Three Republican presidents – Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover –steered the nation on the roller-coaster ride of the 1920’s, a thrilling ascent from thedepths of post-WWI recession to breath-taking heights of prosperity, followed by aterrifying crash into the Great Depression.Meanwhile, the U.S. retreated from its brief internationalist fling during WWI andresumed with a vengeance its traditional foreign policy of military unpreparedness andisolationism.
THE REPUBLICAN “OLD GUARD” RETURNSRepublican Warren Harding defeated Democrat J. Cox in the presidential election of1920. Harding looked presidential, yet the charming, smiling exterior concealed a weak,inept interior. With a mediocre mind, Harding was overwhelmed by the his job. How wasHarding like Grant? Harding admitted his shortcomings – what was his politicalstrategy?
GOP REACTION at the THROTTLEWell-intentioned but weak-willed, Harding was a perfect “front” for enterprising industrialists. Howdid the industrialists perceive Harding? The new Old Guard hoped to improve on the old businessdoctrine of laissez-faire – what were their pleas?What was Harding’s impact on the Supreme Court? Describe the decisions in Adkins v. Children’sHospital and Muller v. Oregon.
THE AFTERMATH of WAR Wartime govt. controls on the economy were swiftly dismantled, thus dashing hopes for more progressive govt. regulation of big business. Consider how the Republican leadership affected policy for the following areas: * Railroads * Labor * Veterans Vicious race riots also rocked the nation following WWI. What course of events contributed to these ugly riots, some of the worst occurring in Chicago?
AMERICA SEEKS BENEFITS WITHOUT BURDENSMaking peace with the WWI combatants was the most pressing problem left on Harding’sdoorstep. The U.S., having rejected the Treaty of Versailles, was still technically at warwith Germany, Austria and Hungary. How was the final peace achieved? Isolation was enthroned in Washington. The Harding Admin., with the Senate “irreconcilables” holding a hatchet over its head, continued to regard the League of Nations as a thing unclean. What would be the country’s role with the League of Nations? Harding could not completely turn his back on the outside world – describe U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Disarmament was one international issue on which Harding, after much indecision, finallyseized the initiative. Identify the forces influencing Harding’s actions.Public agitation brought about the Washington “Disarmament” Conference in 1921-22.What countries participated? Describe the U.S. proposal. How were the Japaneseplacated?When the agreement was completed, the Harding Admin. boasted about theirdisarmament accomplishment. But explain the flaws with the agreement.
In 1928 Calvin Coolidge’s secretary of state, Frank Kellogg, signed with the French foreignminister the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Explain both its purpose and its flaws. Frank Kellogg
HIKING the TARIFF HIGHERA comparable lack of realism afflicted foreign economic policy in the 1920’s. Businesspeople, short-sightedly obsessed with a prosperous home market, sought to keep the domestic market to themselvesby building insurmountable tariff walls around the U.S. Subsequently, the Fordney-Mcumber Tariffwas enacted in 1922. What was the rationale behind the tariff? And, what was unique about thistariff? The high-tariff course charted by the Republican regimes set off an ominous chain reaction – describe this chain reaction. How did the Europeans react to the higher American tariffs? What was the significance of the “tariff wars?”
THE STENCH of SCANDAL The loose morality and get-rich- quickism of the Harding era manifested themselves spectacularly in a series of scandals. Describe the circumstances surrounding the scandals involving the Veterans Bureau, Teapot Dome, and Attorney General Daugherty. Was Harding implicated? What “spared” him?
“SILENT CAL” COOLIDGEIn the midst of scandal, Harding embarked on a speech-making tour across the country.On the return trip, he died in San Francisco, on Aug. 2, 1923, of pneumonia andthrombosis. V.P. Calvin Coolidge, visiting at his father’s New England farmhouse, was sworn-in by the local justice of the peace, using a family bible.
Quite unlike Harding, Coolidge embodied the New England virtues of honesty, morality,industry, and frugality. Identify some of his personal attributes. Describe Coolidge’srelationship with big business. How did his presence impact the scandalous Hardingera.
FRUSTRATED FARMERSFarmers were caught in a boom-or-bust cycle in the postwar decade. Describe thecircumstances that resulted in dangerously low farm prices. Machines alsothreatened to plow the farmers under their own bumper crops. What machine was thecornerstone of the “second industrial revolution” in agriculture? Identify some ofthe schemes intended to help the farmers under siege – did they work?
A THREE-WAY RACE for the WHITE HOUSE in 1924 Republicans, chanting “Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge,” nominated “Silent Cal” for the presidency. Squabbling Democrats had more difficulty choosing a candidate – the party was hopelessly split between “wets” and “drys,” urbanites and farmers, Fundamentalists and Modernists, northern liberals and southern conservatives, immigrants and old-stock Americans. Democrats finally nominated John Davis, a wealthy corporate lawyer. John Davis
A new Progressive groupingnominated Senator Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin, thusthreatening to split theRepublican party at electiontime.
What was its base constituency?Identify the planks of the party’splatform.And explain why the Progressives wouldnot be a political force in the election, asthey had been in 1912.
On election day, Coolidge easily defeated his challengers. La Follette did inject a badlyneeded liberal tonic into a decade drugged by prosperity. But times were too good for toomany for his reforming message to carry the day.
FOREIGN-POLICY FLOUNDERINGSIsolation continued to reign in the Coolidge era. A glaring exception to the Americanisolationism was the armed interventionism in the Caribbean and Central America. Overshadowing all other foreign-policy problems in the 1920’s was the knotty issue of international debts, a complicated tangle of private loans, Allied war debts, and German reparations payments. How did WWI reverse the international financial position of the U.S.? What was the “key knot” in the debt triangle? Explain how this created bad feelings between Europe and the U.S.?
UNRAVELING the DEBT KNOTAmerica’s tightfisted insistence on getting its money back helped to harden the hearts ofthe Allies against conquered Germany. How did the Allies hope to settle their debts tothe U.S.? Would their strategy work?Sensible statesmen now urged that war debts and reparations alike be drastically scaleddown or even canceled outright, but to Americans such proposals smacked of “welshing” ona debt. Coolidge turned aside suggestions of debt cancellation – Washington provedunrealistic in its insistence that there was no connection between debts and reparations.
Reality finally set-in in the Dawes Plan of 1924. Negotiated largely by Charles Dawes, itrescheduled German reparations payments and opened the way for further Americanprivate loans to Germany. Explain the financial sequence that would encompass thiscomplicated financial cycle.The U.S. never did get its money, but it harvested a bumper crop of ill will. The badtaste left in American mouths by the whole sorry episode contributed powerfully to thestorm-cellar neutrality legislation passed by Congress in the 1930’s.