"The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge"
Thirtieth President 1923-1929

Calvin Coolidge has always been one of my favourite U.S. Presidents. I know that some may view this as a form of insanity. I have always seen him as a practical man with good sense of humour* - a real New Englander. I read his autobiography in February 2002 and was impressed with his writing style. His use of simple language appealed to me as did his direct approach to topics.

*His wife, Grace Goodhue Coolidge, recounted that a young woman sitting next to Coolidge at a dinner party confided to him she had bet she could get at least three words of conversation from him. Without looking at her he quietly retorted, "You lose."


On the Citizens of Plymouth Notch, Vermont:

"When the work was done for the day, it was customary to drop into the store to get the evening mail and exchange views on topics of interest."
"A number of those who came had followed Sheridan, been with Meade at Gettysburg, and served under Grant, but they seldom volunteered any information about it. They were not talkative and took their military service in a matter of fact way, not as anything to brag about but merely as something they did because it ought to be done.
"They drew no class distinctions except towards those who assumed superior airs. Those they held in contempt. They held strongly to the doctrine of equality. Whenever the hired man or the hired girl wanted to go anywhere they were always understood to be entitled to my place in the wagon, in which case I remained at home."

On Being Raised in the Country:

"It was all a fine atmosphere in which to raise a boy. As I look back on it I constantly think how clean it was. There was little about it that was artificial. It was all close to nature and in accordance with the ways of nature. The streams ran clear. The roads, the woods, the fields, the people -- all were clean. Even when I try to divest it of the halo which I know always surrounds the past, I am unable to create any other impression than that it was fresh and clean."

"We have much speculation over whether the city or the country is the better place to bring up boys."
"It would be hard to imagine better surroundings for the development of a boy than those which I had. While a wider breadth of training and knowledge could have been presented to me, there was a daily contact with many new ideas, and the mind was given sufficient opportunity thoroughly to digest all that came to it."
"Country life does not always have breadth, but it has depth. It is neither artificial nor superficial, but is kept close to the realities."
"While I can think of many pleasures we did not have, and many niceties of culture with which we were unfamiliar, yet if I had the power to order my life anew I would not dare to change that period of it. If it did not afford me the best that there was, it abundantly provided the best that there was for me."

On his Education:

"My education began with a set of blocks which had on them the Roman numerals and the letters of the alphabet. It is not finished yet."

Coolidge as Prankster:

"Of course our school life was not free from pranks. The property of the townspeople was moved to strange places in the night."
"About as far as I deem it prudent to discuss my own connection with these escapades is to record that I was never convicted of any of them and so must be presumed innocent."

His Optimism:

"It seems as though good influences had always been coming into my life. Perhaps I have been more fortunate in that respect than others. But while I am not disposed to minimize the amount of evil in the world I am convinced that the good predominates and that it is constantly all about us, ready for our service if only we will accept it."

On Being Forced to Attend Church at Amherst College:

"The places of general assembly were for religious worship, which consisted of the chapel exercises at the first morning period each week day, and church service in the morning, with vespers in the late afternoon, on Sundays. Regular attendance at all of these was required. Of course we did not like to go and talked learnedly about the right of freedom of worship, and the bad mental and moral reactions from which we were likely to suffer as a result of being forced to hear scriptural readings, psalm singings, prayers and sermons. We were told that our choice of a college was optional, but that Amherst had been founded by pious men with the chief object of training students to overcome the unbelief which was then thought to be prevalent, that religious instruction was a part of the prescribed course, and that those who chose to remain would have to take it. If attendance on these religious services ever harmed any of the men of my time I have never been informed of it. The good it did I believe was infinite. Not the least of it was the discipline that resulted from having constantly to give some thought to things that young men would often prefer not to consider. If we did not the the privilege of doing what we wanted to do, we had the much greater benefit of doing what we ought to do. It broke down our selfishness, it conquered our resistance, it supplanted impulse, and finally it enthroned reason."

On a Special Professor, George D. Olds:

"He had a peculiar power to make figures interesting and knew how to hold the attention and affection of his students. It was under him that we learned of the universal application of the laws of mathematics. We saw the discoveries of Kepler, Descartes, Newton and their associate bringing the entire universe under one law, so that the most distant points of light revealed by the largest reflector marches in harmony with our own planet. We discovered, too, that the same force that rounds a tear-drop holds all the myriad worlds of the universe in a balanced position. We found that we dwelt in the midst of a Unity which was all subject to the same rules of action. My education was making some headway."

Education Involves Work:

"In the development of every boy who is going to amount to anything there comes a time when he emerges from his immature ways and by the greater precision of his thought and action realizes that he has begun to find himself. Such a transition finally came to me. If I had permitted my failures, or what seemed to me at the time a lack of success, to discourage me I cannot see any way in which I would ever have made progress. If we keep our faith in ourselves, and what is even more important, keep our faith in regular and persistent application to hard work, we need not worry about the outcome."

The Law:

"It is one thing to know how to get admitted to the Bar but quite another thing to know how to practice law."

 


Return to Literature Selections

Return to My Home Page