Minor Realignments of the 1920s
IN THE COMPLACENT 1920s, the Roosevelt strain of progressivism became increasingly submerged within the Republican party, which thus became less and less promising as an instrument of reform. The country was generally prosperous; the public had reacted against the foreign, if not the domestic, adventurism of Woodrow Wilson and given the Republicans a mandate under President Warren G. Harding to return to what he called "normalcy." Harding, and even more emphatically his successor, Calvin Coolidge ("the business of America is business"), had no intention of leading an assault on the status quo.
But the Democrats, as the decade opened, were not a party of reform either. Wilson had been unable, like Bryan before him, to consolidate the country's progressive forces in the Democratic party. The accident of Roosevelt's sojourn as head of the Republican party had prevented that. And the failure of Wilson's leadership in his later years weakened progressive influence in Democratic ranks and laid the ground for a resurgence of the party's conservative element. So John W. Davis, counsel to J. P. Morgan, was nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate in 1924, and the party's national committee fell under the control of men who were as much a part of the world of big business and high finance as were the Republican leaders themselves.
Frustrated and restless, progressives met to argue strategy and tactics, pushed and probed and experimented. Their efforts produced no major realignment. But they did create minor alterations in the party system that resembled in character, and even seemed to anticipate, the changes that were to come on a grand scale a decade later. These alterations are worth analysis not only as examples of the realignment process on a limited scale, but also as indicators of some of the forces that went into the political revolution of the 1930s.
One of the most distinct and dramatic of the minor realignments of the period took place within the confines of a single state, Minnesota. Its