The Harding-Coolidge ticket won the 1920 election in a landslide and the men took office in March 1921. Coolidge quickly grew frustrated with his largely ceremonial duties as vice president, but just two years later, Harding’s sudden death on August 2, 1923, unexpectedly vaulted him to the Oval Office.
Coolidge’s no-nonsense approach and somber nature stood in stark contrast to his predecessor’s genial personality and casual leadership style. The differences served Coolidge well as he worked to clean up the corruption that had plagued the Harding administration. He appointed a special counsel to investigate the Teapot Dome oil-lease scandal (in which the U.S. Secretary of the Interior was accused–and later convicted–of accepting bribes to lease federal oil reserves without competitive bidding), and he dismissed Harding’s tarnished U.S. attorney general, Harry M. Daugherty (1860-1941). Coolidge’s reputation for honesty and integrity helped him restore public faith in the government.
Coolidge ran for president in 1924 and won decisively over the Democratic candidate, U.S. Representative John W. Davis (1873-1955) of West Virginia, and the Progressive Party candidate, U.S. Senator Robert M. La Follette (1855-1925) of Wisconsin. Coolidge’s policies in office continued to be guided by his strong belief in private enterprise and small government. He cut taxes, limited government spending and stacked regulatory commissions with people sympathetic to business. Coolidge once said, “The chief business of the American people is business.” He also rejected U.S. membership in the League of Nations and set high tariffs on imported goods to protect American industry.
Coolidge remained popular throughout his presidency. The Roaring Twenties were a time of fast-paced social, cultural and technological changes, and many Americans lived boisterously and spent extravagantly. Some young women adopted the “flapper” lifestyle, and drank alcohol, smoked, danced and wore shorter skirts, makeup and bobbed hair. Women also voted, having won that right with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. Jazz music and Art Deco architecture flourished. Charles Lindbergh (1902-74) made his pioneering solo airplane flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. More people owned automobiles and purchased mass-produced goods such as canned foods. During this era of societal transformation, Coolidge served as a sort of father figure. The quiet, respectable and frugal president provided a comforting symbol of old-fashioned responsibility and virtue.