The following deals with events, conflicts, and people during the years 1920-1932.
DISCLAIMER: This does NOT serve as a replacement for reading Chapter 32.
The 1920s ushered a new era of Republican Presidents. They took us from a recession after the war to great prosperity to the Great Depression.
These Republicans focused on less government action and more cooperation with big business (i.e., lowering taxes for them). Lots of officials were corrupt and served their personal needs. The first Republican president of the 1920s was Warren G. Harding. According to the textbook he had an ‘erect figure’. They do understand we’re teenagers, right?
Anywho, people loved the guy a lot. He was very friendly and charismatic. Nevertheless, the guy was a bit of a moron and let his ‘friends’ in the Ohio Gang make most of the decisions for him. He made Herbert Hoover his Secretary of Commerce, once a lowly cabinet position that Hoover made it first-rate. The majority of Harding’s cabinet was made of misfits– anti-conservationist Albert Fall was appointed Secretary of the Interior, for example.
One thing Harding did do right, though, was industry. He got rid of Progressive reforms and enforced a new form of laissez-faire. He wanted to help guide business to profit. Though Harding was President for just three years, he appointed 4 of the 9 Supreme Court justices. They killed child labor laws, workers’ rights laws, and resisted gov’t interference in the economy. They reversed Muller v. Oregon stating that women now had the right to vote and weren’t in need of special legislation. Goodbye women’s rights!
The antitrust laws would have been forgotten if it hadn’t been for Sect. Hoover, who helped enforce them once more. Instead of watching for illegal activity, the Interstate Commerce Commission now ensured that railroad companies were profitable. Most of the hastily-built WWI ships were sold off as well. Workers that striked were labeled as reds and soon less than 30% of workers would belong to unions.
Veterans, now in large quantities, had to be given a voice. The American Legion, founded by Teddy Roosevelt Jr., lobbied for veterans’ rights– they were called ‘doughboys’ because they wanted ‘dough’. Congress formed the Veterans Bureau in 1921. More than anything, veterans wanted compensation for lost wages. They finally got it in 1924, which added $3.5 billion to the war bill.
Later Calvin Coolidge would take the country by its reins and start pinching pennies.
But– wait a minute– we’re not done talking about Harding. Honestly, this is the worst textbook ever.
Without the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles, the US was technically still at war with Germany. Congress passed a joint resolution in 1921 to declare WWI over. While Harding favored isolation, the rising tensions in the oil-rich Middle East caused him to do otherwise. Instead of fight, they favored a disarmament conference in 1921 and 1922. The Four-Power Treaty lessened the number of battleships and aircraft carriers. The Pact of Paris would later be ratified in 1928, which was pretty much useless.
With the rich paying lower taxes, the gov’t had to get money from somewhere; tariffs were the only answer. The McCumber Tariff Law, passed in 1922, drove up tariffs. Tariffs on farm produce were increased and the Tariff Commission was given full rein. Europe was effected the most as they had little money to buy the now-expensive American products. The only solution was to loan them more American money, prolonging the problem.
Scandals were rampant. Colonel Forbes, head of the Veterans Bureau, swindled $200 million before he resigned. Even more impressive was the Teapot Dome scandal. Albert Fall (remember him?) convinced the Secretary of the Navy to transfer valuable naval oil reserves to the Interior Department. Fall leased the oil reserves to two oilmen after they bribed him to the tune of $100,000. The news eventually came out and shocked the nation.
Harding, who was involved in the Teapot Dome, went a speech-making tour to restore his valor. Alas, this lead to his death from pneumonia. Unlike Harding, who would compromise to anyone, Calvin would not. He had strong morals and stood his ground. He was, however, incredibly shy and a poor orator. Had he not been Harding’s running mate, he never would have been elected to the highest office.
Like Harding, he let big business have their way, believing it would restore the nation’s economy. Farmers suffered big time as big business drove their prices down through machines, which made farming easier. A ‘farm bloc’ was formed from Mid-Western Senators and they helped passed the McNary-Haugen Bill in 1928, which authorized gov’t to buy up surpluses and keep crop prices high.
Surprisingly, Coolidge didn’t completely screw everything up and was nominated for President in 1924. At the time, the Democrats were a mess of KKK members, fundamentalists, and modernists who finally decided to nominate banker John W. Davis. The un-organized Progressive Party nominated Fightin’ Bob La Follette, who had championed the direct-election of Senators [see Chapter 28].
Coolidge won, obviously. He now had different ideals; he wanted to allow the US to adhere to the World Court, a branch of the League, but Congress wouldn’t have it. Aligning with isolationist principles, he withdrew troops from the Dominican Republican in 1924, though they would stay in Haiti until 1934. Coolidge also negotiated oil prices with Mexico.
The real problem was that Europe couldn’t pay off their war debts. The Europeans protested that the loans should be written off as American war costs and that with the high tariff, they couldn’t sell their exports to the US. Germany, who owed the most reparation, was suffering from crippling inflation. It now cost 120 million reichsmarks for a loaf of bread. Coolidge wanted to just cancel the debt, but Congress had better ideas.
The Dawes Act of 1924 paved the way for Germany to get private loans from the US to pay off Britain and France, who would then pay the US for their debt. This merry-go-round of money would have cancelled out all debts, had it not been for the Great Depression.
Coolidge bowed down to Herbert Hoover during the 1928 elections. The Democrats nominated Al(cohol) Smith with little support from the party faithful. Hoover often spoke on the radio, which he used to his advantage. He perfectly symbolized an American rags-to-riches story and voters loved him. He decried socialism while supporting labor unions. He was a candidate for the ages!
Hoover easily won and off he went reforming. He passed the Agriculture Market Act in 1929, which lent money to farming organizations so they could buy machines. The newly-created Farm Board bought up surpluses which, in the end, made the farmers suffer even more.
He went on to pass the Hawley-Smoot Tariff in 1930 which made tariffs nearly 60% of what the product cost. It was the highest protective tariff ever seen. This and many other factors led to astronomical amount of stocks sold on Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929. The Great Depression had begun.
The stock market crash set us back very far. Banks everywhere collapsed and citizens lost their entire life savings. Fathers blamed themselves for not being able to provide for their families. Mothers now couldn’t support any children and without contraceptives, that meant no sex. Everyone was feeling the effects.
The Great Depression had numerous causes. Among them was the overproduction of farm and factory goods (no one would buy the surplus) and the Mississippi Valley drought in 1930, later known as the ‘Dust Bowl’. Many people blamed Hoover for the economic disaster and many slums were named ‘Hooverville’.
Hoover had been able to work wonders in the past, but the Great Depression was too much for him to handle. He then realized that for the Depression to end, the gov’t had to help out the railroads, banks, and credit corporations to get the US back on its financial feet. His loans were met with anger– he would give money to big bankers, but not the American people.
Hoover’s efforts actually helped to calm the storm and would pave the way for FDR’s New Deal. Hoover was a strong believer in the ‘trickle-down’ system and wanted Congress to devote the last of its money for public works. The construction of dams, namely the Hoover Dam, put thousands back to work. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) provided relief to corporations.
To help workers and unions, Hoover outlawed yellow-dog contracts and forbade injunctions to kill strikes with the Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932. It was very hard to do much more for laborers with the Republican majority Congress. Veterans now demanded they be paid the compensation they were promised. Their riots killed four men and Hoover insisted they were lead by reds.
What little popularity Hoover had built up was now gone. To make matters worse, Japan attacked China, violating League rules. The League could do nothing without the support of the Americans. New US doctrine stated that no territorial acquisitions by force would be recognized. This Japanese aggression would later lead to WWII.