Slemp had served six terms in the House of Representatives, elected from Virginia’s 9th Congressional District. He had won the seat in 1907 after the incumbent — his father, Campbell Slemp — died in office. He held the seat until 1922, when he declined to run for reelection.
Slemp was a powerful figure in Virginia politics and a prominent member of the GOP establishment. Observers suggested that Coolidge chose him in a bid to shore up support within his own party. As William Allen White explained:
Slemp was the man whom President Coolidge needed, a liaison officer between the White House and the Republican organization in Congress and in the National Committee, a man “diligent in his business” who should stand before kings. From the Democratic press, from the independent press, from the Progressive group in Congress and out, a storm of protest rose over Slemp, but it beat vainly upon the White House. The new president knew exactly what he wanted and he had it.
As White suggested, Slemp’s nomination was not uncontroversial. But it proved useful for Coolidge, who relied on Slemp for the latter’s political acumen and connections.
Slemp served as secretary until March 1925, when he resigned after failing to win a Cabinet appointment from Coolidge. His successor, Everett Sanders of Indiana, was also a former congressman.