Happy Birthday, Mr. President

STORY BY James Sullivan

Published: July 4, 2013

Five things you probably didn't know about Calvin Coolidge, the thirtieth President of the United States and to date, the only one born on the Fourth of July.

Born in Vermont and named for French theologian John Calvin, he was the second U.S. president to come from the green mountain state. The other was Chester A. Arthur. Both men were Republican vice presidents who succeeded the presidency following the death of their predecessor. Coolidge took his oath of office from his farmhouse in August 1923, following the death of President Harding. Coolidge's own father who was a local notary public, administered the oath of office – the only president to have this distinction.

We'll probably never know if there was ever a bet to make him say more than two words (some say the bet was suggested by none other than Dorothy Parker, to whom he replied with the one-liner, “You lose.”) What is true is that Silent Cal was a man of few words off the podium. At heart a folksy New England lawyer and farmer, he hardly looked comfortable at dinner parties amongst Washington's socialites. When asked by the press why he consistently attended them during his tenure as vice president, his reply was “Got to eat somewhere.”Following in the footsteps of his predecessor who was a former reporter, Coolidge held a record 520 press conferences during his six-year presidency. The current record holder for most press conferences is Franklin D. Roosevelt who held 998 over a tenure twice as long as Coolidge's.

You might remember a satirical piece from The Daily Show's America The Book where President Coolidge appointed a Klansman named Floyd Burnington to the Supreme Court. In reality, his only appointment as president was Harlan Fiske Stone, and no known Klansmen were appointed to office during his administration, a time at which they lost a great deal of political power. By many accounts, Coolidge was a champion for civil rights. He signed legislation granting all Native Americans citizenship in 1924, while allowing them to retain their tribal customs. He called for federal bans of anti-lynching laws and in his first year as president, he called on Congress to financially support the education of 500 African-American medical students at Howard University, an effort to build an American middle class that would include minorities.

He pioneered what has become a talking point synonymous with the GOP, but he meant what he said. The Revenue Act of 1924 (the last election year when the GOP took New York City), reduced the taxes of over two million Americans. By 1927, only the richest 2% of the country paid any income tax. Federal spending reached a considerable low throughout his term and by the end of his presidency, one-quarter of the national debt was retired. Although his reputation is sometimes attacked as the embodiment of laissez-faire economics and capitalist greed, Coolidge supported hours and wage legislation, child labor laws, and workplace environment safety during his term as governor of Massachusetts, believing that these regulations were the responsibility of state governments rather than on the federal level.

Sure, President Obama has a species of fish named after him and we all know what Romnesia is, but President Coolidge has what you may or may not call the 'honor' of a biological phenomenon named for him: the Coolidge Effect, coined in 1955 by ethologist Frank Beach. When species of mammals refuse sex from available partners, but their sexual desire is renewed by the presence of a new potential partner (and this has been observed in males and females), this is known as the Coolidge Effect. According to Beach, the name is based on an old joke that goes like this: The President and Mrs. Coolidge were visiting an experimental government farm. When the First Lady approached the chicken yard she noticed a rooster mating very frequently. She asked the attendant how often and was told, "Dozens of times each day." Mrs. Coolidge said, "Tell that to the President when he comes by." Upon being told, the President asked, "Same hen every time?" The reply was, "Oh, no, Mr. President, a different hen every time." The President replied: "Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge."

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