The Great Depression (1920–1940)

by: History SparkNotes

Key People

key-people Key People

Calvin Coolidge

A conservative from Massachusetts who became the thirtieth U.S. president upon the death of Warren G. Harding in 1923. In 1924, Coolidge was elected president in his own right, but in 1928 he declined an offer to run again. Like both his predecessor, Harding, and his successor, Herbert Hoover, Coolidge’s policy was to sweep away the remnants of progressive legislation and reward big business instead.

Warren G. Harding

The twenty-ninth U.S. president, whose election in 1920 brought about a decade of conservatism and benefits for big business. Harding’s isolationist stance also stifled former president Woodrow Wilson’s hopes to have the United States join the League of Nations. Under Harding, Congress passed the Esch-Cummins Transportation Act and the Fordney-McCumber Tariff, and the United States signed the Five-Power Naval Treaty, the Four-Power Treaty, and the Nine-Power Treaty for disarmament and the maintenance of the status quo in East Asia. Harding’s term was marred by scandal, most notably the 1923Teapot Dome scandal. Harding died that same year, however, before he was fully implicated.

Herbert Hoover

A former engineer and millionaire who became the thirty-first U.S. president in 1928. Although Hoover had a reputation as a humanitarian for his relief efforts in World War I, he proved completely unprepared for the task of guiding the nation out of the Great Depression. After the stock market crash of 1929, Hoover encouraged Americans not to panic and promised there would be no recession. Hoover wasn't exactly a diehard proponent of hands-off, laissez-faire economics, and he did take some action in an attempt to halt the economy's freefall. But his policies generally failed, and millions of Americans eventually lost their jobs and homes. Many historians believe Hoover might have been able to curb the severity of the Great Depression had he made different decisions.

John Maynard Keynes

A British economist in the early twentieth century who believed that deficit spending during recessions and depressions could revive national economies. Keynes’s theories went untested until Franklin Delano Roosevelt applied them in the New Deal to bring the United States out of the Great Depression. The success of the New Deal converted Democrats to Keynesian-minded policy makers for the next several decades.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

A distant cousin of former president Theodore Roosevelt who served as governor of New York before becoming the thirty-second U.S. president in 1933. Roosevelt’s main goal was to end the Great Depression. His New Deal programs and policies focused on immediate relief, long-term recovery, and reform in order to revive the economy. Despite the fact that he was usually wheelchair-bound (he was stricken with polio as a child), his optimism and charm did much to convince Americans that they had “nothing to fear but fear itself.” After the depression, Roosevelt successfully led the United States through World War II, was reelected to an unprecedented fourth term in office, and died while still in office on April 12, 1945.

The Great Depression (1920–1940): Popular pages