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1920: The Year of the Six Presidents

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1920: The Year of the Six Presidents Cover

ISBN13: 9780786721023
ISBN10: 0786721022
Condition: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

The presidential election of 1920 was one of the most dramatic ever. For the only time in the nation's history, six once-and-future presidents hoped to end up in the White House. As people chose between the Wilsonian legacy of the League of Nations and Harding's more isolationist stand, this election would shape America's course in the twentieth century like no other. It was an election that saw unprecedented levels of publicity--the Republicans outspent the Democrats by 4 to 1--and it was the first to garner extensive newspaper and newsreel coverage. It was also the first election in which women could vote. Meanwhile, the 1920 census showed that America had become an urban nation--automobiles, mass production, chain stores, and easy credit were transforming the economy and American was limbering up for the roaring '20s, one of the most spectacular decades of its history. Pietrusza's riveting new work presents a dazzling panorama of presidential personalities, ambitions, plots, and counterplots--a picture of modern America at the crossroads.

Synopsis:

A vivid portrait of the election that shaped modern America

Synopsis:

The presidential election of 1920 was among historys most dramatic. Six once-and-future presidents-Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, and Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt-jockeyed for the White House. With voters choosing between Wilsons League of Nations and Hardings front-porch isolationism, the 1920 election shaped modern America. Women won the vote. Republicans outspent Democrats by 4 to 1, as voters witnessed the first extensive newsreel coverage, modern campaign advertising, and results broadcast on radio. America had become an urban nation: Automobiles, mass production, chain stores, and easy credit transformed the economy. 1920 paints a vivid portrait of America, beset by the Red Scare, jailed dissidents, Prohibition, smoke-filled rooms, bomb-throwing terrorists, and the Klan, gingerly crossing modernitys threshold.

About the Author

David Pietrusza, CASEY Award winner, has authored or edited over thirty books. His Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius who Fixed the 1919 World Series was nominated for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award in the Best Fact Crime category. He lives in upstate New York.

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OneMansView, June 28, 2011 (view all comments by OneMansView)
The real stories of 1920 are largely missed (2.75*s)

This rather shallow, miscellaneously detailed - even to the point of tedium - book looks at the many flawed, mediocre individuals who vied, or were otherwise involved, for the 1920 Presidency ��" both Republicans and Democrats. Minimal details of their backgrounds are provided, but most important to the author are their personality quirks and shortcomings, the various antagonisms that existed among them, and, how they did or did not cope with political forces, including the media. The title of the book well overstates the prominence of those involved in the election of 1920. The two actual presidents exerted minimal influence on the process: Theodore Roosevelt died well before the conventions and Woodrow Wilson, after suffering several strokes, was bed-ridden during the entire election cycle. The others, FDR, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Warren Harding were relatively unimportant politicians at the time and were more or less dragged along by the course of events.

Both party nominating conventions and the election are subject to detail overkill by the author: all manner of meetings with every attendee noted, whose standing is now up or down, manipulative strategies and deals of the moment, statistics of trips taken and speeches made, etc. The winners at those conventions, Republican Warren Harding and Democrat James Cox were both second-rate, second-tier candidates. It is only partially clear as to why Republican front-runners Leonard Wood and Frank Lowden and, to some extent, Democratic leaders William McAdoo and A. Mitchell Palmer faded so badly. The author’s supplying of the vote totals of each round of balloting, while unnecessary, does explicitly show the change of fortunes.

The author’s focus on political personalities and considerations relegates the many important issues in the post WWI period to mostly cursory and fragmented treatment, such as the tough economic times with high inflation and unemployment, the flagrant suppression of the labor movement and dissent in general, that is, the Red Scare, and Pres. Woodrow Wilson’s incessant, insistent pushing of the League of Nations ��" part of his plan for the settlement of the War. Also, both prohibition and women’s suffrage, with an emphasis on political maneuvering, receive some attention.

An example of the author’s failure to provide context for issues is his handling of the so-called labor question. While the author does acknowledge Eugene Debs, the imprisoned socialist candidate for president and labor leader, as a champion of the working class, he in no way captures the decades-long labor-capital discord in American industries. Interestingly enough, the Wilson administration’s mandate that employee work councils be established within places of work [not mentioned by the author] to ensure labor peace was consistent with his call for “making the world safe for democracy.” However, after the War employers and government turned on striking workers with a vengeance capped by the excesses of AG Mitchell Palmer in his indiscriminate roundup of militants and the summary deportation of several hundred of them. While acknowledging Palmer’s excesses, the author, ignoring decades-long labor grievances, basically subscribes to the notion of radical, out-of-control workers needing to be curtailed.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is the author’s detailing of the strange, obsessive, and contradictory personality of Wilson. He trusted no one and was quick to take offence, cutting off friends at the merest hint of a sleight or differences in policy. His inability to relate to others is seen in his tendency to lecture others in most any gathering. His progressivism was at best a thin veneer scarcely concealing his prejudices over race, labor, women’s rights, etc. His insistence on personally conducting treaty negotiations in France is a perfect example of his compulsiveness. But his most egregious act was to leave the nation essentially leaderless during the last year of his presidency as a result of his medical condition by creating a façade of being alert and in charge.

While the book is a chore to complete and ignores many important topics, it is not without some interest. The process for selecting presidential candidates is on full display and is not particularly encouraging. Harding was a nonentity whose agenda was merely to return the nation to “normalcy” ��" a vague notion at best. Cox never developed a coherent stance concerning Wilson’s policies or on such matters as Prohibition. Unsurprisingly, Harding’s administration was essentially a disaster, with several officials being convicted of crimes of corruption.

The book surely reaches a low point in its considerable discussion of a crackpot professor’s claims that Harding was of mixed race. That subject could have easily been dismissed in a paragraph, not an entire chapter. Another distraction about the book is the author’s tendency to subscribe to jargon of the day, such as “irreconcilables”, “reservationists”, “stand-patters”, and the like, with insufficient explanations provided. At least labeling a candidate as a “wet” or a “dry” is readily understandable.

1920 is not an unimportant year in U.S. history. The unsatisfactory process for selecting a president that year is bothersome, but ranks well below the willingness of the American establishment to stomp all over the rights of those with whom they disagreed or did not like. That is the story of 1920 that the author does not emphasize. The jailing of individuals under the Alien and Seditions Acts enacted after the War started is dreadful commentary on American justice. The incarceration of Debs has to be one of the low points in American jurisprudence. It would take fifteen years and the Great Depression for the labor movement to rebound from its suppression after WWI. And the tolerance for Jim Crow in the South and the evisceration of the rights of a huge group of people is simple unconscionable in a nation that claims to respect freedom. This huge regime of suppression transcends the machinations of elites in selecting uninspiring candidates for president in importance.

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Product Details

ISBN:
9780786721023
Author:
Pietrusza, David
Publisher:
Basic Books (AZ)
Subject:
United States - 20th Century/20s
Subject:
Political Process - Elections
Subject:
Government - Executive Branch
Subject:
Presidents
Subject:
History
Subject:
United States Politics and government.
Subject:
Presidents -- United States -- Election -- 1920.
Subject:
United States - 20th Century
Subject:
US History - 20th Century
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
20080431
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
592
Dimensions:
9.25 x 6.13 in 25 oz

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Military » General History
History and Social Science » Politics » General
History and Social Science » US History » 1800 to 1945
History and Social Science » US History » 1860 to 1920
History and Social Science » US History » 20th Century » General
History and Social Science » World History » General

1920: The Year of the Six Presidents Used Trade Paper
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$9.95 In Stock
Product details 592 pages Basic Books - English 9780786721023 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by ,
A vivid portrait of the election that shaped modern America
"Synopsis" by ,
The presidential election of 1920 was among historys most dramatic. Six once-and-future presidents-Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, and Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt-jockeyed for the White House. With voters choosing between Wilsons League of Nations and Hardings front-porch isolationism, the 1920 election shaped modern America. Women won the vote. Republicans outspent Democrats by 4 to 1, as voters witnessed the first extensive newsreel coverage, modern campaign advertising, and results broadcast on radio. America had become an urban nation: Automobiles, mass production, chain stores, and easy credit transformed the economy. 1920 paints a vivid portrait of America, beset by the Red Scare, jailed dissidents, Prohibition, smoke-filled rooms, bomb-throwing terrorists, and the Klan, gingerly crossing modernitys threshold.
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