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Calvin Coolidge is sworn in as President, 1923
Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge filled the Vice Presidential slot in Republican Warren G. Harding's 1920 run for the White House. Coolidge shared in Harding's landslide victory and settled comfortably into the undemanding routine of his office.

The Vice President's life changed dramatically on the night of August 2, 1923 as he vacationed at the family farmhouse in Vermont. Coolidge went to bed early that evening and slept as the events that would propel him into the presidency unfolded.

A continent away and unbeknownst to Coolidge, President Warren Harding lay mortally ill in his San Francisco hotel room. The President died in the early evening but it took four hours for the news to reach the East Coast. A telegram announcing Harding's death was delivered to the farmhouse around 2:30 AM and Coolidge's father trudged up the stairs to awake his son.

A notary public, the elder Coolidge administered the oath of office to his son by the light of a kerosene lamp in the parlor.

"I was awakened by my father coming up the stairs"

Coolidge recalls that night:

"On the night of August 2, 1923, I was awakened by my father coming up the stairs, calling my name. I noticed that his voice trembled. As the only times I had ever observed that before were when death had visited our family, I knew that something of the gravest nature had occurred.

He placed in my hands an official report and told me that President Harding had just passed away. My wife and I at once dressed.

Before leaving the room I knelt down and, with the same prayer with which I have since approached the altar of the church, asked God to bless the American people and give me power to serve them.

My first thought was to express my sympathy for those who had been bereaved and after that was done to attempt to reassure the country with the knowledge that I proposed no sweeping displacement of the men then in office and that there were to be no violent changes in the administration of affairs. As soon as I had dispatched a telegram to Mrs. Harding, I therefore issued a short public statement declaratory of that purpose.

Meantime I had been examining the Constitution to determine what might be necessary for qualifying by taking the oath of office. It is not clear that any additional oath is required beyond what is taken by the vice president when he is sworn into office. It is the same form as that taken by the president.

Having found this form in the Constitution, I had it set up on the typewriter, and the oath was administered by my father in his capacity as a notary public, an office he had held for a great many years.

The oath was taken in what we always called the sitting room, by the light of the kerosene lamp, which was the most modern form of lighting that had then reached the neighborhood. The Bible which had belonged to my mother lay on the table at my hand. It was not officially used, as it is not the practice in Vermont or Massachusetts to use a Bible in connection with the administration of an oath.

Besides my father and myself, there were present my wife, Senator Dale, who happened to be stopping a few miles away, my stenographer, and my chauffeur."

   Coolidge, Calvin, The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge (1929); Sann, Paul, The Lawless Decade (1957).

How To Cite This Article:
"Calvin Coolidge is Sworn in as President, 1923," EyeWitness to History, (2003).