1920: The Year of the Six Presidents

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The presidential election of 1920 was among history?s 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 Wilson?s League of Nations and Harding?s 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. ...

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1920: The Year of the Six Presidents

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The presidential election of 1920 was among history’s 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 Wilson’s League of Nations and Harding’s 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 modernity’s threshold.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Pietrusza's (Rothstein) chronicle of the presidential election of 1920 is absorbing, despite the subtitle's rather tangential claim that the election involved six men who had served or would serve as president: Harding, Wilson, Coolidge, Hoover and both Roosevelts (though Teddy had died in 1919). This book isn't really about them, nor is it merely the story of one electoral race. Rather, Pietrusza is telling a grander tale, of a country toppling into "modernity, or what passed for it." In 1920, the automobile had overtaken the horse, jazz and the fox-trot were replacing the camp meeting as popular entertainment, people were learning to buy on installment, and more and more of those fox-trotting shoppers lived in cities. Presidential candidates, for the first time, courted women voters. (Democrat Cox was divorced, which was expected to play badly with the fairer sex.) Both parties waffled on the so-called race question, seeking black votes while either tacitly or explicitly endorsing white supremacy. Given Harding's electoral victory and death during his term, Pietrusza could have devoted more space to the abiding importance of this election. All in all, Pietrusza has produced a broad, satisfying political and social history, in the style of Doris Kearns Goodwin. 16 pages of b&w illus. (Feb. 7) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Lest anyone get the wrong idea, the United States did nothave six presidents in 1920. The author stretches the truth a bit to dramatize a historical anomaly: six men—a sitting president, former president, and four eventual presidents—competed in the 1920 presidential election. Actually, President Woodrow Wilson was physically incapacitated at the start of the year, and Theodore Roosevelt had died in 1919, but the legacies of both presidents shaped the 1920 election campaign. Pietrusza (Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series) sufficiently contends that this election marked the birth of modern American politics. Each of the main characters is introduced sequentially, with brief biographical information, beginning with Wilson and his failed attempt to have his League of Nations treaty adopted by the Senate, to TR and his split with Taft and the mainstream Republican Party, to Warren Harding, winner of the election, to Coolidge, Harding's vice president and successor upon death, to Hoover and finally FDR. Pietrusza wisely includes considerable information on Eugene Debs, the Socialist candidate that year. The many issues and forces that swirled during that time, from the fear of Communists and Socialists and the terrorism they allegedly perpetrated to technological advances and Prohibition, make for a fascinating and compelling tale of an often-overlooked election in our history. Highly recommended.
—Thomas J. Baldino
Kirkus Reviews
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 MurrayButler, 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. Agent: Robert Wilson/Wilson Media
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786721023
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 4/7/2008
  • Pages: 592
  • Sales rank: 50,064
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet 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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Table of Contents

The Players in Our Drama     1
"Discover a Common Hate"     9
"Something Queer Was Happening"     26
"I Seem to Have Gone to Pieces"     36
"He Is the Only Candidate"     55
"A Turtle on a Log"     72
"I Am Governor of Massachusetts"     90
"He Is Certainly a Wonder"     105
"A Twentieth-Century Apollo"     122
"Criminal Intrigues Everywhere"     140
"Superior Biologic Values"     155
"The Funeral Bake Meats"     167
"A 'Safe' Kind of Liberal"     187
"Red Feathers, Tin Bears, and Cardboard Oranges"     201
"Warren Harding Is the Best of the Second-Raters"     224
"The Greatest Living Champion of Water"     242
"Convict No. 9653"     262
"A Gathering of Asteroids"     282
"A Mother's Advice Is Always Safest"     290
"Back to Normal"     311
"A Pretty Good Constitution"     331
"Wake up, Ethiopia!"     353
"Warren Gamaliel Harding Is Not a White Man"     369
"Perverts by Official Orders"     386
"It Was an Earthquake"     397
"Power Must Fail"     418
"Fear Itself"     435
Epilogue: "Malevolent Detachment"     439
Notes     455
Bibliography     527
Acknowledgments     543
Index     545

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2009

    Six Presidents and a Special Year: When Destinies Collide

    A brisk read about the intersection of the political careers of six past and future U.S. presidents. Pietrusza does a marvelous job of bringing the year 1920 to life and contrasting the politics of the early 1900's with conventions and elections from our recent past and present. Intrigue, scandal, and luck mix with the contentious political scene of the era for an important history lesson and a pleasurable read. This is a thought provoking book about an election that is often dismissed as being irrelevant, or at the very least unfortunate. Pietrusza shows it to mean so much more, as the country (both sexes!) goes to the polls for a referendum on The League of Nations, U.S. involvement in World War I, prohibition, socialism, and the Wilson Era of American politics.

    I enjoyed the book so much I even visited the Warren G. Harding Memorial in Marion, Ohio. An impressive tomb for a man of many, many contradictions! Read the book and reflect on how the media has changed the way it reports on (some) candidates in this day and age!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 26, 2012

    A Different Time In American Politics

    Takes one back to a time when political conventions were more than a made for TV infomercial for political parties

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2009

    It's great and you can put knowlage in your brain for social studies

    I tought it's very well based on the year on the election 1920 and gave well based childhood and growing up facts too.the picture were amazing to see .I bet if you put my 7th grade social studies teachter mr.steve schockcow vs david peitrusza in a histroy bee it would be tight.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2007

    Maybe the author should stick to mysteries

    Interesting book, even if the author is overly interested in the sex lives of his characters. Unfortunately, historical inaccuracies distract from the story. Hughie Long? How can a historian refer to Hughie Long? And how can an editor miss such a reference? I jibe you not. (Jibe is the author's favorite verb.)

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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