THE PRESIDENCY OF WARREN G. HARDING
Many presidential scholars claim that Warren G. Harding was one of the least qualified men ever nominated for the presidency by a major party in America. Harding, a senator from Ohio, was not even mentioned as a possible candidate before the Republican convention of 1920. Harding finally became the Republican nominee after the party bosses determined that he would be a candidate they could control. He was opposed in the national election by Governor James Cox of Ohio, Harding ran on a platform of low taxes, high tariffs, farmer’s assistance, and opposition to the League of Nations.
Where Governor Cox (and his running mate, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt) ran a strong and aggressive campaign, Harding was generally content to campaign from own back porch. He ended up winning 61 percent of the national vote. Americans found something they liked in both the message and style of Harding: His message was essentially that it was time to pull back from '‘schemes” to change the world (the postwar plans of Woodrow Wilson) and “social experiment” (all of the programs of the progressives). Harding’s call for a period of “normalcy” struck a chord with Americans and seemed to put the final nail in the coffin of progressivism in American thought.
During the presidency of Harding, efforts were made to prevent America from having any involvement with the League of Nations or any other provision of the Versailles Treaty. One of the outstanding appointments made by I larding was the naming of former Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes as Secretary of State. Hughes’ major accomplishment as Secretary of State took place at the Washington Conference of 1921, At this meeting diplomats from the United States, Japan, China, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, France, Great Britain, and Italy met to discuss the possible elimination of further naval development and affairs in China and the rest of Asia. All nine nations agreed to respect the independence of China (and maintaining the Open Door in China), a major goal of American business interests. The United States, Britain, France, Japan, and Italy all agreed to halt the construction of naval vessels (at the time Hughes did not realize that this gave naval superiority in the Pacific to the Japanese).
Another notable appointment by I larding was the naming of Andrew Mellon, the “richest man in America,” as Secretary of the Treasury. Mellon firmly believed in the traditional Republican tenant that very low taxes would ultimately encourage business investment and ensure economic prosperity. To do this, Mellon sought to reduce government spending in any way possible, and to reduce taxes, especially for the wealthier business classes. To cut expenses, Harding opposed bonus payments to World War I veterans in 1921; some benefits for veterans were authorized by the Congress. In the Revenue Act of 1921 the administration proposed large reductions in the amounts of taxes that the wealthiest Americans would have to pay (protests from some Republicans from farm states caused these reductions to be less than Mellon desired), In the end, many of Mellon’s policies increased the economic pain of the working class while benefiting the rich.
To assist American business interests, Mellon also wanted large tariff increases on imported industrial goods. The Fordney-McCumber Tariff of 1922 did increase the tariffs on industrial products. However, to appease Republicans from farm states the largest tariff increases were on imported farm products.
Little was done in the Harding administration to assist organized labor. Many court decisions of the decade took the side of management, including several court decisions that overturned lower-court rulings making child labor illegal. It was clear in the decade that the interests of farmers and the interests of industrial workers were very dissimilar.