The Age of Normalcy

In a decade of movie stars, sports heroes and industrial innovations, the world of politics lacked similar luster. The nation’s top leaders wanted to maintain a low profile and spur the economy; they also reflected the mood of Americans who turned isolationist, repulsed by the Great War and European problems.

In Warren G. Harding’s inaugural address in 1921 he called for America to return to “normalcy”, a word not found in any dictionary at the time. Despite this linguistic flaw, Americans understood – they wanted to go back to the days of no war and a stable society.

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In foreign affairs, the United States worked toward disarmament of nations and an attempt to outlaw war, but took no part in a world organization, the League of Nations, that was established to help nations maintain the peace. Again, America isolated itself from the rest of the world. Our government also reflected the mood of its citizens by imposing two new immigration quotas both of which singled out and limited immigration from Southern and Eastern European countries while virtually banning migration from Japan and China.

Domestically, our national government attempted to limit government influence in most areas of society. The three American Presidents of the decade have never been high on any presidential poll. Warren Harding’s administration was racked by some of our country’s worst scandals. Calvin Coolidge was a dour man, devoid of personality, who cleaned up the Harding scandals while presiding over one of the best economic times in our history. Herbert Hoover, a great American hero who fed millions of starving people in Europe after World War I, took office only eight months before the Great Stock Market Crash in October 1929– an event that was forever associated with him.

To all of these men, promotion of business and industry trumped so cial programs, defense or government expenditures. They practiced a laissez- faire or “hands off” approach to business.

And in the 1920s, many Americans adopted a similar attitude toward politics. The presidential elections of 1920 and 1924 recorded the lowest eligible voter turnout in presidential elections between 1860 and 1968 even though women had secured the vote through the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Apathy toward our government was widespread. As an institution, it lost in the competitive market place of American interest to the glitz of a rising stock market, booming business, the cinema, sports and fads.