President Coolidge's Burden - Coolidge's failed presidency in context
A recent biography places Coolidge's failed presidency in the context of the deep depression he fell into after the death of his son. As Robert E. Gilbert shows in his recent psychiatric biography, "The Tormented President: Calvin Coolidge, Death, and Clinical Depression," Coolidge ceased to function as President after the death of his sixteen-year-old son, Calvin Jr.
When, as Vice President, Coolidge assumed the presidency after Warren Harding's death in the summer of 1923, "he reveled in his success." According to an associate, "the President would almost tiptoe around, touching things and half-smiling to himself." He came to see Calvin Jr.'s death as a punishment for the enjoyment he took in the perks and pomp of office, writing in his Autobiography, "I do not know why such a price was exacted for occupying the White House." A heavy sleeper before, after Calvin's death Coolidge slept even more. He went to bed at 10, rose at 9 or, if earlier, took a nap before lunch. He napped between two and four hours every afternoon. Altogether, this man who had been famous for his diligence now worked no more than four hours a day.
The Tortured President tortured his wife and surviving son, John, who reminded him of the better-loved Calvin Jr. He behaved sadistically toward the White House staff and the Secret Service. On one occasion he tried to catch a bodyguard's finger with a fishhook; on another, after being bitten by a mosquito, he asked an agent, "Why didn't you kill it?" When leaving his office for a walk, he would sometimes press the buzzer signaling White House employees that he was returning, throwing them into a panic of activity. He acted bizarrely. During a private dinner with Herbert Hoover, his Secretary of Commerce, he pointed to a nearby portrait of John Quincy Adams and asked, "Mr. Hoover, don't you think the light has been too shiny on Mr. Adams' head?