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AS Exam Question Section A
Were Republican ideas the main reason for the fact that there was a Republican president and a Republican majority in Congress in the years 1921-31? (20 marks)
“In the years 1921-31 the USA witnessed a period that saw three presidents elected to office - all Republicans who were all elected by massive landslides. To assess the exact reasons for the dramatic change of power from the Democrats to the Republicans, it is necessary to consider why people no longer wanted to vote for the Democrats, as they did pre-war. Republican ideas, such as: normality, isolationism and laissez-faire, could be considered the main reason for a Republican president and a Republican majority in Congress, as they promised to return to the way the USA was pre-war. However, citizens may have favoured the Republican party as they lost trust within the Democratic party, after their decision to enter the USA into the First World War, despite campaigning to keep them out of it and for involving them even more in international affairs after the war.
When President Harding became president in 1921, he promised the American people a return to ‘normalcy’, an idea that America would return to life pre-war. Due to unemployment rising from 950,000 in 1919 to 5,010,000 in 1921 the USA experienced a short sharp depression, which meant the economy needed stability and for that to happen strong leadership was required. The economy was fixed with very little influence from the Republicans, meaning they adopted the image of the more economically competent party. Harding was not held accountable for the state of the economy, but blame was smeared all over the Democratic party, due to their disastrous decisions during the war. Harding began to balance the government’s books, reduce taxation (as it was increased for the war), and introduced tariffs to protect US trade and industry. The actions of balancing the government’s books and reducing taxation motivated Americans to work harder, as the system was now fairer, thereby increasing productivity, and encouraged them to try and achieve the American Dream. The introduction of tariffs supplemented the loss of money from lower taxation and ensured the economy would stay steady. Furthermore, the fact charges were made on well off organisations for trading, meant people of lower classes were not treated unfairly by paying unrealistic taxes. Citizens began to trust the Republicans when it came to the economy. This shows the importance of the strong and stable economy on returning to ‘normalcy’. Now, the economy was growing, America was returning to its traditional way of life, people began to trust them and vote for them, explaining the Republican president and a Republican majority in Congress in the 1920s. Although, the fact the Republicans had very little influence over the aiding of the minor depression, highlights how the pure luck of the economy was in the Republicans favour, so maybe their ideas was not the reason for their majorities after all.
Another reason for the Republicans’ hold of power in the USA was the idea of Isolationism. This ideal suggested the USA should be supportive of other nations, but not to become ‘entangled’ with them. This involved cutting back on the numbers of immigrants entering the country to try and protect citizens. The 1921 Emergency Quota Act restricted immigration to 357,000 a year, but was revised in 1924 to 150,000. The USA decided to not join the League of Nations, which encouraged Americans to focus strictly on themselves, rather than other nations. This also had prospering effects on the economy. Tariffs were raised, which meant US businesses were favoured and hire purchase was introduced which allowed people to buy goods over time. All this contributed towards the ‘boom’ period of the economy, which suggested Republican policies were working and encouraged the public to continue to support and vote for the party. Isolationism became even more supported during The First Red Scare, which lasted from 1919-20. Russia’s monarchy was toppled and replaced by a communist government in 1917, which sent shockwaves round the world. This made many people in the capitalist USA disturbed, as communism encouraged worldwide revolution by the workers against their capitalist masters. Anarchists were distributing pamphlets in the USA urging revolution. This extended the American’s fear of migrants and ultimately pushed people towards Republican ideals, rather than ideals drawing them in. Hence, the Red Scare forced people to support the Republican party, as they promised safety from the threat of communism. Without these far-left scares the fear of immigrants wouldn’t have of existed to the same extent, therefore could’ve made them more neutral towards political parties. These events practically forced American citizens to vote Republican, so there ideals of isolationism, to some extent, weren’t the reason of their majorities and presidents, but the far-left lash of the world made the Republican party seem like the only choice to the public.
Another factor of importance in the Republicans’ sudden rise to power was their victory in the 1928 election where Herbert Hoover was named president, after his campaign for ‘rugged individualism’. The original Republican notion of laissez-faire was that it was not the job of the government to control the economy or to manage social problems. The exact definition altered across the decade, but the meaning ultimately remained the same. However, Hoover gave the policy a spin that dwelt less on inaction and more on allowing people to take responsibility for themselves. This wasn’t exactly a policy change, but rather a switch in emphasis, where people who looked after themselves would make their own way in the world and prosper, realising the American Dream. This was seen as effective psychological marketing, which was linked to Republican ideals, but more of an example of Hoover’s ambition of power and ingenuity, rather than the importance of Republican ideals in their hold for power. This suggests the party were regenerating outdated ideas to try and remain in power, instead of creating new policies for the new issues of the new decade.
To contrast, and to finalise, it could be argued the sustainment of the Republicans’ power was the approach of Woodrow Wilson to the First World War and his own presidency. Wilson constantly campaigned to keep the USA out of the war, but decided to enter them in the penultimate year, due to German attacks. The majority of Americans did not wish to join the war, but Wilson did not listen to the citizens, which lost all feelings of a connection between Wilson and the people, which made him an unpopular president. The Democrats adopted the ‘pro-war’ party and this immediately made voters favour the Republican party as they needed change after the devastating impacts of the war. Many people began to fear the Democrats. Also, the fact Democrats promised to keep the USA out of the war, yet did the exact opposite, Americans instantly lost trust in them and couldn’t believe in them to lead the country. This swept a large number of usual Democratic voters, towards Republicans, as they were the only choice left. It was seemingly the lesser of two evils at first. This resulted the Democrats having a record low approval rating. Furthermore, once the war concluded Wilson began to run the country as if it was a dictatorship, making decisions without any support. He tried to involve the USA even more closely in international affairs once the war was over, but American’s craved to be shut off from the turbulent world. Therefore, the actions of the Democratic party and the president pushed voters towards the Republican party, rather than the Republican ideals themselves.
To conclude, although the fresh ideals of Republicans such as: normalcy, isolationism and laissez-faire were important in their hold of both the presidency and Congress in the years 1921-31, it was, in fact, an extensive cluster of favourable circumstances that saw them triumph. The thriving economy, the First World War, the lack of trust for Wilson and the Democrats and the Red Scare all slanted the political landscape gently in favour of the Republicans, not exactly for their ideas but their opposition of the Democrats and communist views.”