On Presidents Day we have the opportunity to reflect on our past leaders’ roots and the backgrounds that shaped their values. The Vermont values of universal freedom and equality were carried to the highest office in the country by two American presidents who called Vermont their birth-state.
Chester Alan Arthur was the 21st president of the United States, born in North Fairfield, Vt. on October 5, 1829. He was the son of a Vermont native, Malvina Stone and William Arthur, an abolitionist Baptist preacher who immigrated to North America from Ireland. Arthur was a colonel in the American Civil War, in charge of outfitting and housing troops in New York. He was elected vice president on the Republican ticket of 1880 and assumed the presidency after the assassination of President James A. Garfield. President Arthur continued his father’s quest to restore equality for all Americans after the end of Reconstruction, defending the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and increasing education funding for Native Americans.
Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president famously known as “Silent Cal,” was born in Plymouth, Vt. on Independence Day in 1872. Like Arthur, President Coolidge assumed the office after serving as Vice President when President Warren G. Harding passed away in 1923. President Coolidge received the news while visiting Vermont and signed the oath of office by light of a kerosene lamp, administered by his father, John Sr., who was a notary. Coolidge also fought for civil rights in a post-war era, reducing the influence of the Ku Klux Klan by keeping them from appointed office. He also signed the Indian Citizenship Act granting full U.S. citizenship to Native Americans while allowing them to retain their land and cultural rights.
Vermont can list Arthur and Coolidge with pride among its many citizens who have made a positive difference in American history. Both men are bound together by the unforeseen circumstances that bestowed the presidency upon them and by the actions that helped advance the tradition of equality and civil rights that Vermont still fights for today.