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At the 1920 Republican Convention, most of the delegates were selected by state party conventions, not primaries. As such, the field was divided among many local favorites. Coolidge was one such candidate, and while he placed as high as sixth in the voting, the powerful party bosses never considered him a serious candidate. After ten ballots, the delegates settled on Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio as their nominee for President. When the time came to select a Vice Presidential nominee, the party bosses had also made a decision on who they would nominate: Senator Irvine Lenroot of Wisconsin. A delegate from Oregon, having read Have Faith in Massachusetts, proposed Coolidge for Vice President instead. The suggestion caught on quickly, and Coolidge found himself unexpectedly nominated.
The Democrats nominated another Ohioan, James M. Cox, for President and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, for Vice President. The question of the United States joining the League of Nations was a major issue in the campaign, as was the unfinished legacy of Progressivism. Harding ran a 39;39;front porch39;39; campaign from his home in Marion, Ohio, but Coolidge took to the campaign trail in the Upper South, New York, and New England. On November 2, 1920, Harding and Coolidge were victorious in a landslide, winning every state outside the South. They also won in Tennessee, the first time a Republican ticket had won a Southern state since Reconstruction.
The Vice Presidency did not carry many official duties, but President Harding invited Coolidge to attend cabinet meetings, the first Vice President to do so. He gave speeches around the country, but none were especially noteworthy. As Vice President, Coolidge and his vivacious wife Grace were invited to quite a few parties, where the legend of 39;39;Silent Cal39;39; was born. It was from this time most of the jokes and anecdotes at his expense originate. Although Coolidge was known to be a skilled and effective public speaker, in private he was a man of few words and was therefore commonly referred to as 39;39;Silent Cal.39;39; A possibly apocryphal story has it that Dorothy Parker, seated next to him at a dinner, said to him, 39;39;Mr. Coolidge, I39;ve made a bet against a fellow who said it was impossible to get more than two words out of you.39;39; His famous reply: 39;39;You lose.39;39; It was also Parker who, upon learning that Coolidge had died reportedly remarked, 39;39;How can they tell?39;39; Coolidge often seemed uncomfortable among fashionable Washington society; when asked why he continued to attend so many of their dinner parties, he replied 39;39;Got to eat somewhere.39;39;
As President, Coolidge39;s reputation as a quiet man continued. 39;39;The words of a President have an enormous weight,39;39; he would later write, 39;39;and ought not to be used indiscriminately.39;39; Coolidge was not unaware of his stiff reputation; indeed, he cultivated it. 39;39;I think the American people want a solemn ass as a President,39;39; he once told Ethel Barrymore, 39;39;and I think I39;ll go along with them.39;39;
Succession to the Presidency
On August 2, 1923, President Harding died while on a speaking tour in California. Vice President Coolidge was in Vermont at the time, visiting at the family home (still without electricity or telephone) when he got word of Harding39;s death. Coolidge dressed, said a prayer, and came downstairs to greet the reporters who had assembled. His father, a notary public, administered the oath of office in the family39;s parlor by the light of a kerosene lamp at 2:47 a.m. on August 3, 1923; Coolidge was re-sworn by Justice A. A. Hoehling of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia upon his return to Washington.
Finishing Harding39;s Term
The nation did not know what to make of its new President; indeed, many had expected Coolidge to be replaced on the ballot in 1924. Coolidge had not stood out in the Harding administration, as much of the focus was on the scandals that had begun to emerge by 1923, most notoriously the Teapot Dome scandal. He chose C. Bascom Slemp, a Virginia Congressman and experienced federal politician, as his secretary (a position equivalent to the modern White House Chief of Staff). Although many of Harding39;s cabinet appointees were scandal tarred, Coolidge announced that he would not demand any of their resignations, believing that since the people had elected Harding, he should carry on Harding39;s presidency, at least until the next election.
He addressed Congress when they reconvened on December 6, 1923, giving a speech that echoed many of Harding39;s themes, including immigration restriction and the need for the government to arbitrate the coal strikes then ongoing in Pennsylvania. The Washington Naval Treaty was proclaimed just one month into Coolidge39;s term, and generally well received in the country. In May 1924, the World War I Veterans39; Bonus Bill was passed over his veto. Coolidge signed the Immigration Act later that year, though he appended a signing statement expressing his unhappiness with the bill39;s specific exclusion of Japanese immigrants. Just before the Republican Convention began, Coolidge signed into law the Revenue Act of 1924, which decreased personal income tax rates while increasing the estate tax, and creating a gift tax to reinforce the transfer tax system.