spacer Calvin Coolidge Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933)
Thirtieth President (1923-1929)

When Calvin Coolidge became Warren Harding's Vice President in 1921, Washington did not know what to make of this reserved onetime governor of Massachusetts. Of "Silent Cal's" honesty, however, there was no doubt, and his succession to the presidency on Harding's death in 1923 was a comforting antidote to the unfolding scandals of his predecessor's administration.

Declaring once that "the chief business of the American people is business," Coolidge was content to entrust the country's well-being to private initiative. His hands-off policy suited the public mood well. Many claimed, moreover, that it was largely responsible for the country's soaring prosperity. Unfortunately, the boom did not last. Shortly after Coolidge left office, the nation plunged into the worst depression in its history. When the original version of this portrait was unveiled in 1929, a critic wrote that Coolidge looked as if he was about to "bite the person . . . who, obviously, had been annoying him." The aim of artist Ercole Cartotto, however, had been to portray his presidential subject as a "man absorbed by duty and steeled by responsibility."

Joseph E. Burgess (1891-1961), after Ercole Cartotto
Oil on canvas, 1956
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Gift of the Fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta

Enlarged image

Copyright 2000 Smithsonian Institution