I Do Not Choose to Run
DESCRIPTION: "The leading question of today is argued everywhere, About who'll be the lucky jay to fill the White House Chair." President Coolidge doesn't want to run for re-election: "I do not choose to run." Maybe not, but if he meets a hodag, then he'll surely run
AUTHOR: William T. Allen (Shan T. Boy)
EARLIEST DATE: 1928 (Kearney, The Hodag, according to Peterson)
KEYWORDS: humorous political animal
1920 - Calvin Coolidge elected vice-president under president Warren G. Harding
1923 - Coolidge becomes president when Harding dies
1924 - Coolidge elected president in his own right
1927 - Coolidge announces that he will not seek another term in 1928
1929 - Coolidge succeeded by Herbert Hoover
REFERENCES (1 citation):
ADDITIONAL: David C. Peterson, "Wisconsin Folksongs," chapter in _Badger History: Wisconsin Folklore_, State Historical Society of Wisconsin (Volume XXV, Number 2, November 1973), pp. 63-64, "I do not choose to run" (1 text, 1 non-traditional tune)
ST WHBD063 (Partial)
NOTES [946 words]: This must be one of the last songs written by William T. Allen (Shan T. Boy), best known as the writer of "The Banks of the Little Eau Pleine" [Laws C2]; it refers to events of 1927 and 1928. Since Allen generally wrote his pieces to fit particular tunes, it is reasonable to assume that this was sung to some well-known traditional melody, but presumably Kearney, who took down the tune, did not see fit to record it. David Peterson, who reprinted it, therefore saw fit to set his own tune, but I see no reason why this tune should be used. When I looked at the words, I thought of "Auld Lang Syne," but that's just a wild guess.
Calvin Coolidge was no one in particular when he became the Republican vice presidential nominee; born in 1872, he had spent six years in the Massachusetts legislature, being Senate president 1914-1915. He had served two years as mayor of Northampton. He had been lieutenant governor of Massachusetts 1916-1918, then governor 1918-1920 (DeGregorio, pp. 451-452). He had been nominated for President in 1920, but was not considered a serious candidate. For some reason, after Harding had become the Presidential nominee, there was a stampede to make Coolidge his running mate (DeGregorio, p. 452). If Harding had finished out his term, Coolidge would likely have gone back to Massachusetts and gone back to being a nobody.
But Harding, of course, did not serve out his term, dying on August 2, 1923. Coolidge then became president.
There was no serious opposition to Coolidge's re-nomination in 1924, and he won 54% of the popular vote. That translated into 382 electoral votes, entitling Coolidge to a full term in the White House (DeGregorio, p. 455).
This was not entirely a source of pleasure for Coolidge. After his nomination for president, but before the election, his sixteen-year-old son Calvin Jr. died of a bacterial infection in his foot (Greenberg, p. 97). Coolidge admitted that he was never the same after that (Greenberg, p. 98); he would write in his autobiography, "the power and the glory of the presidency went with [Calvin Jr.]" (Greenberg, p. 99).
Still, Coolidge could have chosen to run for a second full term. There was, as yet, no term limit on the presidency, and little precedent. Most vice presidents who had succeeded to the office (Tyler, Fillmore, Johnson, Arthur) had not managed to win a full term; the one exception, Theodore Roosevelt, had served almost two terms and then retired, although he ran again in 1912. Coolidge was the first president to have succeeded to less than half a full term and then been elected in his own right. So it was not only legal for him to run for a second full term, it was at least arguable that it did not violate Washington's precedent of not serving a third term.
Coolidge, however, was not interested. He felt ten years in Washington was "too long" (Greenberg, p. 138). By 1927, he had decided not to run again. On August 2, 1927, four years to the day after Harding died, he released a laconic statement, "I do not choose to run for president in 1928" (Greenberg, p. 137). That of course provided the tag line for this song.
Even before he retired, Coolidge developed a habit of taking very long vacations. "As president he... took up fishing and skeet shooting" (DeGregorio, p. 450), and took trips from Washington to indulge these interests. In 1927, for instance, he spent a long time in South Dakota's Black Hills (Greenberg, pp. 135-136). And in 1928, he went fishing in northern Wisconsin.
And that, obviously, attracted the attention of William Allen. This song opens with a description of Coolidge's fishing expedition, then gives a description of the hodag, then talks of what Coolidge would do if he were to meet a hodag; he would surely choose to run from the fearsome beast.
Fearsome -- and fictitious. It's clearly fakelore.
"The Black Hodag (Bovinus spiritualis) was discovered by E. S. "Gene" Shephard, a former well-known timber cruiser of Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Its haunts were in the dense swamps of that region. According to its discoverer, this fearful beast fed on mud turtles, water snakes, and muskrats, but it did not disdain human flesh" (Gard/Sorden, p. 73).
"The most famous mythical creature in Wisconsin is the Hodag, a prehistoric creature resembling a dinosaur with the body of an ox and the tail of an alligator. Along its back were sharply pointed spines. Gene Shepherd of Rhinelander captured one at the turn of the century, using white bulldogs as bait, and exhibited it at county fairs.... [I]t is said the Smithsonian Institution was interested in this creature. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the creature so the scientific world could not prove the Hodag's authenticity.... One question remains: If the Hodag was a hoax, why are there not more white bulldogs in northern Wisconsin today?" (Wyman, pp. 16-17).
The legend was quickly embellished -- e.g. it show up in Paul Bunyan tales (which are, of course, also fakelore). So we find this, e.g., on p. 85 of Barber/Riches: "Hodag[.] Ferocious man-eating animal, with formidable horns, large bulging eyes, claws and a line of sharp spikes which ran down the ridge of its back and long tail. It lived in dense swamps in Wisconsin. The hodag never lay lay down, but leant against a tree to sleep. It could only be captured by cutting deeply into the trunk of its favorite trees, and trapping it as it fell" (this trait perhaps lifted from Pliny's "Achlis").
William Allen lived in northern Wisconsin, and he worked in the lumber camps. So he would have known of the Hodag -- and would have known it was a hoax. So I truly don't know if he's satirizing Coolidge, or the hodag, or both. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.5
- Barber/Riches: Richard Barber and Anne Riches, A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts, Macmillan London, 1971
- DeGregorio: William A. DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U. S. Presidents, fourth edition, Barricade Books, 1993
- Gard/Sorden: Robert E. Gard and L. G. Sorden, Wisconsin Lore: Antics and Anecdotes of Wisconsin People and Places, Wisconsin House, 1962
- Greenberg: David Greenberg, Calvin Coolidge [a volume in the American Presidents series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.], Times Books, 2007
- Wyman: Walker D. Wyman, Wisconsin Folklore, University of Wisconsin Extension (?), 1979
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