Normalcy and A New Deal
In 1920, The American people wanted to get back to normalcy. They wanted to get away from the War that had just ensued, the labor unrest, the racial intolerance and the sickness that came with the 'Savage Peace' in 1919. "In the years immediately following World War I, tens of thousands of southern blacks and returning black soldiers flocked to the nation’s Northern cities looking for good jobs and a measure of respect and security" (Harrt,1921). City population was increasing and farmland occupancy was decreasing. America was moving from a traditional style to a more modern style and the teaching of the 'Theory of Evolution' was being fought in schools by Evangelist Protestants. T.T. Martin even went so far as to say this about schools that taught Evolution and the legislate; "Elect to the legislatures men who will cut off all support from all tax-supported schools where Evolution is taught, and require that in all tax-supported schools only teachers shall be employed who will post themselves and combat this terrible curse every time it comes up in the text books being used" (Martin, 1923). Little did they know all their fighting would be for naught and that they would soon be flung into a great depression.
Warren G. Harding became president and Calvin Coolidge became the vice president. "Harding was far more favorable to and tolerant of big business and demonstrated his convictions by changing the policies of the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Federal Reserve Board to make them much more pro-business than they were in the past. He also strove to enact legislation that gave corporations more power" (Bowels, 2011). Although Harding showed favoritism and enacted certain legislation for businesses, "business leaders devised a social policy called welfare capitalism. This was a series of programs that attempted to take care of the needs of the workers through safe conditions, clean places to eat in new cafeterias, and even social events like baseball leagues. More importantly, many businesses offered health insurance that became vital to the employees" (Bowels, 2011). Harding was responsible for 'The Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act of 1921', the 'Teapot Dome scandal' and was the reason that business leaders issued 'yellow dog contracts'.
'The Sheppard-Towner Act' was one of the better things that Harding did as president, and it was an amazing advancement for women in the 20's. Women could vote and they were using their voices to pass bills that were proposed by women, for women. 'The Sheppard-Towner act was introduced by Jeannette Rankin. "Rankin was the first woman to serve in Congress, and her bill was significant because it called for states to provide pre- and postnatal care, infant hygiene, and a place where mothers could go to learn about child care" (Bowels, 2011). " The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 fostered new attitudes among many young women. Nowhere was this more evident then in the short skirts, unbuckled boots, loose beads, and heavy makeup of the “flapper.” Daring-minded teenage girls shocked older generations with their outrageous fashions and attitudes" (Bliven, 1925). Even though Harding did so much for women, he was also the focal point of a few posthumous scandals with women, one of which included a very questionable death. Harding's "legacy is that he is best remembered for being America's worst president because of the scandals associated with his presidency both before and after his death (Dean, 2004)" (Bowels, 2011).
After Harding died, Calvin Coolidge took over as President with a scandal from the previous administration hanging over his head. "Despite Coolidge's struggles to overcome the scandals of his predecessor and the general loss of confidence in government, his economic policies did result in five-and-a-half years of prosperity " (Bowels, 2011). ). "The American public gave Coolidge a vote of confidence for his economic policies in 1924, when they elected him to serve another four years of office because they liked what they saw in the year-and-a-half that he served after Harding's death. In part, he won acclaim for lowering taxes four times, and he was careful with governmental spending. He became a favorite of wealthy Americans by lowering estate taxes, and this fueled massive investment in the stock market (Greenberg, 2006)" (Bowels, 2011). During the presidency of both Harding and Coolidge it seems that big business, women and the wealthy were benefitted the most out of everyone. At the end of Coolidge's presidency, "in 1928, on the campaign promise of continuing prosperity and a chicken in every pot, Herbert Hoover accepted the Republican Party's nomination to run for president" (Hogan, 2003).
Hoover made declarations that America was closer to achieving prosperity then they had ever been. After he was elected, the economy almost immediately crumbled and 'The Great Depression' rushed its way all over America. The stock market crashed, banks were shut down and millions of people became unemployed and therefore lost their homes. Heavy tariffs were placed on other countries imported goods in a chance attempt to keep American money in the American economy. The result was other countries raising tariffs of their own causing American farmers to not be able to sell exported goods and the collapse of World trade. During Hoover's presidency people became destitute, farmers and the middle class benefitted the least, and not much was done for the working American. Americans were infuriated and had lost hope. People took their money from the banks until there was no more money to give. "The Capitol was surrounded by over ten thousand unemployed veterans of World War I from all over the country. Their only assets were the certificates they'd been given after the war, which promised a cash bonus sometime in the future" (Forquignon, 1932) Hoover responded to veteran demands by tear gassing them. People were worse off than they had ever been before. I do think that this period was somewhat revolutionary, between gaining women's right and some of the things done for businesses and their workers, but it was nothing compared to any of the other marked revolutions of American History.
By the time 1930 rolled around, people wanted change after the prior presidencies of Harding and Hoover. They wanted the country to be free of the depression that America was undergoing at the time. They needed a light, a new hope. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, cousin to Theodore Roosevelt, became President. He comes up with the plan for a 'New Deal'. "His rhetoric inspired the American people at a time when hope was fading. After Roosevelt won the 1932 election, the New Deal became one of the most well-known political labels in American history.
While the merits and results are still debated today, it unquestionably changed the course of U.S. history" (Bowels, 2011). "The New Deal was an undefined hope for change, but it eventually became a series of programs that fundamentally reshaped America and included the beginnings of the modern welfare system and increasing powers of regulation for the federal government. The programs reinterpreted the relationship between the people and their government; in the process, Roosevelt became known as the "founding father" of American liberalism" (Bowels, 2011). "Though stock prices climbed gradually by the end of 1933, there were still roughly 12 million Americans without a job. To them, a rising stock market meant little if they struggled to have enough money to put food on their table. FDR was widely popular to many, despite the continuing Depression and unemployment" (Bowels, 2011). While there were many that loved him and thought his presidency was one of the greatest, there were those who questioned his actions and criticized the 'New Deal'.
One thing FDR really wanted to do was end 'The Great Depression' so, one way to try to slow the depression down was to declare a holiday and have all banks closed to prevent "withdrawals of depositors who had lost faith in the banking system" (Hogan, 2003). This kept the American people from drawing money out of the banks and allowed the banks to have a little bit of time to figure out their situations, the ones that were still open anyway. Business leaders criticized FDR to no ends;
[business leaders from across the nation raised their voices in protest against Roosevelt. Examples included the three du Pont brothers, who believed that FDR's policies threatened the future of the nation. They believed that his policies gave the federal government too much authority to regulate everyday life. One example that concerned them was the increasing power of the Securities and Exchange Commission and what some perceived as meddling in the financial markets. Another issue that the du Pont brothers disliked was FDR's legislation to end child labor. This was not because they wanted children working in factories, but instead because they feared it was the first step in the government's involvement in domestic life. Pierre du Pont wrote, "No Federal law or constitutional amendment will abolish child labor unless the parents in the community are convinced that child labor should not exist" (Phillips-Fein, 2010)] (Bowels, 2011).
You could say that business leaders were among some of the people who suffered the most due to FDR's changes. Two more of the groups who did not fare so well under the FDR administration, or the previous three administrations for that matter, would be the farmers and the middle class working individuals. Songs were even written by working, middle class Americans about farmers and the working man;
[I'd rather not be on the rolls of relief,
Or work on the W. P. A.,
We'd rather work for the farmer
If the farmer could raise the pay;
Then the farmer could plant more cotton
And he'd get more money for spuds,
Instead of wearing patches,
We'd dress up in new duds] (Hunter, 1938)
FDR was aware of this criticism and the issue of the farmers and workers so, "in the mid-1930s, formulated his next move. He settled on a plan called the Second New Deal, which was a series of five key pieces of legislation passed by Congress between July and August 1935" (Bowels, 2011). These five pieces of legislation were 'The Banking Act', 'The Wheeler-Rayburn Utility Company Holding Act', 'The Revenue Act', 'The Wagner Act' and 'The Social Security Act'. The Second New Deal ended tragically because it unexpectedly caused worsening economic conditions, even though they had gotten slightly better for a moment. "Keynes discussed how economics is both a science and a way to conduct public policy (Minsky, 2008). The government could actively shape the future by spending its way out of depression instead of focusing on balancing budgets. He called the strategy countercyclical, which meant that the government should spend money when times were bad, and tax when the economic situation was more favorable. Eventually, FDR sided with Keynes and in 1938 asked Congress to fund a $33 billion program that went in part to the Works Progress Administration (WPA). This spending did bring some relief, but it did not end the ongoing depression' (Bowels, 2011). After all of this work, over the course of four presidencies and nothing really being fixed, World War II came in and no one was worried about the economy or depression anymore.
With the war came jobs for everyone but there also came rationing. Men went off to war, white men and African American men. This left most of the women at home, the ones who didn't go to the war with the men. Women had to step up and take places in men's previous positions in America to fulfill the demand of the men and women at war. In my personal opinion World War II helped to bring America out of the depression, something that four presidents could not do themselves. I think that the period during the 1920s should be counted more as a revolutionary period than the time during the 1930s. Either way, most people only know about America's depression during this time frame and, no one really noticed the laws and legislations that were formed for the better of the country or the well being of society. The Wars, both World War I and II, kind of make this time period matter less to most American people. In most people's minds we had World War I, the Great Depression and Women's Suffrage, then World War II, with not much mention of the good things done during this time frame.
Bliven, B. (1925, Sept. 9). Flapper Jane. Retrieved from http://www.colorado.edu/AmStudies/lewis/1025/flapperjane.pdf
Bowles, M. (2011). American history 1865–present: End of isolation. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
Forquignon. (1932). Bonus army marches on Washington, DC 1932 [Video]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWvCCxOUsM8&feature=youtu.be
Hartt, R. L. (1921, Jan. 15). “The new Negro”: “When he’s hit, he hits back!”. Independent. Retrieved from http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5127
Hogan, H. (Writer). (2003). The great depression. [Television series episode]. In R. Hawksworth (Executive producer), America in the 20th Century. New York, NY: Films for the Humanities & Sciences. Retrieved from http://digital.films.com/OnDemandEmbed.aspx?Token=36219&aid=18596&Plt=FOD&loid=0&w=640&h=480&ref=
Martin, T. T. (1923). Hell and high schools. Atlantic Monthly, 139, 540-544, 548-549. Retrieved from http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5074
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© 2014 Kelly Miller