1920: The Year of the Six Presidents

1920: The Year of the Six Presidents

3.8 7
by David Pietrusza

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A vivid portrait of the election that shaped modern AmericaSee more details below


A vivid portrait of the election that shaped modern America

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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