The American Pageant (12th Edition)

Chapter 31 – Page 724

Our Critique

724 “[In the election of 1920] Public desire for a change found vent in a resounding repudiation of ‘high-and-mighty’ Wilsonism. People were tired of professional high-browism, star-reaching idealism, bothersome do-goodism, moral overstrain, and constant self-sacrifice. Eager to lapse back into ‘normalcy,’ they were willing to accept a second-rate president—and they got a third-rate one.”

Republican Warren Harding overwhelmingly won the election of 1920, as the textbook notes in the previous paragraph. Notice that the textbook shifts the students’ attention from the complete repudiation of Wilson to the allegedly “third-rate” Harding. In other words, Wilson may have failed, but Harding was worse. However, Wilson may have been the real third-rate president and Harding may have been much better. First, Harding helped restore civil liberties in America and pardoned the imprisoned socialist Eugene Debs. Second, Harding achieved a key Wilson goal—partial disarmament—at the Washington Naval Conference in 1921–22. We will discuss this at more length in the next chapter, but for now ask yourself: How could any president following Wilson do more damage to the United States than Wilson did in his eight years in the White House?