Normalcy and the New Deal

Question Description

Background: When the First World War ended, Americans welcomed what they hoped would be a “return to normalcy.” The decades that followed, however, are ones which would rarely be described as normal in comparison to what came before or after. During these decades, a struggle ensued within the American nation regarding how best to define the nation’s essential character, as groups like the revived Ku Klux Klan fought a rearguard action to define nationhood solely in terms of white skin and Protestant religion against secularists, Catholics, flappers, “New Negroes,” and others who challenged the traditional order. Immediately thereafter, the New Deal implemented in response to the Great Depression revolutionized the role of the federal government in lives of the American people, in ways that many Americans believed violated the basic tenets of the Constitution—and others believed were not radical enough. Taken together, the decades from 1920 to 1940 may have transformed the American nation more than any other comparable time period.

Resources: When responding to these questions, draw material from ONE of the following videos:

  1. 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
  2. Hogan, H. (Writer). (2003). The roaring twenties [Television series episode]. In R. Hawksworth (Executive producer), America in the 20th Century. New York, NY: Films for the Humanities & Sciences. Retrieved from
  3. Stone, R. (Writer & Director). (2009). The civilian conservation corps [Television series episode]. In M. Samels (Executive producer), The 1930s. Boston, MA: WGBH Educational Foundation. Retrieved from
Also, draw from the material in AT LEAST TWO of the following primary sources:
  1. Bliven, B. (1925, Sept. 9). Flapper Jane. Retrieved from
  2. Forquignon. (1932).Bonus army marches on Washington, DC 1932 [Video]. Retrieved from
  3. Hartt, R. L. (1921, Jan. 15). “The new Negro”: “When he’s hit, he hits back!”. Independent. Retrieved from 
  4. Long, H. (1934, Feb. 23).Share our wealth speech. Retrieved from
  5. Marshall, C. C. (1927, April). An open letter to the honorable Alfred E. SmithAtlantic Monthly, 139, 540-544, 548-549. Retrieved from 
  6. Martin, T. T. (1923).Hell and high schoolsAtlantic Monthly, 139, 540-544, 548-549. Retrieved from 
  7. McDougald, E. J. (1925). The double task of Negro womanhood.In A. Locke (Ed.), The New Negro: An Interpretation. Retrieved from 
  8. Roosevelt, F. D. (1933, May 7).Address of the President delivered by radio from the White House. Retrieved from 
  9. Shafter, L. H. (1938).I’d rather not be on relief. Retrieved from 
  10. The New Deal Network. (2003). TVA: Electricity for all. [Interactive Exhibit]. Retrieved from
Instructions: Review the major social and economic developments in American society during the 1920s and 1930s. After reviewing your Instructor’s Guidance and completing the weekly reading assignments (Chapter_03.pdf )(including those in the resource section below), please post a substantive discussion post of at least 200 words that compares and contrasts the decades of the 1920’s with the 1930s using the following questions as the basis of your analysis: 
  • How did American society change in the two decades after the First World War? 
  • How did the federal government change in response to those changes? 
  • How did the American people respond to the changing role of the federal government? 
  • How did the New Deal change over time and what alternatives were offered to it? 
  • Which groups benefited or suffered most from these changes? 
  • Should this period be regarded as having represented a revolutionary moment in American history?
Along with the general discussion, address developments across these two decades related to AT LEAST ONE of the following groups: 
  • Evangelical Protestants 
  • Farmers 
  • African Americans 
  • Women 
  • Business owners 
  • The middle class
Your initial post should be at least 200 words in length. Support your claims with examples from the required material(s) and properly cite any references. You may use additional scholarly sources to support your points if you choose.

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3 Freedom from Fear, 1920–1945 . . . The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. —Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 123 6/10/11 12:13 PM Chapter Outline 3.1 3.2 3.3 A Return to Normalcy 125 Harding’s Normalcy 126 Harding’s Progressive Measures 127 Teapot Dome and Untimely Death 127 Harding’s Legacy and Posthumous Scandal 128 Calvin Coolidge 129 Babbitt and the Economics of the 1920s 131 Therapeutic Ethos 131 Purchasing on Credit 132 Conclusion 132 The New Society in the 1920s 132 The New Morality of the 1920s 133 Why Change Your Wife? 134 The Jazz Age 134 Pushing the Boundaries at Coney Island 135 The Rise of Relativism 135 A Conservative Reaction 137 Fundamentalism 138 The Great Migration 139 Garveyism and Africa for the Africans 139 The Harlem Renaissance 140 Conclusion 140 The Crash (1929–1933) 141 A Quiet Storm 142 October 1929 142 Causes of the Great Depression 143 Hoover and the Depression 144 The Response to Hoover 145 Conclusion 147 3.4 Roosevelt and the New Deal (1933–1939) 147 The Rendezvous with Destiny 148 The Inauguration 149 The First 100 Days—Banks and Beer 150 The Agricultural Adjustment Act 151 The National Industrial Recovery Act 151 Tennessee Valley Authority 152 Welfare Reforms 152 Relationship with Congress 153 Timeline of the 100 Days 153 Conclusion 154 3.5 Depression Era Culture (1930s) 154 Technology as Freedom 155 More Work for Mother 155 The Electronic Hearth 156 War of the Worlds 157 Car Culture 157 Tourism—Food, Fuel, and Motels 158 Movie Palaces 159 Conclusion 160 3.6 The Second New Deal (1935–1941) 161 New Deal Critics 161 The Second New Deal—Wagner Act 162 The Second New Deal—Social Security 163 The Supreme Court Battle 164 Roosevelt Recession 165 The Good Neighbor Policy 166 The Rise of Dictators 167 Conclusion 167 3.7 The World at War (1941–1945) 168 Fascism 168 New World Leaders 169 The Road to War 169 The Arsenal of Democracy 170 December 7, 1941 171 Mobilization at Home 171 The American Family on the Home Front 172 Wartime Injustice 173 African Americans at War 174 The War in Europe 174 D-Day 175 The Battle of the Bulge 176 Strategic Bombing at Dresden 176 The Holocaust 177 The War in the Pacific 178 Iwo Jima and Okinawa 179 The Manhattan Project 180 Truman’s Decision 180 The Costs of War 181 Shaping the Postwar World at Yalta 182 Conclusion 184 124 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 124 6/10/11 12:13 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.1 A Return to Normalcy I t was a time in flux between optimism in the 1920s, depression in the 1930s, and fear and heroism in the 1940s. The years from 1920 to 1945 represented a quarter-century like none other in American history, with a pace of change, what some have called the “violence of contrasts,” requiring a need for strong national leadership and resilient citizens (Kennedy, 1999, p. xiii). These years began with the economic prosperity of the 1920s, a decade often called “roaring” because a sense of optimism pervaded the country. It came to a sudden end in October 1929 as the nation experienced an unparalleled stock market crash. As the riches and wealth of many evaporated, and when jobs of many more Americans disappeared, the United States entered the Great Depression of the 1930s. Under the leadership of the only person ever to be elected as president four times, Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to chart a return course to prosperity with his New Deal. However, the focus of the nation changed once again in December 1941, when Japanese aircraft attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Thrust inexorably into World War II, the United States emerged from its Depression to coordinate closely with its allies in a fight to preserve democracy against the forces of fascism. Eminent historian C. Vann Woodward, writing the preface to a Pulitzer Prize–winning book on these years called Freedom from Fear, remarked on the uniqueness of this era. He called the changes and challenges that all Americans faced “bewildering.” From unparalleled prosperity to wretched poverty during the 1920s and 1930s, the war years of the 1940s witnessed perhaps the most complex change of all. According to Woodward this was the “repudiation of a century-and-a-half of isolation as America entered World War II” (Kennedy, 1999, p. xiii). In these years from 1920 to 1945, America experienced the permanent end of international isolation. No longer could the nation temporarily select when and where to engage the world because her oceanic protection had ceased to serve as an effective shield from global threats and challenges. 3.1 A Return to Normalcy A t the start of the 1920s, most everyone in America wanted to take a collective breath and pause from the tumultuous era it had just endured. The world war, flu pandemic, labor unrest, and racial violence of the previous decade, weighed greatly on the psyche of many Americans. Many yearned for peace and strove to attain some level of calm and prosperity. The nation was becoming a different place, as the 1920 census told. Most significantly, city populations were increasing, and for the first time, more than half of the population (54 million) lived in places identified as urban. This did not mean that all of these people were living in large cities. Instead urban, according to the 1920 census, simply meant any community of more than 2,500 people. Nevertheless, times were changing, and the 1920s represented a transitioning point between traditional and modern America. As the number of people living in agricultural regions that centered on farming diminished, those drawn to the big cities increased. More than 16 million Americans now lived in the 12 cities that had populations of more than 500,000 people (Kyvig, 2002, p. 8). Despite these transitions from a traditional to modern America, there was one word that captured the spirit of this entire era. It was a word popularized by Republican Warren 125 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 125 6/10/11 12:13 PM Section 3.1 A Return to Normalcy CHAPTER 3 A large crowd gathers at the 1920 Republican Convention, where Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding was nominated for President. G. Harding as he ran for president of the United States. His word that captured the attention of the nation was normalcy. Harding explained it like this in May 1920: “America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality” (Cashman, 1989, p. 84). In this chapter, we will explore how the United States attempted to attain its new goal of normalcy in both the political and economic realms during the 1920s. The result was a reshaping of America that in many ways reflects the political and economic world that surrounds us today. Harding’s Normalcy The 1920 election was one in which Woodrow Wilson, then President of the United States, did not participate. With his health failing at the end of his term and his struggles over the League of Nations continuing, another four years as president was something he neither desired nor could endure. In his place, the Democrats selected Ohio’s Governor James M. Cox as their candidate, with Franklin D. Roosevelt as the vice president. Regardless of the outcome of the election, everyone knew that someone from Ohio was going to win the White House because the Republicans ran a conservative senator from Ohio, Warren Harding. The election was a landslide with Harding, and his vice president Calvin Coolidge, earning 16 million votes to Cox’s 9 million. Harding’s presidential approach was, in many ways, the opposite of his Progressive predecessor. The Progressive movement quickly declined after World War I as a conservatism that supported more individual freedom and a limitation of governmental activism arose (McGerr, 2005). Indeed, 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. For example, business owners approved Harding’s more hands-on approach to breaking strikes of organized workers and often made workers sign agreements not to join unions. Labor leaders derisively called these yellow dog contracts. However, to their credit, 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 Republican running mates in 1920: Warren G. Harding with Calvin Coolidge, in June 1920. 126 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 126 6/10/11 12:13 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.1 A Return to Normalcy new cafeterias, and even social events like baseball leagues. More importantly, many businesses offered health insurance that became vital to the employees. As a result, union membership declined dramatically. Harding’s appointment of four Supreme Court justices also pushed the country into a much more conservative direction. Harding’s Progressive Measures Harding was not completely opposed to all progressive ideas and demonstrated this during his second State of the Union address in 1922. He called for federal partnerships for internal improvements projects such as irrigation and conservation, he wanted more electrical plants throughout the country, and he believed that child labor should end even if that meant a new constitutional amendment (Dean, 2004). The Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act of 1921 was one of the most remarkable progressive successes on Harding’s watch. Introduced in 1918 by Jeannette Rankin, the Republican congresswoman from Montana, it became the first social welfare legislation sponsored by the federal government (Lemons, 1990). 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. The main incentive for the bill was the alarmingly high infant mortality rate in the United States at the time. In 1920, the infant mortality rate for live births was 95 out of 1,000 male babies and 76 out of 1,000 for female babies (Rothstein, 2003, p. 93). Between 1925 and 1929, this improved to 69 babies (male and female combined) who died out of every 1,000 live births (Eberstadt, 1995). The situation was worse among African Americans, where poverty contributed to poor health, especially in large cities. For example, in Harlem, the infant mortality rate was 70 percent higher than the rest of New York City (LaFeber, 2008, p. 136). The fact that women could now vote due to the suffrage amendment lent great support to this cause; it is likely that without women, the bill would not have passed (Tobias, 1997). Harding signed it into law in 1921. Teapot Dome and Untimely Death Though things seemed to be running smoothly for Har­ ding’s presidency, scandal was brewing underneath. The most infamous was the Teapot Dome scandal. Teapot Rock overlooks a 9,000-acre oil deposit, 50 miles north of Casper, Wyoming. In 1915, the United States established a naval oil reserve there; however, Harding’s secretary of the interior, Albert Fall, leased out these protected oil reserves to developers without competitive bidding. Fall received money under the table from the developers, calling it a “loan” of $700,000. Fall resigned on March 4, 1923, and federal authorities subsequently sent him to prison in 1931 (Noggle, 1965). This scandal demonstrated the corruption that lay within the Har­ ding administration, and much of the blame fell on Harding’s associates from Ohio whom he had appointed to President Harding’s train in Alaska with some of the entourage of 75 on the caboose. 127 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 127 6/10/11 12:13 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.1 A Return to Normalcy political positions. The press and others derogatorily called them the Ohio Gang. Though Harding had not personally accepted money during the Teapot Dome scandal, his close relationship to those that did cast doubt on his judgment. In June 1923, Harding planned a trip to Alaska and began campaigning for reelection along the way. To increase the range and effectiveness of his speeches, he equipped his presidential train with an innovation: a set of amplifiers mounted on the roof of the train so that thousands could hear his words. He gave more than 85 speeches and countless interviews before his train pulled into his last stop in San Francisco. However, on August 2, 1923, while his wife was reading him the Saturday Evening Post, he died. The official death certificate indicated that he died from apoplexy, which is a loss of consciousness due to a blocked blood vessel in the brain. He was just 58 years old. More than 3 million people mourned the passing of his train as it traveled from the West Coast to Washington, DC, and then back to his home in Ohio. Harding’s Legacy and Posthumous Scandal The cause of his death soon brought great speculation. The first scandal came to light when Nan Britton published her “tell-all” book, The President’s Daughter, in 1927. According to Britton, she had had a six-year affair with Harding that began when he was an Ohio senator. The Brittons and Hardings became friends in Marion, Ohio, so when Nan’s mother needed a job after her husband’s death, Nan consulted with Harding. Harding said that he was concerned for Nan and that perhaps he could “do something for her” (Britton, 1927). By late February 1919, she realized that she was to become the mother of Warren Harding’s child. According to her, Harding looked forward with anticipation to the event; on October 22, 1919, Elizabeth Ann was born. That was Britton’s side of the story, and her book became a best seller. Nan Britton (1896–1991) and her daughter, Elizabeth Ann (1919– 2005), who she claimed was fathered by then Senator Warren G. Harding. Perhaps inspired by Nan Britton, Gaston B. Means published theories regarding another scandalous Harding story in 1930 in a book called The Strange Death of President Harding. Means wrote that he met with Mrs. Har­ ding upon her return to Washington. He described her as “alert, cold, hard . . . [with] no touch of sympathy or hysteria, or feeling” (Means and Thacker, 1930, p. 258– 259). He said at that moment he knew the truth; Means surmised that she poisoned him by drugging his water glass. He believed that Mrs. Harding reveled in having the world focus on her and compliment her on how well she was handling the situation. He postulated that Mrs. Harding’s motive was the discovery of Harding’s infidelity with Nan Britton and that she also wanted to save her husband from the nepotism scandals that involved his friends. 128 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 128 6/10/11 12:13 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.1 A Return to Normalcy More recent analysis of Harding’s private letters have cast doubt on Britton’s story and focused more attention on the complex extramarital affair between Harding and Mrs. Carrie Phillips. However, the fact that Phillips was likely a German spy further casts doubt on Harding’s judgment (Robenalt, 2009). Nevertheless, these posthumous scandals were important for several reasons. The first was because, in Nan Britton’s case, it represented a new type of tabloid “tell-all” journalism in America that continues to this day. Second, it was politically important to the Harding legacy because it helped to unmake his reputation. On his death, the country mourned his passing more than any president since Lincoln; today, his 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). Calvin Coolidge Calvin Coolidge, Harding’s vice president, took over as chief executive upon confirmation of Harding’s death on August 3, 1923. As a Republican senator from Massachusetts, Coolidge entered the national political spotlight during his handling of the 1919 Boston Police Strike (see Section 2.7). Like Harding, Coolidge was also pro-business and believed that it was the president’s job to listen and defer to Congress. He became well known for slogans that encapsulated the Republican political philosophy, such as “The chief business of the American people is business,” which he first stated in 1925 (Kennedy, 1999). Another of his famous sayings was that “the man who builds a factory builds a temple. The man that works there worships there” (Phillips, 2003). With sayings like these, Coolidge set the tone of his presidency—which was strong on business and weak on government. Various political commentators and satirists of the day, such as H. L. Mencken, claimed in 1927 that “Silent Cal” Coolidge’s ideal day was “one on which nothing whatever happens” (Mencken, 2006). Mencken further criticized the president for evading the most important problems that confronted the nation. Coolidge did have a great task ahead of him when he took office. Few presidents in American history have assumed office with such tremendous scandals still hovering over the previous administration. Harding was responsible for establishing the important Veterans’ Bureau in 1921 (which is now called the Veterans Administration), which worked to give war veterans and their families a variety of social benefits such as health care, education, loans, insurance, and job training, but it was mired in scandal (Pencak, 2009, p. 389). The Veterans’ Bureau became a “hotbed of fraud and kickbacks” to one of Harding’s chief supporters (Brinkley and Dyer, 2004, p. 327). Further Harding problems arose during the Coolidge presidency when investigators revealed that the former president’s attorney general had allowed the Justice Department to engage in a variety of illegal activities. 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. Much of this was due to Andrew W. Mellon, his secretary of the treasury. 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). 129 bow11111_03_c03_123-188.indd 129 6/10/11 12:13 PM CHAPTER 3 Section 3.1 A Return to Normalcy Technology in America Television At the same time people were exploring the wonders of film at movie theaters, a new technology quietly emerged in the 1920s that promised to bring moving pictures to the home. It transformed the market for the home radio by adding a visual component. Though television technology existed prior to World War II, it was not commercially viable until the Dumont Television Network began broadcasting in the 1940s. Dumont called it the “biggest window in the world” and the “answer to man’s ageless yearning for eyes and ears to pierce the barrier of distance.” Initially, static and flickering black-and white-images shadowed across the television window. By the 1960s, new advancements in color improved the pict ...
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