Republicans and a “Return to Normalcy”
Republicans and a “Return to Normalcy”
In the early 1920s, weary from fighting a world war and disillusioned by the failure of Wilson’s plans to create a new world order, Americans sought stability. Popular support for Republicans grew, since Republicans promised a “return to normalcy.” Republicans ceased to promise progressive reforms and instead aimed to settle into traditional patterns of government. In 1920, after eight years under a progressive Democrat, Americans elected a conservative Republican as president, the first of the decade’s three Republican presidents. Big business and advocates of isolationism reaped the benefits of Republican rule.
Warren G. Harding won the election of 1920 by a landslide on the promise of a “return to normalcy”—which, for Republicans in the 1920s, meant a return to big business. In addition to its pro-business stance, Harding’s administration was known primarily for its corruption, exposed fully after Harding’s death in office in 1923. Many officials were forced from office, and some narrowly escaped prison time. The most prominent scandal, the Teapot Dome scandal, involved Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall secretly leasing government oil reserves to two businessmen and accepting about $400,000 in return.
Harding’s vice president, Calvin Coolidge, became president upon Harding’s death in 1923 and was then elected himself in 1924. In contrast to his predecessor, Coolidge ran a relatively scandal-free White House. Staunchly pro-business, Coolidge opposed government regulation of, or interference with, the economy.
Herbert Hoover, the third Republican president of the decade, rode the tide of economic prosperity to victory in 1928. He took a slightly different stance toward big business than had his predecessors. Hoover thought that capitalism produced social obligations but believed in voluntarism rather than government coercion as the method of fulfilling these obligations. Hoover urged and persuaded industry reform, but refused to institutionalize reform in law. This reliance on voluntarism would hurt him as prosperity began to fade.
Pro-Business Policies
The Republican presidents of the 1920s—Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover—reversed the Progressive Era trend of regulating big business and lowering tariffs. Instead, Republican policies generally gave corporations free rein, raised protective tariffs, and cut taxes for the rich. Big business and wealthy businessmen especially benefited from the following policies:
  • The Supreme Court overturned a number of measures designed to regulate the activities of big business. The Court declared boycotts by labor unconstitutional and authorized the use of antitrust laws against unions.
  • The Fordney-McCumber Tariff of 1922 and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 were two of six major tariffs passed that hiked importation rates to all-time highs. These tariffs protected American companies from international competition.
  • Andrew Mellon, treasury secretary from 1921 to 1932, persuaded Congress to lower income tax rates for the wealthy.
The Republican presidents of the 1920s reversed the Progressive Era trend of corporate regulation. Progressive trust-busting gave way to an era of big business.
Help | Feedback | Make a request | Report an error