Aide To Four Presidents


The Coolidges had not enjoyed many minutes of quiet before the Washington operator reported that he had no further business and asked permission to sign off for the night. Reluctant as I was to disturb the tranquillity of the peaceful moment, I thought the President might be waiting for the all clear from Washington and I therefore passed through the police cordon, walked to the porch rail, made my report of all quiet and asked if he had any more business. “Come up and sit,” said the President. “Oh, no thank you, Mr. President,” I said, “I don’t want to intrude, but thought you might like to know there is no more business from Washington tonight.” “Come up and sit,” he repeated a little more emphatically.

Notwithstanding the command quality of his invitation, Calvin Coolidge, by some intangible quality of voice, expression, and gesture, made me feel that he did not resent my interruption, but, on the contrary, realizing perhaps my predicament, was glad of an opportunity to show me special kindness in a way that would be noted by others. We sat in silence for some time, but it was not an uncomfortable silence. The mere fact that Mrs. Coolidge did not feel it necessary to talk was reassuring. No one understood her husband’s moods as well as she, and she always came promptly to the rescue when the situation required. After a while Mr. Coolidge made an occasional comment—about the weather, the beauty of the view, and how fond he was of it. “Are you comfortable at Farmer Brown’s?” he asked, and I said yes. Later, as the light faded, he spoke again. “Perhaps you’d like to see the house. Most visitors do.” He led me through the lower floor pointing out where his father used to sit, where he used to study his lessons as a boy, where his father stood when he swore him in as President of the United States. After a few halting comments, I thanked him and said I’d better go. Was there anything I could do? We were passing through the kitchen toward the porch. Mr. Coolidge opened the icebox door, inspected its well-filled contents and said, “Well, Momma, anything you want Captain Brown to get from the store before they close?” But Mrs. Coolidge, it turned out, was all stocked.

We remained at Plymouth for several days during which Calvin Coolidge went tranquilly about the business of inspecting his heritage—house, barns, outbuildings, equipment and land. He allowed but few interruptions—now and then an occasional visitor too important to be refused the door and, as a sop to the press, posing for a few pictures. He put on dungarees and a large farmer’s straw hat for these and was shown doing farm chores in a rather unconvincing manner. At this time there was little in Calvin Coolidge’s physical appearance to indicate a farm background. He seemed too frail ever to have managed the tasks of farm labor or even ever to have taken part in school or college athletics. An oval-shaped head and clear-cut profile suggested Anglo-Saxon ancestry. A thin neck, sloping shoulders, rather shambling gait, suggested a boy who had never found time to play rather than one accustomed to outdoor life. He may have chopped wood, fed the chickens and milked the cow as a young boy; but I could not see him handling the plow or the hoe. Yet there was no pretense in Calvin Coolidge’s make-up. He wished the American people to see him and his neighbors as they were. He was proud of a strain of Indian blood, of the hardihood of his ancestors in surviving the rigors of northern winter, of the God-fearing principles of their lives.

While the Coolidges were intent upon their own affairs, the Staff and members of the press loafed in the shade of a fine old tree just outside the country store—pitching pennies, spinning yarns, discussing everything under the sun. For all of us there were many dull hours. One afternoon I took off down the lane away from the crowd, within sight of the house and store where I could be called if needed, to become completely absorbed in reading one of the four long volumes of Beveridge’s life of John Marshall. I was aroused from my concentration by a familiar voice at my elbow saying in clipped tones, “Well, Captain, studying navigation?” As I started to climb down from the rail fence where I was perched, he headed me off with, “Don’t disturb yourself. I’m just looking around and wondered what you were so interested in.” When I told him, his comment was, “A fine book. Every American ought to read it. You couldn’t spend your time to better advantage. Go ahead with your reading,”—and walked off. Years later when I praised the Beveridge work to Franklin Roosevelt, he disagreed completely, denouncing the books as “fusty volumes that thought only of property rights and worried little about human rights and public welfare.” This opposite judgment of the merits of Beveridge’s work is an excellent example of the basic differences in the political philosophy of Calvin Coolidge and that of Franklin Roosevelt.


Al Smith comes to lunch with the Coolidges

When their affairs had been put in order at Plymouth, President and Mrs. Coolidge and the retinue returned to the Adirondacks and took over the main building in the Rockefeller Camp. The camp was five or six miles from the nearest railroad station, and approached by only one road, easily guarded by a squad of Marines and Secret Service. The camp itself, a fish and game preserve, comprised hundreds of acres of woodland and lake country and possessed, in addition to the main camp building, a half dozen or more guest cottages; so that, had Mr. Coolidge wanted to have friends about him, he could have entertained them with little or no trouble.