A rousing chronicle of the political year that saw six American presidents, past, present and future, vying simultaneously for high office.
Poised between the administrations of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and the ensuing decade that would earn itself the qualifier “roaring,” 1920 found Americans craving a pause, a return to the soothing “normalcy” of a bygone era. Who better fit the national mood than the thoroughly undistinguished Senator Warren G. Harding? After an intense primary season and many convention ballots, the Republican Party finally settled on the affable Ohioan and his law-and-order running-mate, Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge, choices made easier by the sudden death of the beloved TR, himself eyeing a comeback, and the one man capable of disturbing the party’s predilection for calm. Incumbent President Wilson, bedridden after a debilitating stroke, shed no tears over the death of his bitter enemy and unaccountably believed the Democratic Party would extend his discredited presidency by nominating him for an unprecedented third term. Instead, the party chose Ohio Governor James Cox, like Harding a former small-town newspaper editor, and for vice-president, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a charming fellow from New York, who came with the added advantage of that hallowed name Roosevelt: Franklin D. Only Herbert Hoover’s seeming desire to be anointed rather than nominated (he refused to disclose his party affiliation) kept this internationally acclaimed humanitarian from being a bigger factor in the race. Other figures who helped shape the political battle—Eugene Debs, Hiram Johnson, Leonard Wood, William McAdoo, A. Mitchell Palmer, Nicholas Murray Butler, Alfred E. Smith—are highlighted as well. Pietrusza (Rothstein: The Life Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series, 2003) adds color and dimension with smart discussions of Prohibition, women’s suffrage, immigration, civil rights, the League of Nations and labor strife, and he offers animated portraits of William Jennings Bryan, Carrie Chapman Catt, Henry Ford, Marcus Garvey, Sacco and Vanzetti, William Randolph Hearst, H.L. Mencken and many others.
A hugely fascinating episode in American history, told with insight and great humor, by an author in command of his subject.