The Changing Political Environment, 1917-80


How did the Political Environment Change, 1917-33?

Impact of WW1

Wilson took the USA into WW1 and tried to get the USA to join the 'League of Nations' - lots of opposition to both.

Return to 'Normalcy'

  • Harding became President in 1921, promising return to 'normalcy'
  • 'Normacly' meant a stable, steady way of life and returning to how things were before the war
  • Short, sharp economic depression - unemployment went from 950k in 1919 to 5mil in 1921 - lots of social discontent
  • Said govt had to balance its books, reduce taxation and introduce tariffs to protect US industry


  • The process of isolating the US from international problems
  • Trade tariffs introduced to favour US businesses, encouraged people to 'Buy American' - Fordney-McCumber Tariff Act
  • Not joining 'League of Nations' or setting up colonies
  • Reduced number of immigrants coming into country
  • Great Depression helped US focus on its own problems rather than others
  • Hire Purchase - Repayments over period of time

Presidency Change

Many people argued that Wilson was too involved in govt decison making - turned many to Republican ideals

The Appeal of Republicanism

  • The Republican policy was laissez-faire, meaning 'leave well alone' and suggested that govt involvement should be kept to a minimum
  • Govt should control its own spending rather than spending to help those failing
  • Harding didn't interfere - didn't draft laws or get dragged into international politics
  • Democrats couldn't agree on a candidate
  • Collidge combined Laissez-faire with a dignity and morality that Republicans hoped would restore faith in their party
  • The US entered a period of recovery and prosperity - led many to believe Republicanism was working

Influences on the Political Landscape

First Red Scare, 1919-20

  • 1905-17, Russia went through series of revolutions, which resulted in the Monarchy being replaced in 1917 by a communist govt - sent shockwaves around the world
  • US fear of communism increased further when workers began to strike
  • Anarchists distributed pamphlets urging a revolution. By 1919, there was more than 3,600 strikes
  • In 1919 in Seattle, over 60,000 workers went on strike, Police was sent to break up
  • Fear continued to increase causing some businesses to sack employees they suspected - people began blaming everyone
  • KKK target all 'Un-Americans'

Rugged Individualism

  • Hoover gave Republican laissez-faire policy a spin that dwelt less on inaction but more on allowing people to take responsibility for themselves
  • Developed theory of 'rugged individualism' which believed that: The people were weakened by the govt and sapped their self-reliance, USA should isolate themselves from other countries, and they should restrict immigration

The Great Depression

  • In 1929, the 'boom' combined with the out of control share trading to produce the Wall Street Crash
  • Unemployment soared -  people lost homes and banks/businesses failed
  • Republicans didn't intervene as they believed it would sort itself out like the previous depression

Decline of Republicanism

  • Following the Wall Street Crash, Hoover set up a Federal Farm Board to help farmers
  • Hoover realised that laissez-faire wasn't working
  • Believed private charities was the answer, who would offer




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