In honor of Presidents Day, I resume my series on Hoover’s interactions with American Presidents. In our last episode, I left Hoover at Warren Harding’s death bed in August 1923. After Harding died, Vice President Calvin Coolidge rose to the office of President. Coolidge, described as a ‘Puritan in Babylon’ by one writer, could not have been more different than the affable Harding. Whereas Harding granted Hoover much latitude as Secretary of Commerce. Coolidge was suspicious of Hoover’s ambition, sardonically labeling him ‘Wonder Boy.’
Despite these reservations, Coolidge kept Hoover on as Commerce Secretary. Hoover’s competence enabled Coolidge to look past their fundamentally differing views on the proper role and scope of federal government. Hoover saw government having an active, positive role; Coolidge felt that government existed solely to prevent harm. Hoover continued to demonstrate his worth, serving as Coolidge’s main policy adviser for the prominent coal, automotive and rail industries, as well as the newly emergent industries in radio and aviation.
When the lower Mississippi River flooded in the spring of 1927, Coolidge sent ‘Wonder Boy’ Hoover to oversee relief efforts. This had the double benefit of getting Hoover out of Washington DC, and bringing his considerable talents to bear in addressing the problems created by the largest natural disaster in America to date. Hoover’s flood relief work with the American Red Cross, Army Corps of Engineers, and state and local officials earned him the sobriquet ‘Master of Emergencies.’
Herbert Hoover was at the Bohemian Grove encampment in August 1927 when Calvin Coolidge, in his typically terse manner, announced: “I do not choose to run for President in 1928.” At Bo Grove, Hoover was surrounded by power-brokers and poohbahs. As Hoover notes in his memoirs: “Within an hour a hundred men—publishers, editors and public officials from all over the country who were at the Grove—came to my camp demanding that I announce my candidacy.” Not wishing to upstage Coolidge, Hoover held off making an announcement until 1928.
In July 1928, Hoover resigned as Commerce Secretary and began his run for President. He sought out Coolidge at his fishing camp on the Brule River in order to secure an endorsement. The philosophical differences between Hoover and Coolidge led to a rather tepid statement from Coolidge. It mattered little as Hoover won the November 1928 election in a landslide. The transition and inauguration went smoothly. Coolidge quietly returned to private life in Vermont.
Coolidge died January 5th 1933. His funeral service mirrored his life—quiet, understated and short. Herbert and Lou Hoover attended the 22-minute service. Hoover issued this special message to Congress: ‘It is my painful duty to inform you of the death today of Calvin Coolidge, former President of the United States… His entire lifetime has been one of single devotion to our country and his has been a high contribution to the welfare of mankind.’