JOHN DERBYSHIRE: It’s 100 Years Since Calvin Coolidge, Who Signed The 1924 Immigration Cutoff Into Law, Was Sworn In As President!
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[Adapted from the latest Radio Derb, now available exclusively on]

Next week is a very special week for American patriots who believe in personal liberty, minimalist government, minding our own national business, and strict limits on immigration.

At 2:47 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on August 3rd, 2023—early next Thursday morning—it will be precisely one hundred years since Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as President of the United States.

For insights into Coolidge’s popularity amongst us of the aforementioned conservative outlook I shall hand you off to H.L. Mencken’s obituary of the man.

Counting out Harding as a cipher only, Dr. Coolidge was preceded by one World Saver and followed by two more. What enlightened American, having to choose between any of them and another Coolidge, would hesitate for an instant? There were no thrills while he reigned, but neither were there any headaches. He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance. [American Mercury,April 1933]

Commenting on that, a different writer added:

Mencken was mostly right about Mr. Coolidge: There were no thrills while he reigned because he attended diligently and persistently to the sometimes quiet but always necessary and indispensable tasks of the presidential office.

Don Pesci: Coolidge: ’Never go out to meet trouble,’ Providence Journal, March 31, 2013

We here at are especially grateful to the thirtieth President for his having signed the 1924 Immigration Act. Here’s a quote about that:

The 1924 Immigration Act did indeed profoundly affect the demographic and political character of the nation, by creating—with some later assistance from Presidents F. D. Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower—a forty-year immigration moratorium in which was forged the strongest, happiest, most prosperous, and most culturally vibrant nation the world has ever seen.

The President who signed that Act did much else that was good. But historians of a century or two from now, if there are any, will place that signing, not fiscal fiddling and budgetary bafflegab, at the top when they list Calvin Coolidge’s accomplishments.

The person being quoted there is … me, in a review I posted here at ten years ago of Amity Shlaes’ biography of Coolidge.

Ms. Shlaes, as I noted in my review, had very little to say—just over one page in 461 pages of narrative—about the 1924 Act.

So far as I can judge from such slight engagement, she is compliant with the 21st-century progressive view of immigration: that it is an unqualified good, and that those who seek to restrict it are driven by prejudice, hate, spite, greed, and an excess of bile.

But as I pointed out in my review, immigration restriction was hardly even controversial in 1924. The House of Representatives voted for the Bill to become an Act by 306-58, the Senate by 69-9.

Coolidge, as I also pointed out, was in any case not instrumental in writing or promoting the Bill; he’d only been President a few weeks when Congress started debating it.

Still, he signed the Bill with only some murmured reservations about the Japanese Exclusion clause. He didn’t think the clause hateful, or supremacist, or morally objectionable in any way; he just thought it unnecessary.

So thanks to Calvin Coolidge for those forty-one years of limited, controlled immigration, which brought our country so much good.

The story of Coolidge’s swearing-in is one of the most romantic in American political history. Here’s the background in very brief.

Coolidge, at that moment 51 years old—his birthday was July 4th—was Vice President of the U.S.A. under President Warren Harding.

This was the 1920s, remember. The office of Vice President was even less demanding of the occupant’s time and effort than it is today. His main function was to take visiting dignitaries out to dinner, concerning which Coolidge himself commented in his famously brachylogical style: ”Gotta eat somewhere.”

Seven weeks earlier, President Harding had left Washington, D.C. for a trip to the West Coast and Alaska. He was still out there when, later in June, Coolidge went to attend the Commencement ceremony at Amherst College in Massachusetts, of which he was an alumnus and also a Trustee. College politics kept him there until early July.

July 8th the Coolidges, Mr. and Mrs., set out for Calvin’s family home in the tiny hamlet of Plymouth Notch, Vermont, where Coolidge had been born.

His father, Colonel John Coolidge, then 78 years old, still lived in the homestead there. That ”Colonel,” by the way, was an honorary title, like Colonel Sanders’, although John had served as a captain in the Vermont militia at the end of the Civil War. John Coolidge was a man of some standing locally, and a notary public.

Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge planned to spend a few weeks through July and August on vacation at Plymouth Notch, staying in the homestead with Coolidge Sr. and relaxing from the stresses of Washington, D.C.

President Harding, however, had been taken ill while in Alaska. Keeping up his speaking schedule, he rode down to San Francisco—by train, of course—but his condition deteriorated. On August 2nd around 7:30 p.m. local time he died, probably from a heart attack.

That would have been 10:30 p.m. Eastern time on the evening of August 2nd. It took a while for the news to reach Vermont by telegram and telephone. Even then it didn’t get to the Coolidges; Plymouth Notch had neither phones nor a cable office. The homestead didn’t even have electricity.

However, Coolidge’s chauffeur and stenographer were staying in a hotel at Bridgewater six miles away, and there was a posse of national newspaper reporters following the Vice President around, staying at Ludlow ten miles away. Both locations had telephone connections, so they all got the news, piled into automobiles, and headed for Plymouth Notch.

The chauffeur, Joseph McInerney, with some companions got to the homestead first, a few minutes into August 3rd. They hammered on the door, waking Colonel Coolidge. He heard their news then went upstairs to tell his son, who now of course was acting President of the United States. Calvin Coolidge washed, dressed, knelt to say a prayer, then headed downstairs.

The homestead was getting busy. The reporters from Ludlow had arrived, along with some other newspapermen. So had Vermont’s Congressman, and the telephone company was rigging up a wire for communications with Washington. Coolidge dictated a statement for the press and his stenographer distributed it.

They got the telephone wire to D.C. working and Coolidge spoke to Charles Evans Hughes, the Secretary of State, who told him to take the oath of office A.S.A.P. How was it to be done, though?

I’ll just read you the relevant passage from Chapter 14 of Claude Fuess’ biography of Coolidge.

Meanwhile, Colonel Coolidge, after some searching, had found a copy of the Constitution of the United States and had read Article II, Section I, Paragraph 8, which gives the wording of the oath or affirmation, but does not specify by whom it shall be administered. Finally, however, Coolidge reached a decision. ”Father.” he asked, ”are you still a notary?” ”Yes, Cal,” was the reply. ”Then I want you to administer the oath.” Colonel Coolidge, who meanwhile had gone out to the kitchen to shave and put on a collar and tie, returned and stood erect with his back to the porch, facing his son across the marble-topped table, which had been cleared except for two oil lamps and the copy of the Bible which had belonged to Coolidge’s mother. The Vice President stood directly beneath a framed picture of himself on the wall. Between them was Mrs. Coolidge, and in the background were Dale [the congressman], Fountain [local newspaper editor], McInerney [the chauffeur] Crawford [a reporter], and L.I. Lane, a railway mailman who had accompanied Dale. Then Colonel Coolidge, adjusting his spectacles and clearing his throat, read the prescribed oath, ”I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Calvin Coolidge repeated the words in a firm voice, with his right hand raised, added, ”So help me God!” and then, by the glow of the lamps, signed the oath in triplicate. The time was precisely 2:47 a.m. As he laid his pen aside, and his father affixed the seal, he raised his head and glanced at Mrs. Coolidge, who still stood near by. Speaking no word, he nodded, and the two left the room. He was President of the United States. [Calvin Coolidge—The Man from Vermont, 1940]

Colonel Coolidge sat up all night after that; but President Calvin Coolidge went back to bed and, by his own testimony, resumed his night’s asleep.

As I said: one of the most romantic stories in American political history. Coolidge was inaugurated as President by his father, a notary public, in his father’s dining-room, by the light of two oil lamps, as his wife and sundry citizens looked on. Pure Americana.

Artist Arthur Keller painted it, after a visit to Plymouth Notch, and meeting the principals:

According to Fuess, above, Coolidge said that “although the likenesses were not good, everything in relation to the painting was correct.”

Well, the Coolidge Foundation is holding Centennial Celebrations next week in, of course, Plymouth Notch, Vermont. There’s a Gala Reception and Dinner in a tent on the Homestead grounds August 2nd, a reenactment of the inauguration at, yes, 2:47 a.m. on August 3rd with a reprise at 2:47 p.m., and various other events through the week.

It looks like fun and the Derbs will be there. I shall give a report in next week’s podcast.

In the meantime, if you want to read what I’ve said about Calvin Coolidge in the past, I refer you to:

  1. The aforementioned February 2013 review here at of Amity Shlaes’ biography of Coolidge: John Derbyshire On Amity Shlaes On Calvin Coolidge: Why So Little Mention Of The 1924 Immigration Act?
  2. Go to my own for a transcript of a talk I gave in 1998 to a conference at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts. Title of the talk: ”A Novelist Takes on Calvin Coolidge.”
  3. Read the novel that got me invited to that conference: by John Derbyshire.

And here’s Dorothy Provine, every English schoolboy’s dream of what an American woman should be, from the early-1960s TV show The Roaring Twenties. She sang the songs of the Twenties with full vigor, and much better sound reproduction than you get when pulling up the originals. One of her performances, I remembered, mentioned Calvin Coolidge by name, and actually quoted him, along with Napoleon, George Washington, and Patrick Henry. All right, it’s a deeply silly song; and all right, it came out in 1927, not 1923. With Coolidge in it, though, how could I pass it up? The Coolidge quote is at one minute, two seconds into this clip.


John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him.) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.

For years he’s been podcasting at Radio Derb, now available at for no charge. His writings are archived at

Readers who wish to donate (tax deductible) funds specifically earmarked for John Derbyshire’s writings at can do so here.

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