All that quickly changed. President Harding died the evening of 2 August 1923, and Coolidge was thus catapulted from relative obscurity to instant prominence. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts exclaimed, "My God! That means Coolidge is President!" In a dramatic ritual in his Vermont home, John Coolidge, who was a notary public, swore in his son as the new president by the light of an oil lamp at 2:47 A.M. on 3 August. Calvin Coolidge left for Washington a few hours later to assume his new duties. The style of the presidency would change, if not the administration's basic principles.
Calvin and Grace Coolidge would present a great contrast to their immediate predecessors. The extrovert Harding had worked and played hard, and mixed with people of questionable integrity, while his wife, Florence, had presided over the White House in an imperious, brittle manner. William Allen White wrote in 1925, Coolidge was "not like the run of the herd." The new president was frugal with words, money, and action; easily fatigued; unostentatious; cautious, even secretive; and very much a private person. He had little time for those who were pretentious or of questionable character. His sense of humor was keen, but it was pointed. One example of it was his response to a woman who told him, "I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you." "You lose," Coolidge retorted. All this made him into a capital character, "Silent Cal," the man whose idea of a perfect day was one during which absolutely nothing happened. It also made the atmosphere of the White House after Harding, as Alice Roosevelt Longworth observed, "as different as a New England front parlor is from a backroom in a speakeasy."
There was, in fact, more to Coolidge than this. He could be kind, particularly with ordinary people. He could be talkative and loving with his family. If he was sparing in his activities, he did focus his attention conscientiously on public business. If he believed that the government should not act unless necessary, he also believed that when it did act, it should act well. Little of this made him seem less angular, but it did encourage public awareness that Coolidge was doing his job. Moreover, Grace Coolidge was a charming, enthusiastic, and popular First Lady. Although she was limited by the president's control of her schedule and of White House functions, she was an effective counterpoint to her husband's taciturnity, as was the attractiveness of their two teenage sons, John and Calvin. Young Calvin's death in July 1924 from a foot infection stunned the nation and the family, especially the president. The country's outpouring of sympathy was no substitute for the Coolidge family's loss.