Learn about Life in the 1920s

Problems for Harding in Winning the 1920 Election

THE BIGGEST TASK that ever fell to the lot of a new Administration," exclaims the Republican Buffalo Evening News, contemplating the staggering array of problems, domestic and foreign, political, financial, industrial, and commercial, that is President Harding's heritage.

"With the single exception of Lincoln, probably no President in our national history has taken office with as pressing a burden of unsolved questions," avers the liberal New York Nation; and the independent Newark News, declaring that Mr. Harding "must meet, and overcome, obstacles greater than ever Roosevelt surmounted," assures him he "need never fear that history will tint his Administration with drab." The New Republic (Ind.) dwells on the "truly awful" nature of his task, and the New York Globe (Ind.) characterizes his responsibilities as "appalling." "No thinking person will try to belittle the magnitude of the task that confronts Mr. Harding," declares the Philadelphia Public Ledger (Ind.); and it adds:

"He will inherit from the passing Administration a legacy that is the greater for the sad fact of Mr. Wilson's protracted invalidism. Never has any President come to the tremendous office with so much unfinished business and so many fresh problems of moment awaiting his mind and hand. Our international relationships were never so far-reaching nor so complicated, and the expression of benevolent intention is not the formulation of a policy, much less the performance of an energetic salvatory action. The whole great question of the part we are to play in world affairs with other nations remains to be determined. How are we to deal with Russia and with Germany, in fidelity to the trust imposed on us alike by the dead and by the unborn?"

Nor has Congress, remarks the Springfield Republican (Ind.), done anything since November 2 to clear the way. In the matter of such complex questions as "government finance, taxation, disarmament, immigration, and our relations with Europe and the Orient," says this Massachusetts paper, "the United States Government has been stalled for four months." It is veritably "a sea of troubles" upon which President Harding has embarked, declares the New York Herald (Ind. Rep.), which goes on to say of the financial snags in the channel:

"The new Administration comes into office facing an interest charge of $1,000,000,000 a year. This nation, which once gasped when it discovered that the machinery of government was costing a billion a year, now has to pay that amount yearly on its debt alone, so long as the foreign Powers default on their share of it, not to mention the regular costs of running the Government.

"In addition to this huge burden of debt, the man who follows the war President has to battle with the more elusive problems which result from the extravagances of war—the problems of unemployment, of living costs, of the depression that has to follow inflation, of the various miseries that come after a de- bauch of extravagance. Of all the Presidents who succeeded war-Presidents, Mr. Harding will face the most appalling mess.

"It embraces, besides the heritage of debts, unsound and destructive taxation which harries industry and business. There are as well the threatening floods of imports which will submerge our home markets if not dammed out, but without which we can not expect to have our foreign loans paid. There are the inflated costs of production which menace our export trade and expose our domestic trade to cheap labor competition from abroad. There are the difficulties and dangers of the unsettled exchanges. There are the clamor for colossal bonus payments and the national transportation system hamstrung by labor working conditions established under ruinous government operation. There are the injuries which the Powers collecting indemnity from the German people would inflict upon our rights and interests, the ill-feeling that is exprest against us because we are unwilling to be taxed to help pay that indemnity, the intrigues that are aimed at us, the charges that are directed against us."

"Just a few" of the complicated diplomatic problems that Warren G. Harding is facing are listed as follows in a Washington dispatch to the New York Tribune (Rep.):

  • "The Japanese situation growing out of the California land laws, an attempt to smooth over which already has resulted in loud outcries by the California Senators.
  • "The discussions which representatives of the British dominions have been holding with Senator Lodge as to some plan of these dominions and the United States presenting a united front to Japan.
  • "The Mexican situation, which apparently the Wilson Administration intends to leave on Harding's door-step, just as Taft left it on Wilson's.
  • "The disarmament proposal, with its Important relations to Great Britain and Japan.
  • "The situation Involved in foreign debts to the United States and the interest thereon, about which whole affair either the British Chancellor of the Exchequer is guilty of an extraordinary blunder or else the Wilson Administration has been concealing the truth from the American people.
  • "The peremptory demand by the United States that Japan cease from occupying the other half of Saghalien Island and cease the attempt to set up buffer states in the south of Siberia.
  • "The protest against Britain and France restricting development of natural resources of mandate territory, notably in Mesopotamia, to their own nationals.
  • "The Cuban situation, which may easily lead at any time to the necessity for intervention.
  • "The dispute with Japan over American rights, particularly cable rights, in the island of Yap, and also the general cable situation.
  • "The Chinese situation, involving both the consortium and the open-door policy.
  • "The Turkish-Armenian dispute, which Wilson has declared involves the whole question of attacks by small states encouraged by larger ones on Russia.
  • "The problem about Russian trade and recognition of Soviet Russia.
  • "The Irish situation.
  • "Panama Canal tolls, involving, if it is raised, as Mr. Harding promised, the reopening of the dispute with Britain over the construction of the Hay-Pauncefote treaty.
  • "The problem presented by American occupation or control of Hayti and other small Latin-American states.
  • "The dispute with Costa Rica over the purchase of the option on the Nicaragua Canal route, and with Salvador and Honduras over the American purchase of a naval base in Fonseca Bay, both disputes being involved in the Nicaraguan treaty.
  • "The Colombian treaty dispute, under which a treaty for the payment of $25,000,000 for alleged injuries in the Panama revolution is still pending.
  • "The question of American interest in the fixing of German indemnities.
"These are just a few of the problems, and do not touch on the biggest one of all, the question of an association of nations, to take the place of the League of Nations, except in that they complicate it and make it much more difficult of accomplishment.''

Most of the above are foreign problems; the domestic ones are not less formidable. "Few men will envy Mr. Harding his job as President of the United States for the next four years," declares The United Mine Workers' Journal, of Indianapolis, and in a sympathetic editorial this conservative labor organ goes on to say:
"He is confronted with problems that will tax not only his own ingenuity and genius, but also the very best that is in his cabinet and his advisers. There are so much unrest, discontent, and depression in the country to-day that the task of ironing it all out and getting the nation and the people back to a normal basis is going to be something tremendous. Business is shot to pieces; industry is stagnant; there is wide-spread unemployment; taxes are high; prices continue at a high level; in fact, there are serious domestic problems that must be worked out at once by the new Administration.

"Just at this time these domestic conditions require first attention—first aid, it might be called. To The Journal it appears that they are more important right now than anything that has to do with our foreign affairs. Until their home affairs are set in order the American people will not be as keen for adjustment of their foreign relations. Thus far no definite policy for dealing with those domestic conditions has been announced, and the people, therefore, are in doubt as to how they are to be handled. What will the new Administration do toward bringing about a resumption of business and industry so that the people may make a living? No other question is half as important as this one at the outset of the new Administration. There is a splendid opportunity for the adoption of a constructive policy that will restore prosperity to the people. And there is also the opportunity for the adoption of a policy leading to further discontent and deeper depression. Which will it be?

"First of all, the rights of the whole people must be safeguarded and protected against any attack by a few. The people demand and expect a fair deal. They will be satisfied with nothing less. It must be kept in mind always that vastly more than half of the people of the United States work for their living. Therefore, more attention must be paid to the welfare of this majority than to the welfare of the small minority that lives without working. Labor asks only for a square deal and absolute justice. It does not and would not demand more. But labor would not be satisfied if the new Administration were to listen exclusively to the demand of the big interests that labor be manhandled and that trade-unions be crusht out of existence. This is what the open-shop advocates are seeking to bring about, and it must be admitted that they are powerful and crafty.

"No man ever became President of the United States with greater opportunity for history-making service than Warren G. Harding."

Peculiarly baffling and fateful journalistic observers agree, are the problems of foreign policy that confront the new President. Europe, remarks The Outlook, turns to America "with mingled envy, fear, and hope," and "it is for the Republican Administration to justify that hope with assistance based upon an understanding of reality, and to sweep aside that fear and envy with justice and good will." "All Europe," says the New York Times (Ind. Dem.), "sees in Mr. Harding the leader of the most powerful and wealthiest nation in the world—a nation which has it in its power to remit debts, extend credits, promise effective support, and in general to alleviate most of the troubles with which Europe is afflicted." "It is literally true that the world hangs upon Mr. Harding's every word," declares The Advocate of Peace. While in domestic affairs the initiative rests generally with Congress, in foreign affairs, as The Nation reminds us, the President is "directly responsible for initiating American policy."

The Providence Evening Bulletin (Ind.) recalls with approval Mr. Harding's armistice-day speech at Brownsville in which he thus defined our foreign policy: "We choose no aloofness, we shirk no obligations, we forsake no friends, but we build on nationality, and we do not mean to surrender it." Mr. Hoover's Washington Herald points out that "the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations are just where the Republican Senate left them," and "if Mr. Harding wishes to go back to November, 1918, and begin over again he can."

One of the first acts under the Harding Administration, predicts the Albany Knickerbocker Press (Ind. Rep.), "will be a resolution ending the state of war with Germany, thus repealing the various war-time laws and regulations"; and this paper continues:

"Then will arise the matter of restoring relations with Germany and that of cooperating with the other nations. It is not likely that a separate treaty of peace will be necessary; the several points between the United States and Germany which were included in the Versailles Treaty, which we did not ratify, can be covered instead in the new commercial treaty which President Harding will doubtless negotiate. Nor need the United States either consent to the Versailles Treaty or call upon the signatories of that treaty to abandon their own League of Nations and join us in forming a new one. On the contrary, President Harding, by calling a conference of the Powers upon the subject of disarmament, will be able to settle well enough our relations with the other Powers, as well as the matter of a World Court and the ticklish situation in regard to the Allies' debt to us."

On this subject of the Allied debts it goes on to say:

"Up to the time when the United States entered the war Great Britain had been acting as banker for all the Allied Powers. With America a belligerent it was thought to be reasonable that American resources should supply the additional billions needed by the weaker nations. Accordingly the United States advanced to Great Britain $4,500,000,000; to France, $3,250,000,000; to Belgium, $375,000,000; to Italy, $1,800,000,000; and to Russia, Greece, Roumania, Cuba, Serbia, Czecho-Slovakia, and Liberia, enough more to make a total, with the unpaid interest at this time, of about $10,500,000,000.

"It should be noted, however, that the advances made to Great Britain were not utilized by that Government, but were immediately passed along to others. The arrangement was, in fact, an indorsement by Great Britain of the notes of the lessor debtors—but not, less binding on Great Britain for that fact.

"As a matter of fact, the judgment of well-inforrned men in Washington is that Great Britain will pay us in the end all the billions which we lent upon British indorsement, but that our chance of collecting much from the other nations is very slight. Even so, for the British to attempt these payments at this time would seriously affect international exchange and would hit American farmers and workingmen a severe blow by making the exchange barrier so high that no one could buy from us. Business is bad enough now. Yet the undisputed existence of this huge debt gives President Harding a powerful lever in whatever negotiations he may decide to institute, and it, will probably bo the principal factor in the forthcoming arrangements. In the end. it may be confidently expected that the issue will be a new-world agreement that. will bo satisfactory to the United States and to the Allied Powers—an agreement under which America can get actively at work upon world rehabilitation."

Turning again to the question of a separate peace with Ger- many, we find some difference of opinion regarding the expediency of such a step. Thus the Cleveland Press (Ind.), which supported the League of Nations as long as there seemed any possibility of our joining it, now advocates a separate peace with Germany as "best, for the whole world." But in the Indianapolis News, (Ind.) we read:

"Those who are talking so glibly of a, separate peace with Germany, to be followed later by a commercial treaty, either do not know, or find it convenient to forget that Germany will not be a free agent. She is limited in many ways by the Versailles Treaty. For instance, Germany can not export or dispose of, and is bound to forbid the export or disposal of, gold without the previous approval of the Allied and Associated Powers, acting through the Reparations Commission.' The German Government can enter into no reciprocal relations with the United States that would give Americans any advantage that would not be enjoyed by the Entente Powers. For the Treaty provides that 'every favor, immunity, or privilege in regard to the importation, exportation, or transit, of goods granted by Germany to any Allied or Associated State or to any other foreign country whatever shall simultaneously and unconditionally, and without request or compensation, be extended to all the Allied and Associated States.' There can be no discrimination in tariff rates or charges (including internal charges) against the goods of Allied and Asso- ciated Powers imported into Germany and in favor of the goods of any other country. There is thus not much chance for any advantage to this country as the result of negotiations."

In view of the many influences seeking to sow dissension between this country and Great Britain, many papers recall with satisfaction Mr. Harding's letter to the head of the Sulgrave Institution, in which he wrote:

"The labor of uniting into still closer amity and understand- ing the English-speaking peoples of the world has a significance of good to all Americans and to all nations and races of the world.

"Destiny has made it a historical fact that the English-speak- ing peoples have been the instrument through which civilization has been flung to the far corners of the globe. I am imprest not so much by the glory that English-speaking peoples may take to themselves as by the profound duties that God has thrust upon them—duties of being restrained, tolerant, and just. These duties will find their greatest recognition in a united, unshakable friendship and understanding and oneness of purpose—not for the exclusion from brotherhood of others, but for a better brotherhood flowing toward others.

"I believe that when the wisdom of America is summoned to assist the world in building a workable, as distinguished from a bungling, agreement or association for the prevention of war, unity of English-speaking peoples will play no small part, not to invade the rights or exclude the fellowship of other nations, but to protect and include them."

They also dwell with interest upon Mr. Harding's statement to a correspondent of the New York American that "I will do everything that is becoming to bring about the cooperation of the United States in any scheme for world disarmament." Still another correspondent quotes him as saying that he is heartily in. favor of an international conference at the earliest possible moment for the purpose of considering disarmament.

As already noted, the domestic problems confronting the new Administration are not less numerous and pressing than the foreign, with which, indeed, they are in. many instances intimately involved. The special session, of Congress the Presi- dent is expected to call in April, the correspondents say, will be dedicated specially to revenue legislation and the tariff—which moves the New York Journal of Commerce (Corn.) to exclaim:

"Does President Harding mean in his statement that he intends to confine Congress to the two questions of revenue and the tariff? This would signify that nothing is to be done on the multitudinous questions upon which the present Congress has failed to act. Urgent issues are up for consideration, and they should not, be indefinitely delayed."

Foremost among' the domestic problems are the revision and lowering of taxes and the adoption of a budgetary system." remarks the Buffalo Evening News (Rep.), because "increase in production waits on the solution of the one and economy in government on the other."- To quote further:

"Then there are great agricultural questions to be solved. Besides, means must be found to encourage American shipping, or the merchant marine built up at so heavy a cost during the war will disappear.

"The sales tax is suggested as a substitute for the excess-profits tax and certain features of the income tax. It is estimated that. a tax of one-half of one per cent. on commodity sales would produce $2,000,000,000 of revenue. It would be easily collected, with a minimum of inconvenience to trade, and under it there would be no 'loading' of prices to anticipate taxes. Certainly it is worth consideration by the incoming Administration, for the present tax laws are an abomination. They retard, instead of promoting, production; moreover, they encourage concealment.

"The arguments in favor of a national budgetary system are unanswerable. Its adoption means the introduction of business methods in the government, and business methods mean efficiency, and efficiency means getting the most possible out of the dollar. If it had not been for Mr. Wilson's pride of opinion, the country would not have had to operate all this time under the present haphazard system, one that would bankrupt any ordinary business. Unless we do come to a budgetary system, and that soon, we are likely to find ourselves in serious difficulties in the next few years. The matter is one that should have early attention from the Administration. For it is the way to economy and that is the first pledge of the Republican party.

"Relief must be afforded the farmers whose losses since the slump in prices of agricultural products have been severe. But they will get no benefit from such a measure as the Fordney emergency tariff bill. The effect of such legislation would be to stimulate competition against them. They will be helped by encouragement of export trade and the cultivation of foreign markets. This has been left wholly to private enterprise. The Republican platform declares in the farmers' behalf for 'the authorization of associations for the extension of personal credit; a national inquiry into the coordination of rail, water, and motor-transportation with adequate facilities for receiving, handling, and marketing food.' Whatever can be done along these lines •for the encouragement of agriculture should be undertaken without delay."

The chief task of the Harding Administration, as the Manchester Union and Leader (Ind. Rep.) sees it, is "the applica- tion of 'horse sense' to the problems of government." As this New Hampshire paper goes on to explain:

"Horse sense applied to the question of Europe's debts to us is likely to lead to a businesslike arrangement for refunding them on a long-term, low-interest basis, coupled with a fiscal policy which will make it easy for private American financial interests to help finance European commerce and industry. This is a very different thing from financing governments, which is what is proposed through debt-cancelation.

"The same attribute employed in the solution of the taxation question would mean a process of refunding which would reduce interest charges and provide a safe and fairly lucrative investment for billions of dollars of trust funds, coupled with abroga- tion of those forms of direct taxation, employed during the war, which throttle business enterprise and invite extravagance. It would be a truism to add that it also involves demobilization of the huge army of office-holders still on the pay-rolls and a return of government expenditures to as near an approximation of the modest figures that obtained before the war as is possible.

"Applied to the question of regulation of business, prices of commodities. hours of labor, and what not. horse sense would decree the minimum of governmental interference necessary to protect the public against exploitation.

"If horse sense shall characterize the Harding Administration in its approach to the question of disarmament it will recognize that the term is comparative. No one proposes disarmament. What is suggested is partial disarmament. Sober consideration of world conditions is bound to make for prudence and caution in any change of policy which might leave the United States helplessly unprepared for a sudden emergency.

"Happily, for the theory that what is needed in the next Administration is horse sense the chief characteristic and the outstanding virtue of the man who is soon to enter the White House is this very attribute."

Source: Literary Digest - March 5, 1921