Former Gov. Jim Douglas will play Coolidge’s father, who administered the oath
By Michael Bielawski
The 30th President of the United States of America was sworn into office at 2:47 a.m., on August 3 of 1923, an odd affair in history that was illuminated only by a single gas lamp and resulted in the newly sworn-in president simply going back to bed.
In a reenactment of this event, former GOP Governor Jim Douglas will play the role of Coolidge’s father, who was a notary public and who administered the Oath of Office originally for his son. This will actually take place at 2:47 a.m. on this Thursday morning, August 3, 2023, exactly 100 years to the minute of the original event. The scene will be re-enacted in the same room where the original transpired, at the Calvin Coolidge Homestead in Plymouth Notch.
A message to Vermont Daily Chronicle from Douglas provides more details on what to expect.
“I’ll play his Dad, Col. Coolidge, who administered the oath (after all, I’m now 12 yrs older than the President was when he died!)…his great-grandson, Chris Jeter, will portray his famous ancestor & his great-granddaughter, Jenny Harville, will take the role of Grace Coolidge…we’re still recruiting for the other parts!”
For those unable to attend in the early morning hours, the event will be reprised at 2:47 p.m Thursday and 2:47 pm Saturday. Throughout that day there will be special events including tours, the Coolidate Foundation Annual Meeting, a gala, and readings at the Union Christian Church later in the evening.
Not today’s Vermont politician
Coolidge’s politics and philosophies differ greatly from current Montpelier trends. His economic policies were that of staunch conservatism and he believed that society was strongest when the government stayed out of the way.
He may be the only president in history to leave office with a smaller federal government than existed when he came in, and a lower national debt.
One researcher who did a biographical video on Coolidge, Simon Whistler summed up Coolidge’s political philosophies.
“Conservative to his core, Coolidge believed that businesses should be left to themselves, that the states should take care of their own affairs, and that Washington should aim for blissful inaction,” Whistler said.
Coolidge’s tax policy was detailed during an interview with Amity Shlaes who wrote the biography “Coolidge” released in 2014. She told the Wall Street Journal in 2013, “Taxwise that was to change the law, make it simpler, and reduce the rates.”
Shlaes is also the Chairwoman of the Coolidge Foundation which is running this anniversary event.
The Boston Police Strike of 1919
A turning point in Coolidge’s career and rise to the White House involved a police strike in Boston in 1919. About 80% of the city’s police went on strike regarding their unmet demands to unionize, the city went into chaos with mass looting and other crimes. Then governor of Massachusetts Coolidge was widely expected to cut a quick deal, but that’s not what he did.
Rather he ordered their State Guard plus volunteers to take the city’s streets back. Afterward firing all of the striking officers he issued the following statement, “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.”
It was considered a risky political move, but many Americans agreed with his handling of the affair and this quickly made Coolidge a household name. Just a year later he was nominated by the Republican National Convention for Vice President, running with GOP presidential nominee Warren G. Harding.
An odd president
Coolidge had some peculiar behaviors, including that he was notoriously mild-mannered to the point that his nickname became ‘Silent Cal’.
He was known to take four-hour naps even while in office, leaving him with just 4-hour workdays. After completing his Oath of Office, administered by his father who was a lawmaker in Vermont at the time, Coolidge’s first action as president was to promptly go back to bed.
He also had a pet raccoon during his time in the White House.
Struck by family tragedies
Coolidge’s family had its share of untimely deaths. First, his mother passed away when Coolidge was just age 12. Three years later his older sister died at just age 18, then Coolidge was 15.
Once in office, when his son Calvin Coolidge Jr. was age 16 he had played a tennis game without socks resulting in a blister, then an infection, and finally blood poisoning which proved fatal. It is largely believed by historians that these deaths played a large role in his reclusive behaviors and his decision not to run for office again.
Parallels to today?
Just before Coolidge got the message that he would become president, the Harding White House was getting overwhelmed with reports of corruption and scandal.
Whistler also researched the Harding Presidency.
“In their three years on the job they did everything from sell off the Navy’s oil reserves to their friends to steal life-saving medicine from veterans’ hospitals, luckily for Coolidge though they never once cut their VP in on the action,” Whistler said. He also noted, “unleashing the Department of Justice of political enemies” was a common strategy.
Since it was widely perceived that the administration had little interest in including Coolidge in their affairs, Coolidge was able to assume his new role without getting caught up in the scandals.
An impression on other big names
Coolidge’s philosophies spilled over into other presidencies. For instance, Coolidge’s conservative economics apparently had a major influence on the Ronald Reagan administration.
“51 years after Coolidge had left the White House another president had come in with similar thoughts on government,” he said. “Known as Ronald Reagan, one of his first acts was to hang a portrait of Coolidge in the cabinet’s office to help inspire his own conservative program,” Whistler said.
The author is a reporter for Vermont Daily Chronicle.