Domestic Politics in the 1920s & 1930s
The U.S. Congress focused largely on domestic issues in the 1920s and 1930s, preferring to deal with the problems at home rather than pursue major foreign policy objectives. Congress had to manage issues associated with the Great Depression and hotly-contested Prohibition legislation during this era.
1 Women’s Movement
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave women the right to vote in every election. Ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment signaled a new era in the U.S. women’s movement. The national American Woman Suffrage Association, for instance, renamed itself as the League of Women Voters after the amendment. They repositioned themselves from fighting for voting rights toward a more educational role for voting women. The group began promoting an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1923. However, according to Sara Evans of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, some female reformers opposed additional ERA legislation owing to fears it would reverse their earlier progress.
Prohibition was a major domestic issue in the 1920s and 1930s. Although there were members of both parties on either side of the issue, Democrats were generally against Prohibitionist legislation and many Republicans, including President Herbert Hoover, supported it. By 1928, the Democratic presidential candidate, Alfred Smith, was running on a platform against Prohibition. There were Republican Party members who advocated the repealing of Prohibition laws, but the party was generally seen as supportive of Prohibition during this era. Prohibition was seen as both a moral and a financial issue. During the 1920s, government revenues from distilled spirits dropped from $365 million to under $13 million by 1929.
3 The New Deal
In the context of the Great Depression, the U.S. government under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took on a much broader role in the U.S. economy. The Democrats introduced a series of legislation in the 1930s known as the New Deal. President Roosevelt’s programs did not meet unanimous approval and several of them were ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court as unconstitutional. The National Archives says that the Supreme Court ruled eight New Deal programs unconstitutional, including the National Recovery Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act.
The U.S. Congress passed a series of Neutrality Acts in the 1930s to prevent the country from becoming unnecessarily involved with European conflicts. The Neutrality Acts not only kept American troops out of foreign conflicts, but also curtailed the supply of arms to belligerents. Congress resisted President Franklin Roosevelt’s attempt to lift the arms embargo until it passed a final Neutrality Act in November 1939, which allowed arms sales but still prevented American ships from transporting its goods to the international ports of combatants.