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1920–Berryman Cartoon–Josh Birch

For all intents and purposes, the 1920 election was a very strange one. America was in a time of transitions, as World War I had just ended, and the stock market crash and World War II had yet to hit. Both parties were struggling to find candidates and issues that would win them the election. Eventually Warren G. Harding was selected as the Republican candidate, and James M. Cox (right) as the Democratic candidate.

The piece of rhetoric I choose for this blog is a political cartoon from 1919 by Clifford K. Berryman. In it, it depicts the donkey and elephant, representing both political parties, sitting on a branch fishing in a pond. The fact that it was a donkey and an elephant, instead of the candidates representing each party, showed that neither party had a candidate favored to win at the time. The pond itself has a sign saying ‘Election Issues’, meaning that the two parties not only lacked front-running candidates, but also a platform in which to run on. Both the donkey and the elephant look distressed and worried because nothing was biting their bait in the pond. In reality, the parties were beginning to run out of time to find a candidate for the presidency, and create a platform for their party to win. By fishing in this election issue pond, the cartoon is implying that if some issue “bites” at a certain party, it would help them determine what to do, and who to select, for the 1920 presidential election.

The cartoon also has a very gloomy and dark look. This was not a time filled with prosperity in the country. The economic boom that had been created during the war had now ended. People in the U.S. were scared of radical powers and ideology from Europe infiltrating the country. The election of a new president is supposed to emulate a time of change and a new beginning of sorts. And while the 1920 election did just this, the months leading up to the election were filled with tension and uncertainty about what the selected candidates would do for America. Thus, by having a gloomy looking pond in the cartoon, the author is mirroring this dark uncertain feeling that many in the country were feeling.

            Eventually the Republican Party adopted a platform supporting the return of big business, one in which probably ultimately won them the election. The idea of creating stability within the country brought about the idea known as the return to normalcy. In part, this idea of returning to normalcy came out of the debates over how involved America should be in European affairs. More specifically, how could the world recover from World War I, and whether or not the U.S. should join the League of Nations. The Republicans views on returning to normalcy incorporated the idea of internal affairs first. It was Harding’s belief that America should slow down and enjoy peace and get our economy and government grounded. He stated that America had lost sight of what was important during the war. America needed to get back to things like business and enjoying what America had to offer rather than worrying constantly about what others were doing.

At the time, this is the message that most people wanted to hear. They were tired of fighting in Europe. They were tired of throwing all of the governments’ money to fund the war effort while leaving other parts of the American economy vulnerable. Previous presidents had gotten entangled in foreign affairs, most notably Woodrow Wilson when entering World War I. By 1920, America had lost its dominant political figures of the past two decades. No longer could the country rely on the voices of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson who had dominated political life in the country. There was going to have to be a change, and the idea of a return to normalcy by Warren Harding was that change.

Obviously this campaign of returning to normalcy appeared after my piece of rhetoric was published. It is quite fascinating that an election of this magnitude, essentially bringing isolationism back into America, came out of a time period when finding the right candidates were so incredibly difficult. The rhetoric displays two parties completely lost and a country confused about what they wanted and needed. From this turmoil and indecisiveness came an election which ultimately changed the mindset of America.

Work Cited

“1919 Political Cartoon By Clifford K. Berryman.” Learn NC. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 16 April 2011. http://honolulu.hawaii.edu/legacylib/mlahcc.html#internet.

“1920’s Politics.” 1920-30.com. 2005. 16 April 2011. http://www.1920-30.com/politics/.

“Republicans and a ‘Return to Normalcy’.” SparkNotes. 2010. 16 April 2011. http://www.-           sparknotes.com/testprep/books/sat2/history/chapter16section1.rhtml.

“Roaring Twenties: Social Issues, 1920-1929.” United States History. 16 April 2011. http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1564.html.

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