidential campaign of Calvin Coolidge as ”the Vermont farmer boy,” the Home Town Coolidge Club of Plymouth was formed here tonight by the President’s boyhood friends with the cooperation of National and State party officers.
The President of the organization is Clarence E. Keith of Plymouth, who went to school with the President. The officers are all Plymouth men, but the Executive Committee includes Governor Redfield proctor of Vermont and National Republican Committeeman Earle S. Kingsley.
The meeting was held in the little hall in this village above the room in which Calvin Coolidge was born. Chairman John Piddock of the State Republican Committee presided. The club decided to canvass the entire country for members.
The nucleus of its mailing list will be the many thousands of names on the register kept at the home of President Coolidge’s father here since he administered the oath of office to his son in the little farmhouse last August.
A Coolidge club was formed here some time ago, limited to Plymouth residents. Recently National and State party leaders requested that wider scope be given the Vermont Farmer Boy movement and tonight’s meeting resulted.
Contributions to the club will be limited, it was decided, to small amounts and each member will receive a certificate with a panorama of Plymouth on it.
The club formed a quartette and presented the first certificates of membership in the club to Mr. and Mrs. Coolidge on May 3, 1924. The group wrote an official campaign song called ”Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge.“ The song starts with a description of the homestead inaugural of 1923. The song notes Coolidge’s ”private life of virtue and a public record clean” which is very different from the deceased Harding’s personal scandals with young women and cabinet with ”horse thieves” (as Will Rogers would say). The song also says that Coolidge is ”a man of action and not talk” which helps explain the ”Silent Cal” image. Coolidge is silent because he is getting ready to act.
Is a Vermont governor a good candidate for president? I would say yes, but Coolidge was really a Massachusetts politician operating with ”Vermont values.” What were those? Live within your means. Persistence. Loyalty to family. I have only named a few.
Could Coolidge run today? I say not without campaign finance reform. He did not want to become beholden to others. He would not go into debt. Thus today’s world would be very foreign to him.
©2001 Cyndy Bittinger