The Road to Normalcy: 1904-1928
Ohio Senator Warren Harding prided himself on his podium style and mellifluous voice. But his knowledge of the English language was another matter. A speech during his 1920 Presidential campaign included the word, "normality." Harding came as close as he could, pronouncing it "normalcy." Reporters found it funny, but the new word caught on as code for Republican prosperity. It remains in the dictionary today.
The period of 1904-1928 was largely one of such normalcy. Republicans won five of the seven elections, all by lopsided margins. The two Democratic victories belonged to Woodrow Wilson, neither with a majority of the popular vote. Wilson first reached the White House because of a serious but temporary split in Republican ranks.
The dominant figure of the period was the charismatic, some said hyperactive, Theodore Roosevelt. He succeeded to the White House in 1901, won his own term by a landslide in 1904, then dictated the choice of his successor four years later. The president of Columbia College, Nicholas Murray Butler, knew the still youthful Roosevelt was in a fix. "The real problem that confronts you is whether you can be a sage at fifty," Butler told him. "If you can, your permanent reputation seems to me certain. If you cannot, then the outlook is different."1 It was too much to expect Roosevelt to fidget on the sidelines. He returned to play crucially destructive roles in the Republican defeats of 1912 and 1916. The 1920 nomination was conceded to be his for the asking. It fell to Harding after Roosevelt's death.
Republican dominance was aided by Democratic discord. The period commenced with battles between William Jennings Bryan and his conservative enemies, each wishing more to beat the other than win in the fall. After the Wilson interlude and the disillusionment that followed World War I, the party endured an amazing series of campaigns in the 1920s. It crashed in 1920 by embracing the vilified League of Nations,