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The Professor, WG, Silent Cal and The Chief

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Vincent Valentine, MD
University of Texas Medical Branch
Galveston, TX, USA

Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia on December 29, 1856. He grew up son of a Presbyterian minister during the Civil War and its reconstruction. He graduated from Princeton and after completing law school at the University of Virginia, he practiced law in Atlanta, Georgia. He pursued an academic career and taught history and political science at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He earned a Ph.D. in political science from Johns Hopkins in 1886. He became a professor of political science at Princeton in 1890 and was elected president of Princeton in 1902. He held this position until he was elected governor of New Jersey in 1910. He was known for his progressive social and economic platforms and was chosen as the Democratic candidate for President in 1912. When the Republican vote was divided between incumbent Taft and for President Teddy Roosevelt of the "Bull Moose" Party, Wilson secured an Electoral College victory despite winning only 42% of the popular vote. He became the 28th President of the United States. Because he was the first President to have earned a Ph.D and the first to come from an academic background, he was nicknamed, "Professor." In August 1914, two events influenced Wilson. His wife, Ellen died and the Great War in Europe had begun. The latter was easy, Wilson insisted that America's role was to stay out of conflict and continue to work for peace. However, his wife's death was more intriguing. Gossip and rumors had spread during the engagement and marriage to Edith Bolling Galt, a widower and 15 years his junior. There were rumors that Wilson cheated and even murdered his first wife. Adding to all this ruckus was one of the most embarrassing typographical errors in newspaper history by the Washington Post, or was it intentional? In reporting on an evening of the couple, the Washington Post intended to write "...the President spent the evening entertaining Mrs Galt" but instead wrote "Rather than paying attention to the play, the President spent the evening entering Mrs Galt." (See it here) Nevertheless, they were married.

Later, he was re-elected in 1916 because "He kept us out of war"; however, the U.S. entered the Great War on April 6, 1917 after Germany sank several U.S. merchant ships and the revealing Zimmerman Telegram. Wilson offered his "Fourteen Points" in January 1918 to assure peace which included the establishment of the League of Nations. He went to Paris to negotiate the Treaty of Versailles after Germany signed the armistice "...on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918." Although the severity of his disability was concealed, Wilson suffered a major stroke in October 1919 while rallying support for the treaty. He won the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in securing world peace. He was the first President to serve two full consecutive terms since Ulysses S Grant. During his terms some of the most important events occurred in 20th-century America. There was the establishment of the Federal Reserve in 1913, opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, emergence of the movie industry, a law prohibiting child labor, America's participation in World War I and women gaining the right to vote in 1920. The "Roaring Twenties" and the "Jazz Age" transformed the United States before he died of complications related to his stroke on February 3, 1924.

Warren Harding's nickname was WG, which stood for Warren Gamaliel. He was born on his family farm near Marion, Ohio on November 2, 1865. After attending Ohio Central College, he became a teacher and an insurance salesman before becoming a newspaper publisher. Because of his success, popularity and political savviness, he was elected state senator and lieutenant governor of Ohio. WG emerged as a prominent Republican, delivered the nomination speech for Taft at the 1912 party convention and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1914. Next, he chaired and delivered the keynote address during the 1916 Republican convention. Because of his "return to normalcy" promise to war-weary America after World War I, he was elected the 29th President of the United States. Yet even his friends said that his only qualification for the highest office was that he looked like a President. He supported prohibition and the woman's right to vote. WG led the drive for international disarmament which accompanied post-war peace agreements. During his Presidency, the U.S. restricted immigration, cut taxes and created high tariffs to protect American manufacturers. WG dedicated the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. He was the first President to broadcast a speech over the radio. During a campaign visit to San Francisco in 1923, he died suddenly of a heart attack on August 2. His presidency was tarnished by the Teapot Dome scandal whereby high-ranking officials accepted bribes in exchange for government oil leases. Many of his appointees took bribes and stole millions in public funds. He had remarked that his enemies were no bother, but his friends kept him awake at night. When he died in office less than two and half years into his term (881 days), his Presidency became the fourth-shortest in history after William Henry Harrison (31 days), James A Garfield (199 days) and Zachary Taylor (492 days). His most memorable quote was - "Our most dangerous tendency is to expect too much of government and at the same time do for it too little."

John Calvin Coolidge, son of a Vermont storekeeper, was born in Plymouth, Vermont on July 4, 1872. He graduated with honors from Amherst College in Massachusetts, earned a law degree and began practicing law in Northampton, Massachusetts. A casual interest in politics evolved into a career. He was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, its Senate and mayor of Northampton before serving as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. Coolidge was elected governor in 1918. In 1919, the Boston police went on strike protesting their inability to join a union. Coolidge stepped and called in the National Guard, declaring that the police had no right to strike against public safety. Along with rebuking Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor, Coolidge's decisive action brought him national attention earning him the Republican Vice Presidential nomination in 1920. Following the death of WG, Coolidge took the oath of office on the early morning of August 3, 1923 at his family home when he was sworn in as the 30th President of the United States by his father, a notary public. He was the sixth of nine Presidents never elected in their first term which included: John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester A. Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald Ford. Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman and LBJ were the only nonelected Presidents elected for a second term. Ford is the only person to serve as Vice President and President without ever being elected.

At the outset of his tenure, Coolidge's honest reputation helped restore confidence in the Presidency amid the Harding scandals. During his Presidency, America enjoyed the excesses and prosperity of the "Roaring Twenties." With the booming economy, he called for tax cuts, American isolationism and he "quietly" trimmed $2 billion from the national debt. Because of his laconic demeanor, he stood back and attracted little attention with the conviction that "the business of America is business." This earned him the nickname, "Silent Cal." His taciturnity was legendary with an old saying when someone at a party stated. "I bet I can make you say more than three words." Without hesitation or cracking a smile, Coolidge shot back, "you lose." With America's high productivity and low unemployment, he was reelected under the slogan, "Keep Cool with Coolidge." However, he was out of step with the Jazz Age as bootlegging, corruption, and stock-market speculation became rampant. Nevertheless, the dour and frugal teetotaler preferred to lead by example which left us with the quote attributed to Alice Roosevelt, "Silent Cal looks as though he's been weaned on a pickle." The largest event during his Presidency was his opening of the Sesquicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1926 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of American Independence. He left office in 1928 stating, "One of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business." He retired in Northampton and died rather suddenly of what appeared to be acute coronary thrombosis on January 5, 1933. His most enduring quote was, "To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race."

Herbert Clark Hoover was born in West Branch, Iowa on August 10, 1874 as the son of a Quaker blacksmith. Hoover was orphaned by the age of nine, raised by relatives in Oregon and championed self-reliance and discipline demanded by his austere childhood. He was urged to attend college at the new tuition free university in California founded by the American tycoon, "Captain of Industry" and U.S. Senator, Amasa Leland Stanford, as a memorial to his only son who died of typhoid fever in Florence, Italy. Hoover's desire to attend college without completing high school coincided with Stanford's need for students. Hoover was among the youngest of 500 or so students comprising Stanford University's "pioneer" class. He happened to be the first boy at age 16 to sleep in the Men's Dormitory at Encina Hall before the university formally opened, therefore he had been known to be its first student. Hoover graduated with a degree in geology in 1895 and worked as a mining engineer in Europe, Australia, China, and Africa. By the age of 30, his reputation as "the great engineer" earned him international prominence. Within ten years, his engineering skills, his skill at managing people and situations, and his entrepreneurial spirit made him a millionaire. He gained more fame as an inspirational volunteer during World War I. Hoover orchestrated the evacuation of 120,000 Americans in Europe. As chairman of the Committee for the Relief of Belgium during the food crisis after the invasion by Germany in 1914, Hoover oversaw the relief of millions who were starving and suffering. Consequently, Leuven named a prominent square after him, Hooverplein. Because of his success in relief efforts, President Wilson appointed him to head the US Food Administration then later, the director general of the American Relief Agency. In 1921, President Harding appointed him Secretary of Commerce, a position he held through the Coolidge Administration. Because of Hoover's adroitness as a mining engineer as well as efficiency and organization skills in his humanitarian work on behalf of the U.S. government and as appointed Secretary of Commerce, he acquired the nickname "Chief." In 1927, he spearheaded the government response to the massive Mississippi River flooding in the Midwest and South which galvanized his immense popularity. When Silent Cal announced, "I do not choose to run for president in 1928," Hoover easily defeated Democrat Alfred E Smith and became the 31st President of the United States. Hoover enjoyed only a few months as president of a prosperous nation. Less than nine months after his inauguration, on October 29, 1929, "Black Tuesday," the stock-market crash plunged thousands of businesses and individuals into bankruptcy which ushered in the most protracted economic downturn in American history, the Great Depression. As a result, Hoover's popularity as the nation's leader plummeted. He was blamed for many of the nation's problems, and shanty towns occupied by the homeless became known as Hoovervilles. His reputation as "the great engineer" and "the great humanitarian" were forgotten and replaced with his legacy to American history - the Great Depression or the "Hoover Depression." He was soundly beaten by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, but remained active in politics. Harry S. Truman appointed former President Hoover as honorary chairman of the Famine Emergency Committee of 1946. Then, in an effort to refine post-World War II federal government to improve administrative efficiency, curb its powers and loosen excessive regulatory control of the private business sector, Truman asked him to chair the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch. This commission became known as the Hoover Commission. Herbert Hoover died of complications related to an upper gastrointestinal bleed on October 20, 1964 in his suite on the 31st floor of the Waldorf-Astoria Towers. He left us with, "We must not be misled by the claim that the source of all wisdom is in the government." ■

Disclosure Statement: The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.


  1. Hecksher, August. Woodrow Wilson
  2. Russell, Francis. The Shadow of Blooming Grove: Warren G Harding in his Times
  3. White, William Allen. A Puritan in Babylon: The Story of Calvin Coolidge
  4. Burner, David. Herbert Hoover: A Public Life

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