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  Republican Ascendancy 1921-1933
TitleRepublican Ascendancy 1921-1933
Last ModifiedChronicler - July 11, 2005 11:07pm
DescriptionJohn D. Hicks
Republican Ascendancy 1921-1933
NYC: Harper & Row, 1960
317 pages

Fifty years ago some of the leading historians in the United States began an ambitious project of documenting American history through a series of monographs which would be interlaced and provide comprehensive coverage of all aspects of the history of our nation. About two thirds of the original plan of 50 volumes in this New American Nation series came to pass.

This book was one of the first to be produced. I have been collecting the various volumes due to the high state of the scholarship they have shown and the depth of the understanding of the authors. Out of the 13 volumes in the series that I have read, I can say without hesitation that this is the only volume with which I have been dissatisfied.

Its author states near the beginning "Objectivity is something for which one strives earnestly, knowing full well that it is unattainable." While it has become the mantra that historians have no right to pursue objectivity, Hicks illustrates the problems with historians preferring vitriol to the interesting story of our forerunners.

Those who have an interest in the administration of Warren G. Harding will not recognize what Hicks describes. If you believe that the release of IWW leaders and Eugene V. Debs from prison for questionable charges is a good thing, you agree with President Harding, who did that. Hicks chose not to mention that event.

One of the first challenges that Harding faced was the issue of the size of the federal government. In the last years of the Wilson administration, the tremendous growth necessitated by the war had not been scaled back. Harding proposed an Office of Management and Budget to examine all aspects of the federal government and recommend needed changes, including the need for additional employees or fewer employees in each department. This tremendously popular reform, which was acclaimed at the time by politicians of both major parties and set many standards which remain in effect today, is ridiculed by Hicks as an example of Harding's poor judgment.

One of the foreign policy coups of the Harding administration was the Peace Conference of 1922. The major military powers of the world agreed at that conference to reduce the sizes of their navies. Hicks presents this as another instance of the Republicans' inability to understand events on the world stage. What he does not state is that the bulk of the warships scrapped by the American navy were pre-Dreadnaught warships which were obsolete given wartime developments during World War I. These old warships were drains on the military, and in no way would these ships, including Monitor-type warships which you may find outlined in Jane's Warships of World War I, be considered to contribute to national security. In fact, one of the pre-Dreadnaught battleships kept by the Navy (the Utah) was so obsolete that it was used for target practice. The Navy identified the number of ships required to meet the treaty quota and sold them for scrap. The 'battleship' Utah was not required by the treaty to be scrapped so was retained although it was useless as a defensive vessel.

After condemning President Harding for his excesses, Hicks then complains about President Coolidge's "fetish of honesty and propriety" (p. 81). Coolidge, after all, appointed special prosecutors who sent Albert Fall and his conspirators to jail and then removed other appointees who had been breaking the law during the Harding administration.

If you like the Ku Klux Klan, you will love what Hicks has to say about it. He considered it "unfortunate" that the 1924 Democratic National Convention met in New York City, where the Klan was unpopular, because that was divisive for the party (check it out on page 95). The Klan, after all, was (according to Hicks) "an inconsequential echo of the old Reconstruction Klan" (page 94), nothing for the Democrats to condemn as Gov. Alfred Smith sought to do.

When the League of Nations failed to bring the leading military powers of the world together to draft a treaty of nonaggression, President Coolidge made a call himself. The Kellogg Treaty, by which the leading military powers agreed to settle their differences through arbitration rather than military action, was so popular that the U.S. Senate approved it 85 to 1. But Hicks thought that it was ill-advised.

President Coolidge and his advisors helped Germany to agree to a plan (the Dawes Plan) whereby Germany could actually pay the money it agreed to pay for its role in World War I. The agreement was satisfactory to Germany, the United States, and the European Allies. Hicks only grudgingly admits that the plan was in the best interests of all parties involved - he discusses it in a chapter entitled "The Diplomacy of Isolation." [Signing treaties with European powers is isolation, you know.]

Although the attacks wane as the book progresses, Hicks continues to portray Republican politicians in the worst possible light. Herbert Hoover took a leave of absence from his post as Secretary of Commerce to organize relief to Mississippi River flood victims in 1927. That was major news at the time which propelled him into presidential contention the next year. Hicks did not mention it. After his election, Hoover worked with both parties in Congress for new groundbreaking legislation, although in his first Congress the Republicans had firm control of both bodies. Some of these pieces of legislation have been mentioned at OC, but Hicks didn't find them worthy of mention.

In fact, Hoover worked so well with Democrats in Congress that in 1930, the following Democrats agreed that in light of the economic emergency, the two major parties needed to set aside their own agendas and work together to address the situation: James M. Cox, John W. Davis, Alfred E. Smith, Joseph T. Robinson, and John N. Garner. These men were among the leaders of the Democratic Party. Hicks does not witness to the importance of their statement but instead ridiculed it.

To be fair, the United States went through serious times in the 1920s. Our nation faced many issues of gravity - not as important as World War I and the Depression, of course. My complaint is that Hicks has painted a picture of gross incompetence among both political parties and rampant corruption throughout government. His book is not history - it has moved into the arena of propaganda.

Did Warren Harding have moral problems? Of course. Did he accomplish anything worthwhile during his presidency? Absolutely. Does Hicks recognize the latter? No. Hicks's portrayal of the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations is a sad note in the New American Nation series, which is otherwise so excellent. Don't buy this book. I bought my copy at a used book store for $0.75, and it's not even worth that much.

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