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The Harding Administration

Domestic Affairs The undisputed goal of the Harding administration was to use governmental powers to assist American business and industry to prosper — a trend that had begun during World War I and accelerated during the New Era of the 1920s.

Election of 1920. The American electorate turned against Wilsonian idealism and interventionism and embraced a "return to normalcy" promised by Warren G. Harding.

Recession. A postwar economic downturn begun under Wilson continued into the early months of the Harding administration.

Emergency Tariff Act (May 1921). Stop-gap aid was extended to U.S. farmers until a more comprehensive tariff measure could be written.

Immigration Restriction Act (May 1921). Congressional immigration reform introduced the first use of a quota system.

Budget and Accounting Act (June 1921). Congress granted broad powers over the preparation of annual federal budgets.

Revenue Act of 1921 (November 1921). Treasury Secretary Mellon won only a partial victory in his quest for tax reduction.
Fordney-McCumber Tariff (September 1922). A blatantly protective tariff answered the pleas of many American producers, but sharply reduced overall foreign trade.

Resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. The reappearance of the Klan was evidence of some Americans' resistance to a fast-changing postwar world. The new organization targeted more groups and movements than had the original during Reconstruction.

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Foreign Affairs. Harding displayed some of his best instincts by his appointment of the distinguished Charles Evans Hughes as secretary of state. Campaign equivocation was put aside and the administration boldly proclaimed its intention to steer clear of membership in the League of Nations — a clear step toward Isolationism. However, a meaningful step was taken in the direction of international cooperation and arms reduction.
Reconciliation with Colombia (April 1921). The death of Theodore Roosevelt and the discovery of oil in Colombia motivated Republicans to make amends for backing the earlier Panamanian revolution.
World Court. The Harding administration sought full participation in this international body, but was blocked by isolationist forces in the Senate.
Peace with the Central Powers (July-August 1921). On assuming the presidency, Harding made it clear that the U.S. would not be a party to the Paris peace agreements; a formal end to the war came through a Congressional resolution and separate peace treaties.
Washington Naval Conference (1921-22). A series of treaties resulted from this international gathering, resulting in an ambitious effort to slow the naval arms race and restore stability to the Pacific.
War Debts and Reparations. Despite the U.S. contention that no relationship existed between war debts and reparations, evidence to the contrary was overwhelming. Efforts to collect during the 1920s soured international relations.
Central American Conference (1922-23). U.S. efforts to bring stability to Central America yielded few concrete results and most southern neighbors remained suspicious of U.S. intentions.

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Harding's unexpected death in August 1923 may have spared the Republicans from suffering a voter backlash in the wake of the unfolding of a series of scandals. Harding Scandals. Few have seriously maintained that Harding had knowledge or profited from the scandals that occurred during his administration. However, the very quality that attracted the political bosses to him — his malleability — proved to be his undoing; Harding simply could not say no to his cronies.
Veterans' Bureau Scandal. The head of the agency intended to assist ex-servicmen became embroiled in corrupt practices and served time in federal prison.
Justice Department Scandal. Harding's political mentor and closest advisor headed a corrupt Department of Justice, but twice was acquitted by juries.
Alien Property Custodian Scandal. The head of an important federal oversight agency was imprisoned for corrupt practices.
Teapot Dome Scandal. The Secretary of the Interior was eventually convicted of taking a bribe for questionable leasing of government facilities.

Many surveys among presidential historians have ranked Harding at or near the bottom of the list. More recent scholarship has more generous, arguing that the Harding administration should earn high marks for such accomplishments as the Washington Naval Conference, and the scandals were relatively minor affairs.
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