1920–Harding’s “Normalcy”–Josh Birch
Warren G. Harding beat James Cox in one of the largest popular vote victories ever in a presidential election. 60.4% of the people came out to support Harding during the election. It was clear from this overwhelming majority that Harding offered the citizens of this country something that they desperately wanted; a return to normalcy. (Kaller)
The 1920 election came after 8 years of Woodrow Wilson in office. Most importantly, it came after World War I, a time in which Wilson had asked the American people to make sacrifices so that America could win the war. People were tired of making sacrifices to fight a war in which had drained the world of so many human lives. In a period where picking the candidate was an extremely hard task for both parties, the Republicans ultimately picked Harding because he offered the American people what they wanted; peace, stability, and a return to normalcy.
In one of his most memorable speeches, Harding gave his “Return to Normalcy” speech on May 14, 1920 in Boston. This speech was captured on phonograph, and is the piece of rhetoric I have chosen for this blog. The speech points out things that Harding disagrees with and says that America can no longer do, and then gives solutions he sees fit to fix the problems.
He states that war has left men living in a haze in which they can’t see correctly. Harding states, “Poise has been disturbed and nerves have been racked, and fever has rendered men irrational”(Harding). Harding wants to get America out of the mindset of war, and into a mindset of nation first and returning to a normal life. He states that America is in need of things like peace and restoration, not revolution and foreign engagements in Europe. For these reasons and more, Harding strongly urges America to stay out of the League of Nations to focus on country first.
Harding believes that people have begun to see war as the only way of keeping the world safe. While Harding does state there are certain times when war may be necessary, he believes that America can be a world leader for others to look up to without the use of armed conflict. He states:
“If we can prove a representative popular government under which a citizenship seeks what it may do for the government rather than what the government may do for individuals, we shall do more to make democracy safe for the world than all armed conflict ever recorded.”
By doing this, Harding is essentially challenging the American people to put their trust back in their own country, and rather than having wasteful spending on a war, spend the money on revitalizing the business sector to right the economy again. After all, by doing this, Harding believes that America will become a prosperous nation once again, one in which others can look at to see all the splendors democracy offers. By focusing attention back on America, Harding believed that jobs could be gained back, the economy could right itself, and people could begin to enjoy a peaceful life which they had desperately desired.
Looking back on the time, it is hard to argue that this idea displayed in the speech won Harding a considerable amount of votes. His plans lowered the unemployment rate from 20% to 3.3%. He also cut one third of the national debt that he had inherited from Wilson’s wasteful spending. (Abel) In reality, this plan of returning to normalcy wasn’t just a campaign issue that he won the election on, but rather a deep rooted belief that Harding put into action as president of the United States.
The speech is a perfect example of the way Harding offered America a way to live in peace again. The country was reeling from a costly war, and needed the ideas of Harding at the time. Much like President Obama won on the idea of presenting change in 2008, Harding won on the ideas of returning to normalcy in 1920. This rhetoric displays the social situation in the country by issuing a challenge to get people to work and return to a country first belief. The speech takes the historical hardships at the time and uses them to strengthen the case of returning to normalcy. Throughout the speech, Warren G. Harding takes the political, social, and historical aspects of the time and turns them into a passionate speech filled with hope that America would recover from its problems by simply returning to normalcy.