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U.S. History

24.4 Republican Ascendancy: Politics in the 1920s

U.S. History24.4 Republican Ascendancy: Politics in the 1920s
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  1. Preface
  2. 1 The Americas, Europe, and Africa Before 1492
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 The Americas
    3. 1.2 Europe on the Brink of Change
    4. 1.3 West Africa and the Role of Slavery
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. Review Questions
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
  3. 2 Early Globalization: The Atlantic World, 1492–1650
    1. Introduction
    2. 2.1 Portuguese Exploration and Spanish Conquest
    3. 2.2 Religious Upheavals in the Developing Atlantic World
    4. 2.3 Challenges to Spain’s Supremacy
    5. 2.4 New Worlds in the Americas: Labor, Commerce, and the Columbian Exchange
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  4. 3 Creating New Social Orders: Colonial Societies, 1500–1700
    1. Introduction
    2. 3.1 Spanish Exploration and Colonial Society
    3. 3.2 Colonial Rivalries: Dutch and French Colonial Ambitions
    4. 3.3 English Settlements in America
    5. 3.4 The Impact of Colonization
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  5. 4 Rule Britannia! The English Empire, 1660–1763
    1. Introduction
    2. 4.1 Charles II and the Restoration Colonies
    3. 4.2 The Glorious Revolution and the English Empire
    4. 4.3 An Empire of Slavery and the Consumer Revolution
    5. 4.4 Great Awakening and Enlightenment
    6. 4.5 Wars for Empire
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  6. 5 Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774
    1. Introduction
    2. 5.1 Confronting the National Debt: The Aftermath of the French and Indian War
    3. 5.2 The Stamp Act and the Sons and Daughters of Liberty
    4. 5.3 The Townshend Acts and Colonial Protest
    5. 5.4 The Destruction of the Tea and the Coercive Acts
    6. 5.5 Disaffection: The First Continental Congress and American Identity
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  7. 6 America's War for Independence, 1775-1783
    1. Introduction
    2. 6.1 Britain’s Law-and-Order Strategy and Its Consequences
    3. 6.2 The Early Years of the Revolution
    4. 6.3 War in the South
    5. 6.4 Identity during the American Revolution
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  8. 7 Creating Republican Governments, 1776–1790
    1. Introduction
    2. 7.1 Common Sense: From Monarchy to an American Republic
    3. 7.2 How Much Revolutionary Change?
    4. 7.3 Debating Democracy
    5. 7.4 The Constitutional Convention and Federal Constitution
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  9. 8 Growing Pains: The New Republic, 1790–1820
    1. Introduction
    2. 8.1 Competing Visions: Federalists and Democratic-Republicans
    3. 8.2 The New American Republic
    4. 8.3 Partisan Politics
    5. 8.4 The United States Goes Back to War
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  10. 9 Industrial Transformation in the North, 1800–1850
    1. Introduction
    2. 9.1 Early Industrialization in the Northeast
    3. 9.2 A Vibrant Capitalist Republic
    4. 9.3 On the Move: The Transportation Revolution
    5. 9.4 A New Social Order: Class Divisions
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  11. 10 Jacksonian Democracy, 1820–1840
    1. Introduction
    2. 10.1 A New Political Style: From John Quincy Adams to Andrew Jackson
    3. 10.2 The Rise of American Democracy
    4. 10.3 The Nullification Crisis and the Bank War
    5. 10.4 Indian Removal
    6. 10.5 The Tyranny and Triumph of the Majority
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  12. 11 A Nation on the Move: Westward Expansion, 1800–1860
    1. Introduction
    2. 11.1 Lewis and Clark
    3. 11.2 The Missouri Crisis
    4. 11.3 Independence for Texas
    5. 11.4 The Mexican-American War, 1846–1848
    6. 11.5 Free Soil or Slave? The Dilemma of the West
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  13. 12 Cotton is King: The Antebellum South, 1800–1860
    1. Introduction
    2. 12.1 The Economics of Cotton
    3. 12.2 African Americans in the Antebellum United States
    4. 12.3 Wealth and Culture in the South
    5. 12.4 The Filibuster and the Quest for New Slave States
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  14. 13 Antebellum Idealism and Reform Impulses, 1820–1860
    1. Introduction
    2. 13.1 An Awakening of Religion and Individualism
    3. 13.2 Antebellum Communal Experiments
    4. 13.3 Reforms to Human Health
    5. 13.4 Addressing Slavery
    6. 13.5 Women’s Rights
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  15. 14 Troubled Times: the Tumultuous 1850s
    1. Introduction
    2. 14.1 The Compromise of 1850
    3. 14.2 The Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Republican Party
    4. 14.3 The Dred Scott Decision and Sectional Strife
    5. 14.4 John Brown and the Election of 1860
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  16. 15 The Civil War, 1860–1865
    1. Introduction
    2. 15.1 The Origins and Outbreak of the Civil War
    3. 15.2 Early Mobilization and War
    4. 15.3 1863: The Changing Nature of the War
    5. 15.4 The Union Triumphant
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  17. 16 The Era of Reconstruction, 1865–1877
    1. Introduction
    2. 16.1 Restoring the Union
    3. 16.2 Congress and the Remaking of the South, 1865–1866
    4. 16.3 Radical Reconstruction, 1867–1872
    5. 16.4 The Collapse of Reconstruction
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  18. 17 Go West Young Man! Westward Expansion, 1840-1900
    1. Introduction
    2. 17.1 The Westward Spirit
    3. 17.2 Homesteading: Dreams and Realities
    4. 17.3 Making a Living in Gold and Cattle
    5. 17.4 The Loss of American Indian Life and Culture
    6. 17.5 The Impact of Expansion on Chinese Immigrants and Hispanic Citizens
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  19. 18 Industrialization and the Rise of Big Business, 1870-1900
    1. Introduction
    2. 18.1 Inventors of the Age
    3. 18.2 From Invention to Industrial Growth
    4. 18.3 Building Industrial America on the Backs of Labor
    5. 18.4 A New American Consumer Culture
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  20. 19 The Growing Pains of Urbanization, 1870-1900
    1. Introduction
    2. 19.1 Urbanization and Its Challenges
    3. 19.2 The African American “Great Migration” and New European Immigration
    4. 19.3 Relief from the Chaos of Urban Life
    5. 19.4 Change Reflected in Thought and Writing
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  21. 20 Politics in the Gilded Age, 1870-1900
    1. Introduction
    2. 20.1 Political Corruption in Postbellum America
    3. 20.2 The Key Political Issues: Patronage, Tariffs, and Gold
    4. 20.3 Farmers Revolt in the Populist Era
    5. 20.4 Social and Labor Unrest in the 1890s
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  22. 21 Leading the Way: The Progressive Movement, 1890-1920
    1. Introduction
    2. 21.1 The Origins of the Progressive Spirit in America
    3. 21.2 Progressivism at the Grassroots Level
    4. 21.3 New Voices for Women and African Americans
    5. 21.4 Progressivism in the White House
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  23. 22 Age of Empire: American Foreign Policy, 1890-1914
    1. Introduction
    2. 22.1 Turner, Mahan, and the Roots of Empire
    3. 22.2 The Spanish-American War and Overseas Empire
    4. 22.3 Economic Imperialism in East Asia
    5. 22.4 Roosevelt’s “Big Stick” Foreign Policy
    6. 22.5 Taft’s “Dollar Diplomacy”
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  24. 23 Americans and the Great War, 1914-1919
    1. Introduction
    2. 23.1 American Isolationism and the European Origins of War
    3. 23.2 The United States Prepares for War
    4. 23.3 A New Home Front
    5. 23.4 From War to Peace
    6. 23.5 Demobilization and Its Difficult Aftermath
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  25. 24 The Jazz Age: Redefining the Nation, 1919-1929
    1. Introduction
    2. 24.1 Prosperity and the Production of Popular Entertainment
    3. 24.2 Transformation and Backlash
    4. 24.3 A New Generation
    5. 24.4 Republican Ascendancy: Politics in the 1920s
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  26. 25 Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? The Great Depression, 1929-1932
    1. Introduction
    2. 25.1 The Stock Market Crash of 1929
    3. 25.2 President Hoover’s Response
    4. 25.3 The Depths of the Great Depression
    5. 25.4 Assessing the Hoover Years on the Eve of the New Deal
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  27. 26 Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1941
    1. Introduction
    2. 26.1 The Rise of Franklin Roosevelt
    3. 26.2 The First New Deal
    4. 26.3 The Second New Deal
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. Review Questions
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
  28. 27 Fighting the Good Fight in World War II, 1941-1945
    1. Introduction
    2. 27.1 The Origins of War: Europe, Asia, and the United States
    3. 27.2 The Home Front
    4. 27.3 Victory in the European Theater
    5. 27.4 The Pacific Theater and the Atomic Bomb
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  29. 28 Post-War Prosperity and Cold War Fears, 1945-1960
    1. Introduction
    2. 28.1 The Challenges of Peacetime
    3. 28.2 The Cold War
    4. 28.3 The American Dream
    5. 28.4 Popular Culture and Mass Media
    6. 28.5 The African American Struggle for Civil Rights
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  30. 29 Contesting Futures: America in the 1960s
    1. Introduction
    2. 29.1 The Kennedy Promise
    3. 29.2 Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society
    4. 29.3 The Civil Rights Movement Marches On
    5. 29.4 Challenging the Status Quo
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  31. 30 Political Storms at Home and Abroad, 1968-1980
    1. Introduction
    2. 30.1 Identity Politics in a Fractured Society
    3. 30.2 Coming Apart, Coming Together
    4. 30.3 Vietnam: The Downward Spiral
    5. 30.4 Watergate: Nixon’s Domestic Nightmare
    6. 30.5 Jimmy Carter in the Aftermath of the Storm
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  32. 31 From Cold War to Culture Wars, 1980-2000
    1. Introduction
    2. 31.1 The Reagan Revolution
    3. 31.2 Political and Cultural Fusions
    4. 31.3 A New World Order
    5. 31.4 Bill Clinton and the New Economy
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  33. 32 The Challenges of the Twenty-First Century
    1. Introduction
    2. 32.1 The War on Terror
    3. 32.2 The Domestic Mission
    4. 32.3 New Century, Old Disputes
    5. 32.4 Hope and Change
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  34. A | The Declaration of Independence
  35. B | The Constitution of the United States
  36. C | Presidents of the United States of America
  37. D | U.S. Political Map
  38. E | U.S. Topographical Map
  39. F | United States Population Chart
  40. G | Further Reading
  41. Answer Key
    1. Chapter 1
    2. Chapter 2
    3. Chapter 3
    4. Chapter 4
    5. Chapter 5
    6. Chapter 6
    7. Chapter 7
    8. Chapter 8
    9. Chapter 9
    10. Chapter 10
    11. Chapter 11
    12. Chapter 12
    13. Chapter 13
    14. Chapter 14
    15. Chapter 15
    16. Chapter 16
    17. Chapter 17
    18. Chapter 18
    19. Chapter 19
    20. Chapter 20
    21. Chapter 21
    22. Chapter 22
    23. Chapter 23
    24. Chapter 24
    25. Chapter 25
    26. Chapter 26
    27. Chapter 27
    28. Chapter 28
    29. Chapter 29
    30. Chapter 30
    31. Chapter 31
    32. Chapter 32
  42. Index

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Discuss Warren G. Harding’s strengths and weaknesses as president
  • Explain how Calvin Coolidge was able to defeat the Democratic Party
  • Explain what Calvin Coolidge meant by “the business of America is business”

The election of 1920 saw the weakening of the Democratic Party. The death of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson’s ill health meant the passing of a generation of Progressive leaders. The waning of the Red Scare took with it the last vestiges of Progressive zeal, and Wilson’s support of the League of Nations turned Irish and German immigrants against the Democrats. Americans were tired of reform, tired of witch hunts, and were more than ready for a return to “normalcy.”

Above all, the 1920s signaled a return to a pro-business government—almost a return to the laissez-faire politics of the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century. Calvin Coolidge’s statement that “the chief business of the American people is business,” often rendered as “the business of America is business” became the dominant attitude.

WARREN HARDING AND THE RETURN TO NORMALCY

In the election of 1920, professional Republicans were eager to nominate a man whom they could manage and control. Warren G. Harding, a senator from Ohio, represented just such a man (Figure 24.20). Before his nomination, Harding stated, “America’s present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; not revolution but restoration.” Harding was genial and affable, but not everyone appreciated his speeches; Democratic presidential-hopeful William Gibbs McAdoo described Harding’s speeches as “an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea.” H. L. Mencken, the great social critic of the 1920s, wrote of Harding’s speaking, “It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up to the top-most pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.”

Harding was known for enjoying golf, alcohol, and poker (not necessarily in that order). Although his critics depicted him as weak, lazy, or incompetent, he was actually quite shrewd and politically astute. Together with his running mate, Calvin Coolidge, the governor of Massachusetts, they attracted the votes of many Americans who sought Harding’s promised return to normalcy. In the election, Harding defeated Governor James Cox of Ohio by the greatest majority in the history of two-party politics: 61 percent of the popular vote.

Photograph (a) shows Warren Harding pointing his finger with a stern expression on his face. Photograph (b) shows Calvin Coolidge smiling and holding his hat above his head.
Figure 24.20 Warren Harding (a) poses on the campaign trail in 1920. His running mate, Calvin Coolidge (b), would go on to become president in 1923, when Harding died suddenly while touring the United States.

Harding’s cabinet reflected his pro-business agenda. Herbert Hoover, a millionaire mechanical engineer and miner, became his Secretary of Commerce. Hoover had served as head of the relief effort for Belgium during World War I and helped to feed those in Russia and Germany after the war ended. He was a very effective administrator, seeking to limit inefficiency in the government and promoting partnerships between government and businesses. Harding’s Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon, was also a pro-business multimillionaire with a fortune built in banking and aluminum. Even more so than Hoover, Mellon entered public service with a strong sense that government should run as efficiently as any business, famously writing that “the Government is just a business, and can and should be run on business principles.”

Consistent with his principles of running government with business-like efficiency, Harding proposed and signed into law tax rate cuts as well as the country’s first formal budgeting process, which created a presidential budget director and required that the president submit an annual budget to Congress. These policies helped to reduce the debt that the United States had incurred during World War I. However, as Europe began to recover, U.S. exports to the continent dwindled. In an effort to protect U.S. agriculture and other businesses threatened by lower-priced imports, Harding pushed through the Emergency Tariff of 1921. This defensive tariff had the effect of increasing American purchasing power, although it also inflated the prices of many goods.

In the area of foreign policy, Harding worked to preserve the peace through international cooperation and the reduction of armaments around the world. Despite the refusal of the U.S. Senate to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, Harding was able to work with Germany and Austria to secure a formal peace. He convened a conference in Washington that brought world leaders together to agree on reducing the threat of future wars by reducing armaments. Out of these negotiations came a number of treaties designed to foster cooperation in the Far East, reduce the size of navies around the world, and establish guidelines for submarine usage. These agreements ultimately fell apart in the 1930s, as the world descended into war again. But, at the time, they were seen as a promising path to maintaining the peace.

Despite these developments, the Harding administration has gone down in history as one that was especially ridden with scandal. While Harding was personally honest, he surrounded himself with politicians who weren’t. Harding made the mistake of often turning to unscrupulous advisors or even his “Ohio Gang” of drinking and poker buddies for advice and guidance. And, as he himself recognized, this group tended to cause him grief. “I have no trouble with my enemies,” he once commented. “I can take care of my enemies in a fight. But my friends, my goddamned friends, they’re the ones who keep me walking the floor at nights!”

The scandals mounted quickly. From 1920 to 1923, Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall was involved in a scam that became known as the Teapot Dome scandal. Fall had leased navy reserves in Teapot Dome, Wyoming, and two other sites in California to private oil companies without opening the bidding to other companies. In exchange, the companies gave him $300,000 in cash and bonds, as well as a herd of cattle for his ranch. Fall was convicted of accepting bribes from the oil companies; he was fined $100,000 and sentenced to a year in prison. It was the first time that a cabinet official had received such a sentence.

In 1923, Harding also learned that the head of the Veterans’ Bureau, Colonel Charles Forbes, had absconded with most of the $250 million set aside for extravagant bureau functions. Harding allowed Forbes to resign and leave the country; however, after the president died, Forbes returned and was tried, convicted, and sentenced to two years in Leavenworth prison.

Although the Harding presidency had a number of large successes and variety of dark scandals, it ended before the first term was up. In July 1923, while traveling in Seattle, the president suffered a heart attack. On August 2, in his weakened condition, he suffered a stroke and died in San Francisco, leaving the presidency to his vice president, Calvin Coolidge. As for Harding, few presidents were so deeply mourned by the populace. His kindly nature and ability to poke fun at himself endeared him to the public.

Click and Explore

Listen to some of Harding’s speeches at The University of Virginia’s Miller Center’s website.

A MAN OF FEW WORDS

Coolidge ended the scandals, but did little beyond that. Walter Lippman wrote in 1926 that “Mr. Coolidge’s genius for inactivity is developed to a very high point. It is a grim, determined, alert inactivity, which keeps Mr. Coolidge occupied constantly.”

Coolidge had a strong belief in the Puritan work ethic: Work hard, save your money, keep your mouth shut and listen, and good things will happen to you. Known as “Silent Cal,” his clean image seemed capable of cleaning up scandals left by Harding. Republicans—and the nation—now had a president who combined a preference for normalcy with the respectability and honesty that was absent from the Harding administration.

Coolidge’s first term was devoted to eliminating the taint of scandal that Harding had brought to the White House. Domestically, Coolidge adhered to the creed: “The business of America is business.” He stood in awe of Andrew Mellon and followed his fiscal policies, which made him the only president to turn a legitimate profit in the White House. Coolidge believed the rich were worthy of their property and that poverty was the wage of sin. Most importantly, Coolidge believed that since only the rich best understood their own interests, the government should let businessmen handle their own affairs with as little federal intervention as possible. Coolidge was quoted as saying, “The man who builds a factory builds a temple. The man who works there worships there.”

Thus, silence and inactivity became the dominant characteristics of the Coolidge presidency. Coolidge’s legendary reserve was famous in Washington society. Contemporaries told a possibly apocryphal story of how, at a dinner party at the White House, a woman bet her friends that she could get Coolidge to say more than three words. He looked at her and said, “you lose.”

The 1924 election saw Coolidge win easily over the divided Democrats, who fought over their nomination. Southerners wanted to nominate pro-prohibition, pro-Klan, anti-immigrant candidate William G. McAdoo. The eastern establishment wanted Alfred E. Smith, a Catholic, urban, and anti-prohibition candidate. After many battles, they compromised on corporation lawyer John W. Davis. Midwesterner Robert M. La Follette, promoted by farmers, socialists, and labor unions, attempted to resurrect the Progressive Party. Coolidge easily beat both candidates.

THE ELECTION OF 1928

This cultural battle between the forces of reaction and rebellion appeared to culminate with the election of 1928, the height of Republican ascendancy. On August 2, 1927, Coolidge announced that he would not be participating in the 1928 election; “I choose not to run,” was his comment (Figure 24.21). Republicans promoted the heir apparent, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover. The Democrats nominated Governor Alfred E. Smith of New York. Smith represented everything that small-town, rural America hated: He was Irish, Catholic, anti-prohibition, and a big-city politician. He was very flamboyant and outspoken, which also did not go over well with many Americans.

A cartoon shows a man in a hat and neckerchief reclining against a pillow in a small boat, holding a fishing rod. Beside the man’s face are the words “Choosin’ to run isn’t as restful as this.”
Figure 24.21 In this cartoon, Clifford Berryman lampoons Coolidge’s laid-back attitude as he chooses “not to run” in 1928.

Republican prosperity carried the day once again, and Hoover won easily with twenty-one million votes over Al Smith’s fifteen million. The stock market continued to rise, and prosperity was the watchword of the day. Many Americans who had not done so before invested in the market, believing that the prosperous times would continue.

As Hoover came into office, Americans had every reason to believe that prosperity would continue forever. In less than a year, however, the bubble would burst, and a harsh reality would take its place.

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