Warren G. Harding's Presidency

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Warren Harding's "Return to Normalcy" speech and its reflection on post-1910s America


Warren Harding's "Return to Normalcy" speech reflected the desire of post-1910s America to move away from the upheaval of World War I and the progressive reforms of the previous decades. It emphasized a return to pre-war normality, stability, and conservative values, appealing to Americans' longing for peace and traditional economic and social policies.

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What sentiments did Warren Harding's "Return to Normalcy" speech reflect about America post-1910s?

If Senator (and later President) Harding's speech is an indicator of American feelings in 1920, America was feeling exhausted after the events of the 1910s.

The 1910s had been a decade of upheaval.  There was, of course, the tremendous stress of World War I.  There were also lesser stresses from the Progressive Movement's pushes for reform.  Prohibition had just been instituted.  Women had gotten the vote.  Many other reforms had been implemented.

From Harding's speech, we get the idea that Americans were tired of all of this.  They were tired of the changes that were occurring in their society.  They wanted to have some time where no one was trying to fix the world, either through war or through progressive reforms.  

It is for this reason that Harding said that it was time for

... not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise...

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What did Warren Harding mean by "a return to normalcy"?

For Harding, a return to normalcy meant the end of the progressive and internationalist ideals championed by his predecessor, Woodrow Wilson. Harding wanted the United States to stay out of European affairs altogether—Harding knew nothing about foreign affairs and his campaign handlers endeavored to keep him out of that realm. Harding stayed true to the Republican party line of the time by not supporting the League of Nations. Harding also wanted to restore the business practices of the Gilded Age where business was able to do whatever it wanted without governmental involvement. Harding allowed oil interests to dig in public lands. He also cut taxes on business.

Harding would have been quite at home in the Gilded Age. He wanted his presidency to be forgettable. He even waged a "front porch" campaign where his campaign managers did most of the work and Harding made few public appearances. Harding's presidency was known more for personal and public scandal than it was anything positive.

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