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Willie Lincoln and Calvin Coolidge, Jr - Printable Version

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Willie Lincoln and Calvin Coolidge, Jr - Juan Marrero - 07-26-2023 10:10 AM

There are a number of historians who state that there were two halves of the Calvin Coolidge presidency--before and after the tragic and sudden demise in July 1924 of his beloved son and namesake. Before, he seemed to enjoy the presidency and was an engaged chief executive. After his son's death, President Coolidge is said to have slept up to 15 hours per day and exhibited most of the symptoms of clinical depression--including bursts of anger, sometimes directed at Grace Coolidge. This lasted throughout the last 4.5 years of his roughly 5.5 year presidency.

Lincoln, of course, was traumatized by Willie's death, but he quickly returned his attention to the War and his duties as president. It is all speculation, obviously, but I wonder if Lincoln would have been like Coolidge if he was not facing an existential national crisis and whether Coolidge would have been more like Lincoln if he had not presided over, at least superficially, a "dormant" period.

In an odd way, did the Civil War save Lincoln in February 1862?

RE: Willie Lincoln and Calvin Coolidge, Jr - RJNorton - 07-26-2023 01:16 PM

Juan, do you have the book Twenty Days? If so, please see p. 137 for a very interesting discussion of the effects Willie's death had on the President.

You have proposed a very thoughtful question. I must think about it, as I don't have an immediate answer.

RE: Willie Lincoln and Calvin Coolidge, Jr - David Lockmiller - 07-27-2023 12:40 PM

(07-26-2023 10:10 AM)Juan Marrero Wrote:  In an odd way, did the Civil War save Lincoln in February 1862?

No! (See Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Vol. Two, page 819.)

Tad's grief was so intensified by his mother's that he begged her: "Don't cry so, Mama! don't cry, or you will make me cry, too! You will break my heart. . . . I cannot sleep if you cry." The lad tried to comfort her, saying: "Papa was good and he is gone to heaven. He is happy there. He is with God and brother Willie." [cited sources: Welles Diary (entry for 15 Apr. 1865) and Keckley, Behind the Scenes, 192, 196.]

To a White House caller on April 16 he asked: "Do you think my father has gone to heaven?"

"I have no doubt of it," came the reply.

"Then," said Tad, "I am glad he has gone there, for he never was happy after he came here. This was not a good place for him!" [Carpenter, Inner Life of Lincoln, 293.]

RE: Willie Lincoln and Calvin Coolidge, Jr - Rob Wick - 07-27-2023 08:42 PM

Juan, I think you're on to something. It's definitely an interesting question.

I've always held that had Lincoln died in his bed in the 1880s after serving as a country lawyer and possibly a judge in central Illinois, his view of religion would not have been as strong as it was after overseeing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men and the one death in his family, which I think served to him as a distinct reminder of the young men dying on the battlefield. Lincoln likely used work as many grieving people do, i.e., as an escape from their problems. As for "saving" Lincoln, I'm unsure how you are using the word. If you mean that if Lincoln lost Willie as a private citizen, he would have been so overcome by guilt and permanently distraught to the point of incapacity, I think his grief would have been intense, but as with Eddie, he would have overcome it to continue living. After all, the death of children was common in the 19th century, and parents often expected to lose some. For a child to live into adulthood was rare and uncommon for many. Likely, he would have worked to console Mary, especially after Tad died, but I don't doubt he personally would have overcome it.

I think a pretty strong case can be made that Lincoln would have done that regardless of being president or a respected country lawyer. Having to continue leading the nation surely gave him another outlet to channel his grief, but I'm unsure that "saving" is the right word.


RE: Willie Lincoln and Calvin Coolidge, Jr - David Lockmiller - 07-28-2023 11:00 AM

(07-26-2023 10:10 AM)Juan Marrero Wrote:  In an odd way, did the Civil War save Lincoln in February 1862?

Lincoln lost his mother when he was a boy; he lost the love of his life, Ann Rutledge, when he was a young man; he lost the child most like himself not long after he became President.

RE: Willie Lincoln and Calvin Coolidge, Jr - J. Beckert - 07-29-2023 01:34 PM

Coolidge said that when his son died, "all the power and glory of the Presidency went with him."

RE: Willie Lincoln and Calvin Coolidge, Jr - Juan Marrero - 07-29-2023 03:25 PM

Thanks you, Rob,

You are probably right. Lincoln might likely have soldiered on, president or not, Civil War or not, after Willie died.

It is particularly sad that the contaminated drinking well at the White House (as President Buchanan seemed to have warned) may have been at the root of Willie's and Tad's ailment in February 1862. We will never know, of course, whether Willie might have lived to adulthood had he and his family stayed in Springfield.

It is good that in life we are unaware of the dilemmas we are presented. Imagine Lincoln having to decide choosing between Willie's life and saving the Union.

I wonder if Calvin Coolidge should not have elected to "soldier on" after his son died. Perhaps popular sentiment at the time would not have forgiven a President (so soon after the death of his predecessor) to resign. Moreover, Cal, Jr. died just after his father was nominated in 1924, so it would have been a particularly awkward time for a President to step down or even just resign from the ticket.

There is a video on YouTube showing highlights of the 1925 inaugural, showing an animated, smiling Grace Coolidge sitting alongside a nearly expressionless president. Grace Coolidge reminds me of Pat Nixon, dignified and stoic no matter what.

Like Lincoln, Coolidge's mother and only sister died while he was young. Apparently, young Cal suffered deeply and part of his preference for his son Cal was that he thought he was just like his grandmother.