The Republican Party During the 1920’s
The Republican Party had flourished in the political spotlight during the 1920’s with several president stringing together a republican Era during the Jazz Age.
The Republican politics of the 1920s sprung from the rejection of Woodrow Wilson, the only Democrat elected to the presidency between 1892 and 1932. Wilson had never governed with the support of a majority of voters, winning office in 1912 only because two Republicans (popular ex-President Teddy Roosevelt and incumbent William Howard Taft) split the vote by running against each other, then barely retaining the presidency with less than half the popular vote in 1916. Despite his dubious mandate, Wilson pursued aggressive reforms at home and abroad, culminating in the virtual nationalization of the economy during World War I and the ambitious internationalism of the League of Nations after the armistice.
Warren G. Harding
By the war's end, however, the American people supported neither Wilson's international commitments nor his domestic interventions into the economy and society. In 1920, they elected to the presidency, by a landslide, Republican Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio. Harding, who might best be described as an affable simpleton, campaigned on the simple promise of a "return to normalcy." Normalcy, under the Harding administration, meant a government that was pro-business, anti-tax, and anti-regulation.
Harding's Treasury Secretary, financier Andrew Mellon, cut income tax rates for the wealthiest Americans from 73% to 25%. The capital thus liberated fuelled the skyrocketing stock market and helped the Jay Gatsby’s of the world to achieve an unprecedented level of material affluence, but it also exacerbated the maldistribution of wealth between rich and poor—by 1929, the richest one-tenth of one per cent of Americans owned as much wealth as the bottom 42%9—and may have created an unsustainable financial bubble that led directly to the Great Depression.
Corruption of Harding
Harding, hostile to the government regulation of business instituted under the Progressive administrations of Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson, stocked the federal regulatory agencies with officials plucked from the industries meant to be regulated. Many of these anti-regulation regulators proved to be not merely philosophically opposed to government regulation but also deeply corrupt. Under Harding's administration, scandal tainted many departments of the government, with the corrupt looting of public property costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. In the most infamous incident, the memorably-named Teapot Dome scandal, Harding's anticonservationist Interior Secretary accepted bribes of nearly half a million dollars from cronies in the oil industry in exchange for giving away drilling rights in the invaluable federal oil reserves at Teapot Dome, Wyoming, and Elk Hills, California.
Due to endemic corruption such as that of Teapot Dome, historians today usually consider Warren G. Harding to be a leading candidate for the dubious title of "worst president ever."10 Fortuitously, perhaps, Harding himself did not live to receive this judgment; he died of a stroke while on a speaking tour of the country after less than three years in office, before the worst revelations of corruption in his administration were widely publicized.
Harding's replacement, a stern New Englander by the name of Calvin Coolidge, shared Harding's economic conservatism but not his stench of impropriety. "Silent Cal" Coolidge exhibited zero personal charisma, but his strong reputation for personal respectability helped the Republicans to avoid electoral consequences for Harding's indiscretions. Coolidge—most famous for declaring that "the business of America is business"—easily won election for a second term in 1924, ensuring that the pro-business, free-market policies of Andrew Mellon,