An Oath by Night

Grace lifted her head from a dead sleep and shook her husband’s shoulder, “Cal, I heard something...”

John opened his eyes and remained motionless, listening in the dark. Footsteps on the lower stairs brought an abnormal sickness to his stomach. They suddenly stopped at the first landing and there was a heavy silence.


Grace reached out and lit a kerosene lamp that illuminated a clock on her bedside table.

“That’s your father, Cal! It’s two-thirty!

John snapped out of bed, pulling on a robe as he walked into a pair of waiting slippers.

“Son!” came the voice again.

He took the lamp from Grace and walked down the hallway towards his father who was now almost at the top of the stairs. A crisp yellow paper was in his trembling hand.

Grace watched from the bedroom door as John took the paper and read it. And reread it. She noticed a pronounced slump in his posture as he gave the paper back and slowly turned. His father made his way back down to the sitting room.


John took a few hesitant steps and stopped. He seemed to be staring right through her, the color gone from his face. But he suddenly straightened up and leaned over the railing, calling down to his father.

“Dad, do you still have notary powers?”

When President Warren Harding unexpectedly died in San Francisco on the evening of August 2, 1923, it took seven hours for the news to reach the Vice President in his primitive Vermont farmhouse. John Calvin Coolidge, Sr. administered the Oath of Office to his son by lamplight with his wife and chauffeur as witnesses.

Asked later how he knew that he had the power to swear his son into office, the father replied, “I didn’t know I didn’t.”


Enbrethiliel said...


You've made me curious about every vice president who had to take over after the unexpected death of a president. How did he get the news? How was he sworn in? These stories would reveal so much more of human-level realities than the usual public oath taking ceremonies.

cyurkanin said...

The best one that almost happened was when Reagan was shot and the Secretary of State, Al Haig, famously bypassed all protocol (and constitutional law) and announced to the world that he was in charge...