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Warren G. Harding

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Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding
29th President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1921 – August 2, 1923
Vice President Calvin Coolidge
Preceded by Woodrow Wilson
Succeeded by Calvin Coolidge
United States Senator
from Ohio
In office
March 4, 1915 – January 13, 1921
Preceded by Theodore Burton
Succeeded by Frank Willis
28th Lieutenant Governor of Ohio
In office
January 11, 1904 – January 8, 1906
Governor Myron Herrick
Preceded by Harry Gordon
Succeeded by Andrew Harris
Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Philippines
In office
Preceded by John F. Shafroth
Personal details
Born Warren Gamaliel Harding
(1865-11-02)November 2, 1865
Blooming Grove, Ohio, U.S.
Died August 2, 1923(1923-08-02) (aged 57)
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Resting place Harding Tomb
Marion, Ohio
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Florence Kling
Alma mater Ohio Central College
Profession Journalist
Religion Baptist
Signature Cursive signature in ink

Warren Gamaliel Harding (November 2, 1865 – August 2, 1923) was the 29th President of the United States (1921–23), a Republican from Ohio who served in the Ohio Senate and then in the United States Senate, where he played a minor role.

With the Republican Party convention near deadlock, Harding was chosen as an inoffensive compromise candidate in the 1920 election. He brought leading advertising experts on board, especially Albert Lasker, to publicize his presidential appearance and conservative promises. He promised America a "return to normalcy" after World War I, with an end to violence and radicalism, a strong economy, and independence from European intrigues. Harding represented the conservative wing of his party in opposition to progressive followers of the late Theodore Roosevelt (who died in 1919) and Senator Robert M. LaFollette, Sr. He defeated Democrat and fellow Ohio newspaper publisher James M. Cox with the largest popular vote landslide (60% to 34%) in presidential history.

Harding sought out the "best minds" in his cabinet, including Andrew Mellon at the Treasury, Herbert Hoover at Commerce, and Charles Evans Hughes at the State Department. He rewarded friends and contributors, known as the "Ohio Gang", with powerful government positions. Multiple cases of corruption were exposed during his presidency and after his death, including the notorious Teapot Dome scandal, regarded in pre-Watergate times as the "greatest and most sensational scandal in the history of American politics".[1]

Domestically, Harding signed the first federal child welfare program, and dealt with striking mining and railroad workers in part by supporting an 8-hour work day. He created the Bureau of the Budget to prepare the first United States federal budget. Harding advocated an anti-lynching bill to curb violence against African Americans, but it failed to pass Congress. In foreign affairs, Harding spurned the League of Nations and negotiated peace treaties with Germany and Austria. His greatest foreign policy achievement came in the Washington Naval Conference of 1921–22, in which the world's major naval powers agreed on a naval limitations program that held sway for a decade.

In August 1923, Harding suddenly collapsed and died in California. His administration's many scandals have earned Harding a bottom-tier ranking from historians,[2] but in recent years there has been some recognition of his fiscal responsibility and endorsement of African-American civil rights.[3] Harding has been viewed as a more modern politician who embraced technology and was sensitive to the plights of minorities, women, and labor.[4]


  • Early life 1
    • Childhood and education 1.1
    • Journalism career and marriage 1.2
  • Early political career 2
    • Ohio emergence 2.1
    • U.S. Senator 2.2
  • Presidential election of 1920 3
    • Republican nomination 3.1
    • General election 3.2
    • African-American lineage contention 3.3
  • Presidency: 1921–1923 4
    • Joint Session of Congress 1921 4.1
    • Domestic policies and economy 4.2
      • Bureau of the Budget and Veterans Bureau 4.2.1
      • Postwar recession and recovery 4.2.2
      • Farm acts and Radio Conferences 4.2.3
      • Revenue Act and Highway Act of 1921 4.2.4
      • Fordney–McCumber Tariff 4.2.5
    • Foreign policies 4.3
      • Washington arms conference and treaties 1921–1922 4.3.1
    • Civil rights, labor disputes and strikes 4.4
      • Great railway strike and repeal of 12-hour workday 4.4.1
      • Anti-lynching movement and immigration 4.4.2
      • Sheppard–Towner Maternity Act 4.4.3
      • Religious toleration 4.4.4
    • Life at the White House 4.5
    • Administrative scandals 4.6
      • Teapot Dome 4.6.1
      • Justice Department 4.6.2
      • Jess W. Smith 4.6.3
      • Veterans' bureau 4.6.4
      • Shipping board, office of alien property and prohibition bureau 4.6.5
    • Western travels, illness and death 4.7
      • St. Louis, Kansas, Denver 4.7.1
      • Alaska trip 4.7.2
      • Death in San Francisco, state funeral and memorial 4.7.3
    • Speculation on cause of death 4.8
    • Disposition of Presidential papers 4.9
    • Cabinet 4.10
    • Judicial appointments 4.11
      • Supreme Court 4.11.1
      • Other judicial appointments 4.11.2
  • Extramarital affairs 5
  • Historical ranking as president 6
  • Life legacy 7
  • Memorials 8
  • Media portrayals 9
  • Documentaries 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • Bibliography 13
  • External links 14
    • Audio and film links 14.1
    • Primary sources 14.2

Early life

Childhood and education

Harding, c. 1882


  • Inaugural Address
  • First State of the Union Address of Warren Harding
  • Second State of the Union Address of Warren Harding

Primary sources

  • "Return to Normalcy" Speech, May 14, 1920 on YouTube
  • 1920 Presidential Campaign; "Front Porch"; Marion, Ohio on YouTube.
  • Wearing cowboy hat on YouTube
  • Playing golf during Jazz Age on YouTube

Audio and film links

  • Warren G. Harding at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • Warren Gamaliel Harding (1865–1923)
    Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia,
  • White House, 29. Warren G. Harding 1921–1923
  • Warren G. Harding's Inauguration March 4, 1921
  • Memorial U.S. postage stamp issued after Harding's death
  • Warren G. Harding at C-SPAN's American Presidents: Life Portraits
  • Warren Gamaliel Harding at Find a Grave
  • , January 12, 1997.The Strange Deaths of President Harding interview with Robert Ferrell on Booknotes
  • , March 14, 2004.Warren G. Harding interview with John Dean on Booknotes

External links

  • Adams, Samuel Hopkins (1939). Incredible Era: The Life and Times of Warren Gamaliel Harding. Houghton Mifflin.  
  • Anthony, Carl S. (1998). Florence Harding: The First Lady, the Jazz Age, and the Death of America's Most Scandalous President. HaperCollins.  
  • Anthony, Carl S. (July–August 1998). "The Most Scandalous President". American Heritage 49 (4). Retrieved May 23, 2011. 
  • Armstrong, Stephen (2007). 5 Steps to AP History. McGraw-Hill, Retrieved December 24, 2010.  
  • Dean, John W. (2004). Warren Harding. Henry Holt and Co.  
  • Downes, Randolph C. (1970). The Rise of Warren Gamaliel Harding, 1865–1920. Ohio University Press.  
  • Ferrell, Robert H. (1998). The Strange Deaths of Warren G. Harding. University of Missouri Press.  
  • Fine, Gary Alan. "Reputational Entrepreneurs and the Memory of Incompetence". American Journal of Sociology, 101(5), 1996. 
  • Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. Basic Books.  
  • Gleason, Mildred Diane and H. Micheal Tarver (2013). Warren G. Harding: Harbinger of Normalcy. Nova Science Publishers, Inc.  
  • Graff, Henry Franklin (2002). The Presidents: A Reference History. Charles Scribner's Sons.  
  • Grant, Philip A., Jr. "President Warren G. Harding and the British War Debt Question, 1921–1923". Presidential Studies Quarterly, 25(3), 1995. 
  • Grieb, Kenneth J. (1976). The Latin American Policy of Warren G. Harding. Texas Christian Univ. Press. 
  • Hakim, Joy (1995). War, Peace, and All That Jazz. Oxford University Press.  
  • Harding, Warren G. (October 27, 1921). Social Equality Impossible for Negro, Says President, Pleading for Fair Treatment. Atlanta-Journal Constitution. 
  • Harding, Warren G. (October 26, 1921). An International Problem. Marion Daily Star. 
  • Malin, James C. (1930). 'The United States after the World War. Ginn & Co. 
  • Matuz, Roger. Bill Harris, ed. The Presidents Fact Book: The Achievements, Campaigns, Events, Triumphs, Tragedies, and Legacies of Every President from George Washington to Barack Obama. Black Dog and & Leventhal Publishers, Inc. pp. 458–463, 465–467.  
  • Morello, John A. Selling the President, 1920: Albert D. Lasker, Advertising, and the Election of Warren G. Harding. Praeger, 2001.
  • Murray Robert K. The Harding Era 1921–1923: Warren G. Harding and his Administration. University of Minnesota Press, 1969
  • Nevins, Allan (1932).  
  • Payne, Phillip. "Instant History and the Legacy of Scandal: the Tangled Memory of Warren G. Harding, Richard Nixon, and William Jefferson Clinton", Prospects, 28: 597–625, 2003 Issn: 0361-2333
  • Pietrusza, David (2007). 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents. New York: Caroll & Graf Publishers.  
  • Russell, Francis (1962). The Shadow of Blooming Grove-Warren G. Harding In His Times. Easton Press.  
  • Russell, Francis (April 1963). "The Four Mysteries Of Warren Harding". American Heritage 14 (3). Retrieved 2011-06-19. 
  • Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. (1957). The Age of Roosevelt: The Crisis of the Old Order, 1919–1933. Heinemann.  
  • Schweikart, Larry; Michael Allen (2004). A Patriot's History of the United States. Easton Press. 
  • Sibley, Katherine A.S., ed. A Companion to Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover (2014); 616pp; essays by scholars stressing historiography
  • Sreenivasan, Jyotsna (2009). Poverty and the Government in America: A Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1. Greenwood Publishing Grp.  
  • Sinclair, Andrew (1965). The Available Man: The Life behind the Masks of Warren Gamaliel Harding. MacMillan Co., Retrieved November 30, 2010. Retrieved 2011-10-19. 
  • Wynn, Neil (1986). From Progressivism to Prosperity: World War I and American Society. Holmes & Meier.  
  • Werner, Morris R. (2010). Privileged Characters. General Books.  


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  231. ^ a b c d Russell, p. 591.
  232. ^ Wilbur, Ray Lyman (1960). The Memoirs of Ray Lyman Wilbur 1875–1949. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. pp. 378–384. ;"Warren Harding: His Final Illness". Retrieved July 1, 2011. 
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  236. ^ a b Jeffrey M. Jones MD; Joni L. Jones PhD, RN. "Presidential Stroke: United States Presidents and Cerebrovascular Disease (Warren G. Harding))". Journal CMEs. CNS Spectrums (The International Journal of Neuropsychiatric Medicine). Retrieved July 20, 2011. 
  237. ^ Ibid.
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  239. ^ "Health and Medical History of President Warren Harding: His Final Illness". Retrieved June 4, 2013. 
  240. ^ Russell, p. 598.
  241. ^ Adams (1939, 1964), Incredible Era, p. 384
  242. ^ Adams (1939, 1964), Incredible Era, pp. 377–84
  243. ^ Russell, Francis (April 1963). "The Four Mysteries Of Warren Harding". American Heritage 14 (3). Retrieved April 18, 2014. 
  244. ^ Dean, John W. (2004). Warren G. Harding: The American Presidents Series: The 29th President, 1921–1923. Macmillan. pp. 166–167. Retrieved April 18, 2014. 
  245. ^ a b c Anthony, Carl Sferrazza (June 7, 1998). "A President Of the Peephole". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-03-23. 
  246. ^ Russell, pp. 215, 466
  247. ^ Graff, p. 399
  248. ^ Wehrman, Jessica (July 29, 2014). "Love letters to Warren G. Harding's mistress released".  
  249. ^ Smith, Sarah (June 23, 2014). "Warren Harding affair letters going public". Politico. Retrieved July 9, 2014. 
  250. ^ Russell, p. 167
  251. ^ Graff, p. 399.
  252. ^ Russell, p. ix.
  253. ^ Russell, p. 167.
  254. ^ Russell, p. 608.
  255. ^ Graff, p. 399.
  256. ^ Corrado, John (November 8, 2005). "Was Warren Harding inducted into the KKK while president?".  
  257. ^ Paul Johnson, Modern Times
  258. ^ Kim, Mallie Jane (July 2, 2010). "The 10 Worst Presidents: Warren G. Harding". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 1 May 2012. 
  259. ^ Jeansonne-Luhrssen (2006) A Time of Paradox: America Since 1890, p. 248
  260. ^ Raskin-Spero (2007), The Four Freedoms Under Siege, p. 242
  261. ^  
  262. ^ a b Scotts Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps: Quantities issued
  263. ^ a b Roger S. Brody. "Smithsonian National Postal Museum". Retrieved 2012-01-20. 
  264. ^ Graff, pp. 398–400.
  265. ^ Brogan (1985), The Penguin History of the United States of America, p. 515
  266. ^ "Papers — Warren G. Harding (1865–1923)". Retrieved 2010-12-29. ; Adams (1939, 1964), Incredible Era, Preface, p. 425
  267. ^ Rowley, Hazel; Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage (2010), p. 124.
  268. ^ Wood, L. (June 6, 2011). "Did President Warren G. Harding Spark a Baby Naming Trend?".  
  269. ^ "Back Stairs at the White House". Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  270. ^ "A Ragtime Review of Warren G. Harding". Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  271. ^ The American President" Compromise Choices (2000)""". Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  272. ^  
  273. ^ Eio Books. Eio Books. Retrieved on 2013-08-17.
  274. ^ The Bloviator. (2012-08-02). Retrieved on 2013-08-17.
  275. ^ "Cronkite Remembers". 1997. Retrieved 2011-01-24. "Cronkite Remembers (1997) — part 1!". 1997. Retrieved 1997-01-24. 


See also

  • Cronkite Remembers 1997 Part 1: Walter Cronkite describes his early years growing up in Missouri selling newspapers. In 1923, Cronkite showed a Kansas City newspaper to a friend that announced Harding had died in office.[275]
  • History Channel—The Presidents 2005 Part 6, 1913–1945, Part 2/5: The History Channel covers the life and presidency of Warren G. Harding.


  • Backstairs at the White House (1979): Television episode 1.2, Warren G. Harding played by [269]
  • The Prez: A Ragtime Scandal: A musical centered on historical life events of Warren G. Harding (played by Larry Marshall). Hosted by Capital Style Magazine at the National Press Club on C-SPAN, February 18, 1999.[270]
  • The American President (2000): Season One, Episode 8, Voice of President Harding: Benjamin C. Bradley.[271]
  • Carter Beats the Devil (2001): novel by Glen David Gold wherein, at the climax of his latest touring stage show, Carter invites United States President Warren G. Harding on to stage to take part in his act hours before the President's death.[272]
  • Boardwalk Empire (2010): Television episode 1.8, Warren G. Harding played by Malachy Cleary.
  • Momma's Boys (2001): A historical play that centers around eight previous Presidents of the United States from Ohio in a humorous and dramatic discussion of their lives. Harding played by Matthew Parker.
  • Mentioned in Sanctuary (episode "Requiem") when Helen Magnus claims Harding was abnormal ("You don't think a normal person would choose a job that impossible?")
  • Al Stewart's song "Warren Harding" (from his 1973 album Past, Present and Future) satirizes Harding's predicament by contrasting his fall with the rise of an immigrant bootlegger.
  • In a 1975 episode of The Bob Newhart Show, the condition known as Montezuma's Revenge is referred to as "Warren Harding's Revenge."
  • Ki Longfellow, China Blues, Eio Books 2012; ISBN 0-9759255-7-1
    Harding looms large in this story of 1920s San Francisco, in which Harding dies during his visit to the City by the Bay.[273]
  • The Bloviator, 2012, ISBN 978-1475279535 a comic novel by Jim Yoakum that tells a semi-fictional story of Harding's last six months of life.[274]

Media portrayals

The "Harding Railroad Car" on display in Fairbanks, Alaska.
A statue honoring Harding on a speech he delivered on relations between the United States and Canada in Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


Because of his untimely demise, Warren G. Harding is among the relatively few American Presidents who have been honored on a U.S. postage stamp more than the usual three times. Harding has appeared on US postage for a total of five issues, more than that of most Presidents.[262][263] Harding's election provided a short burst of popularity for the name Warren.[268]

Harding's legacy began to improve during the 1970s, however. The truth behind the many presidential scandals and his personal controversies may never be known. To protect her husband's damaged legacy, Mrs. Harding only left 1/7 of Harding's personal papers for posterity. She destroyed the rest.[265] The remaining papers, except for Harding's speeches, are currently unpublished. Harding has been one of the most historically challenging American Presidents in terms of finding private letters and paper documents.[266] Historian Hazel Rowley writes that because the Harding administration and the Republicans were seen associated with prosperity, prominent Democrats were reluctant to run for president in 1924.[267]

As a career politician, Harding exhibited an ability to grow, and had a desire to get along with political enemies rather than alienate them. As a prior [264]

The 1st Harding stamp
Memorial Issue of 1923, issued only one month after his death.[262][263]

Life legacy

However, Harding's biographer John W. Dean in 2004 believed that Harding was underrated.[259] Authors Marcus Raskin and Robert Spero, in 2007, also believed that Harding was underrated, and admired Harding's quest for world peace after World War I and his successful naval disarmament among strongly armed nations, including France, Britain, and Japan.[260] In his 2010 book The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn't): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game, presidential historian Alvin S. Felzenberg, ranking presidents on several criteria, ranked Harding 26th out of 40 presidents considered.[261]

Harding has been traditionally ranked as one of the worst presidents. In a 1948 poll conducted by Harvard University historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., the first notable survey of scholars' opinions of the presidents, Harding ranked last among the 29 presidents considered. In a 1962 poll conducted by Schlesinger, he was ranked last again, 31 out of 31. His son, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., conducted another poll in 1996; once again, Harding was last, ranked 39 out of 39. In 2010, a Siena College Research Institute survey of 238 presidential scholars ranked Harding 41st among the 43 men who had been president, between Franklin Pierce (40th) and James Buchanan (42nd); Andrew Johnson was adjudged the worst.[258] Harding was also considered the third worst president in a 2002 Siena poll. Siena polls of 1982, 1990 and 1992 ranked him last.

Historical ranking as president

The most sensational allegations include one that Harding and Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty participated in [257]

Before his death, Harding had established a margin account with stockbroker Sam Ungerleider. Before the broker could get authority from Harding's successors to liquidate the stocks purchased on loan, the account had a loss of more than $170,000. The broker was given the authority to sell, but the family refused to settle the loss and the broker declined to force collection.[254]

Historian Francis Russell wrote that, beginning in the spring of 1905, Harding had a 15-year relationship with Carrie Fulton Phillips, wife of businessman and friend James Eaton Phillips of Marion, Ohio.[250] More than 100 intimate letters between Harding and Mrs. Philips were discovered in the 1960s, but publication of the letters was enjoined by court order in Ohio until 2024.[251] Russell, however, viewed the letters upon their discovery and described them as very touching and naive in some respects, erotic in others.[252] Russell concluded from the letters that Phillips was the love of Harding's life — "the enticements of his mind and body combined in one person".[253]

In a 1998 Washington Post article, journalist Carl S. Anthony wrote that Harding had extramarital affairs and sexual encounters with numerous women.[245] These women included Susie Hodder and Carrie Fulton Phillips, Mrs. Harding's personal friends; Grace Cross, Harding's senatorial aide; and Nan Britton, a 22-year old campaign volunteer (President Harding was age 51 when the affair occurred). Anthony stated that Harding was the father of Hodder's daughter.[245] In her 1927 book, The President's Daughter, Britton said that Harding fathered her daughter, Elizabeth Ann, as well, during a 1919 tryst in his senatorial offices. Britton, who had a profound obsession with Harding beginning in high school, also said that she was his mistress before and during his administration – reportedly, this included at least one infamous tryst in a White House closet and while guarded by United States Secret Service agents.[245][246] Historian Henry F. Graff states that Harding was sterile and that Harding's affair with Britton ended after Harding assumed the presidency.[247] The Library of Congress publicly opened letters between Phillips and Harding on July 29, 2014.[248][249]

President Harding and
First Lady Florence Harding.
Photo c. 1922.
Mrs. Harding was highly protective of her husband's personal legacy.

Extramarital affairs

Harding also appointed 6 judges to the United States Courts of Appeals, 42 judges to the United States district courts, and 2 judges to the United States Court of Customs Appeals.

Other judicial appointments

Harding appointed the following justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

Supreme Court

The Taft Court, 1925

Judicial appointments

The Harding Cabinet
Office Name Term
President Warren G. Harding 1921–1923
Vice President Calvin Coolidge 1921–1923
Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes 1921–1923
Secretary of Treasury Andrew Mellon 1921–1923
Secretary of War John W. Weeks 1921–1923
Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty 1921–1923
Postmaster General Will H. Hays 1921–1922
Hubert Work 1922–1923
Harry S. New 1923
Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby 1921–1923
Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall 1921–1923
Hubert Work 1923
Secretary of Agriculture Henry C. Wallace 1921–1923
Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover 1921–1923
Secretary of Labor James J. Davis 1921–1923
President Harding's first Cabinet. 1921


[244] However,

Immediately after Harding's death, Mrs. Harding returned to Washington, D.C., and stayed in the White House briefly with the Coolidges. In 1963 Francis Russell, writing in American Heritage, stated that former First Lady Harding gathered and burned as much of President Harding's correspondence and documents, both official and unofficial, as she could get. Russell also wrote that Mrs. Harding hired secretaries upon returning to Marion, to help her collect Harding's personal correspondence to others and that Mrs. Harding then in turn destroyed these letters.[243]

Disposition of Presidential papers

Mrs. Harding's refusal to allow an autopsy added to such speculation. According to the physicians attending Harding, however, the symptoms prior to his death all pointed to congestive heart failure. Harding's biographer, Samuel H. Adams, concluded that "Warren G. Harding died a natural death which, in any case, could not have been long postponed".[242]

Harding's sudden death led to theories that he had been poisoned[236] or committed suicide. Suicide appears unlikely, since Harding was planning for reelection in 1924. Rumors of poisoning were fueled, in part, by a book called The Strange Death of President Harding, in which the author, a convicted criminal, Gaston Means, suggested Mrs. Harding had poisoned her husband, an assertion which has since been completely discredited as false.

Speculation on cause of death

The funeral train made a four-day journey eastward across the country—the first such procession since Lincoln's funeral train. Millions lined the tracks in cities and towns across the country to pay their respects.[240] Harding's casket was placed in the East Room of the White House pending a state funeral, which was held on August 8, 1923, at the United States Capitol. Harding's death was widely mourned by the nation and the average citizen felt a "personal loss."[241] Harding was entombed in the receiving vault of the Marion Cemetery, on August 10, 1923. After her own death on November 21, 1924, Mrs. Harding was interred next to her husband. Their remains were re-interred December 20, 1927, at the newly completed Harding Memorial in Marion, Ohio in 1931.

The Harding Memorial in Marion, Ohio.
Dedicated in 1931.

The President's train continued south to San Francisco. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover sent a telegram from Dunsmuir, California, to his friend Dr. Ray L. Wilbur, asking Wilbur to meet and to personally evaluate the President. Arriving at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, Harding developed a respiratory illness believed to be pneumonia.[231][232] Harding, severely exhausted, ordered that his planned speech be issued through the national press in order to communicate with the public. The President was given digitalis and caffeine that momentarily helped relieve his heart condition and sleeplessness.[233] On Thursday, the President's health appeared to improve, so his doctors went to dinner. Harding's pulse was normal and his lung infection had subsided.[234] Unexpectedly, during the evening, Harding shuddered and died suddenly in the middle of conversation with his wife in the hotel's presidential suite, at 7:35 p.m. on August 2, 1923.[231][234] Dr. Sawyer (a homeopath, and friend of the Harding family), opined that Harding had succumbed to a stroke, but doctors there disagreed.[231] The doctors issued a release stating that the cause of death was "some brain evolvement, probably an apoplexy."[235] Mrs. Harding refused to allow an autopsy.[231][236] In retrospect, scholars speculate that Harding had shown physical signs of cardiac insufficiency with congestive heart failure in the preceding weeks.[237][238] Navy doctors who examined the president in San Francisco concluded he had suffered a heart attack. Dr. Wilbur included in his memoirs a letter from Dr. Charles Miner Cooper in support of their cerebral apoplexy diagnosis, based on Harding's last observed condition, while acknowledging that no final determination could be made.[239] Harding was succeeded as President by Calvin Coolidge.

Funeral procession for President Harding passes by the front of the White House

Death in San Francisco, state funeral and memorial

Coming into Seattle, Washington Harding kept up his busy schedule, giving a speech to 25,000 people at the University of Washington stadium in Seattle. Harding spoke on the magnificence of Alaska's wilderness, conservationism, and "measureless oil resources in the most northerly sections." Sec. of Commerce Herbert Hoover wrote the Seattle speech and Harding claimed he would protect the territory from looters and profit seekers; a rebuff to former Sec. of Interior Albert Fall.[229] Harding had rushed through his speech not waiting for applause by the audience.[230] Harding traveled by train from Seattle to Portland, Oregon. Harding's scheduled speech in Portland was canceled.

Harding became exhausted while playing golf and complained of nausea and upper abdominal pain. His doctor, Charles E. Sawyer, believed Harding's illness was a severe case of food poisoning. Nevertheless, Dr. Joel T. Boone also examined the President and noticed an enlargement of his heart.[223] He was given digitalis. Nevertheless Harding met with British Columbia Premier John Oliver and Mayor of Vancouver Charles Tisdall and spoke in front of 50,000 people with his voice projected by microphones.

On July 26, 1923, Harding toured Vancouver, British Columbia as the first sitting American President ever to visit Canada[228]

The information gathered by Harding's Alaska tour found that improving agriculture in south central Alaska would require irrigation because of the low rainfall totals. By 1923, the Alaskan salmon population was being depleted from overfishing. Harvesting and transporting coal by ship from Alaska through the territory's panhandle would be very expensive.[225]

Harding arrived in Alaska on the Henderson on July 7, 1923. Harding and his presidential party first visited Metlakatla, Ketchikan (July 8), and Wrangell (July 9). They continued on to Juneau (July 10), Skagway, and Glacier Bay (July 11).[226] The President then cruised to Seward (July 13). They then proceeded to travel by Presidential railway car and automobile. Harding visited Snow River on the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage (July 13), Chickaloon, Wasilla and Willow (July 14). The U.S. government had bought up the financially unstable Tanana Valley Railroad. The President continued his Alaska journey through Montana Station, Curry (July 14) Cantwell, McKinley Park and Nenana (July 15).[227] On July 15, Harding drove in the golden spike on the north side of the steel Mears Memorial Bridge that completed the Alaska Railroad.[226] The trip continued to Fairbanks (July 15). He went to Seward (July 18), Valdez (July 19), Cordova (July 20), and Sitka (July 22).

Harding came to the most northern U.S. territory to "open up Alaska lands" for oil, mining, timber development, and industry.[224] He also wanted to encourage settlers to move to the sparsely populated territory. Harding hoped that, with completion of the Alaska Railroad, World War I veterans from Alaska would return to their home territory, and impoverished workers in the lower states could go to Alaska for employment. Harding brought along the secretaries of the Interior, Commerce, and Agriculture to cut through bureaucracy in their respective departmental jurisdictions.[225]

President Harding, as his physically demanding schedule continued, boarded a naval transport ship, the USS Henderson, and voyaged to Alaska. During four days at sea, Harding was unable to rest and regain strength.[222] Rumors of corruption in his administration were beginning to circulate in Washington. While in Alaska, Harding was profoundly shocked by a long message he received detailing illegal activities previously unknown to him.[223]

President Harding on board Presidential train in Alaska.
Sec. Hoover, Sec. Wallace, Sec. Work, and Mrs. Harding included in Presidential Party. 1923

Alaska trip

In Denver, Harding extolled the virtues of the 18th Amendment, saying it should never be repealed, urging that the prohibition laws be obeyed.[220] Harding, himself, did not pack any whiskey for traveling on the Presidential train. Breaking away from Republican isolationism, Harding advocated more spending on national defense in case of another war. Harding also made a speech fully endorsing labor's right to organize, and even spoke against those who sought to destroy labor movements around the country. In Tacoma, Washington, the President read a letter that promoted his efforts for a 12-hour work day. Sensing his own conversion, Harding even told his friends that he felt a spiritual change was influencing his stance on issues.[221]

During Harding's western travels, historian Samuel H. Adams claims that Harding's political views began to expand, and became more independent from established Republican Party agenda. In St. Louis, Harding promoted U.S. participation in the World Court having earnestly desired world peace. In Kansas, Harding gave a speech on agriculture and, much to his doctor's displeasure, rode on a farming combine in searing summer heat.

St. Louis, Kansas, Denver

Though Harding wanted to run for a second term, he may have been aware of his own health decline. He gave up drinking, sold his "life-work," the Marion Star, in part to regain $170,000 previous investment losses, and had the U.S. Attorney General Harry Daugherty make a new will. Harding, along with his personal physician Dr. Charles E. Sawyer, believed getting away from Washington would help relieve the stress of being President. By July 1923, criticism of the Harding Administration was increasing. Prior to his leaving Washington, the President reported chest pains that radiated down his left arm.[219]

Harding's physical health had declined since the fall of 1922. One doctor, Emmanuel Libman, who met Harding at a dinner, privately suggested that the President was suffering from coronary disease. By early 1923, Harding had trouble sleeping, looked tired, and could barely get through nine holes of golf.

In June 1923, Harding set out on a westward cross-country Voyage of Understanding, in which he planned to renew his connection with the people, away from the capital, and explain his policies. The schedule included 18 speeches and innumerable informal talks. Accompanying him were Secretaries Work, Wallace, and Hoover, House Speaker Gillett, and Rear Admiral Hugh Rodman.[217] During this trip, he became the first president to visit Alaska.[218]

Western travels, illness and death

Roy Asa Haynes, Harding's Prohibition Commissioner, ran the patronage-riddled Prohibition bureau, which was allegedly corrupt from top to bottom.[215] The bureau's "B permits" for liquor sales became tantamount to negotiable securities, as a result of being so widely bought and sold among known violators of the law.[216] The bureau's agents allegedly made a year's salary from one month's illicit sales of permits.[215]

Thomas W. Miller, head of the Office of Alien Property, was convicted of accepting bribes. Miller's citizenship rights were taken away and he was sentenced to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine. After Miller served 13 months of his sentence, he was released on parole. President Herbert Hoover restored Miller's citizenship on February 2, 1933.[214]

On June 13, 1921, Harding appointed Albert D. Lasker chairman of the United States Shipping Board. Lasker, a cash donor and Harding's general campaign manager, had no previous experience with shipping companies. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 had allowed the Shipping Board to sell ships made by the U.S. Government to private American companies. A congressional investigation revealed that while Lasker was in charge, many valuable steel cargo ships, worth between $200 and $250 a ton, were sold for as low as $30 a ton to private American shipping companies without an appraisal board. J. Harry Philbin, a manager in the sales division, testified at the congressional hearing that under Lasker's authority U.S. ships were sold, " is, where is, take your pick, no matter which vessel you took." Lasker resigned from the Shipping Board on July 1, 1923.[213]

Harding as he appears at the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

Shipping board, office of alien property and prohibition bureau

Charles F. Cramer, Forbes' legal council to the Veterans Bureau, rocked the nation's capital when he committed suicide in 1923.[211] Cramer was found dead by a maid in his bathroom on the morning of March 14 with a bullet wound to the head. Previously, in the fall of 1922 Cramer had been "bitterly assailed" by the American Legion at Indianapolis over alleged corruption at the Veterans Bureau. Cramer, at the time of his death, was being investigated by a Senate committee and had been criticized and personally attacked. Cramer, himself, had denied charges of corruption and said he had given his "whole-hearted and patriotic service" to the Bureau. Cramer had paid $40,000 in Veteran funds to a private landholder to lease land to build a Veterans Hospital in Camp Kearny, California. The estimated value of the 325-acre land tract was only $8,000. Maj. Gen. John F. O'Ryan conducted the investigation into the Veterans' Bureau. In addition to replacing Forbes with Hines, Harding dismissed or transferred a number of subordinates at the Veteran's Bureau.[212]

Harding placed a reformer, Brigadier General Frank T. Hines, in charge of the Veterans Bureau. Hines immediately cleared up the mess left by Forbes. When Forbes returned to the U.S., he visited Harding at the White House in the Red Room. During the meeting, Harding angrily grabbed Forbes by the throat, shook him vigorously, and exclaimed "You double-crossing bastard!"[208] A guest who had an appointment with the President interrupted this physical encounter and Forbes was allowed to leave. Harding was bitter over Forbes' "betrayal" and the two never saw each other again.[209] In 1926, Forbes was brought to trial and convicted of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. He received a two-year prison sentence and was released in November 1927.[210]

Dr. Sawyer and Forbes were at odds with each other over authority at the Veterans Bureau.[203] Sawyer, a homeopathic doctor who was Harding's personal physician, told Harding that Forbes was selling valuable hospital supplies to an insider contractor.[204] After issuing two orders for the sales to stop, Harding finally summoned Forbes to the White House and demanded Forbes' resignation, since Forbes had been insubordinate in not stopping the shipments.[205] Harding, however, was not yet ready to announce Forbes' resignation and let him flee to Europe on the "flimsy pretext" that he would help disabled U.S. Veterans in Europe.[206][207] While in Europe, Forbes submitted his resignation to Harding on February 15, 1923.

Dr. Charles Sawyer and Forbes were rivals at the Veterans Bureau.

Intent on making more money, on his return to the U.S. Capitol Forbes immediately began selling valuable hospital supplies under his control in large warehouses at the Perryville Depot.[199] The government had stockpiled huge amounts of hospital supplies during the first World War, which Forbes unloaded for a fraction of their cost to the Boston firm of Thompson and Kelly. In exchange for the deal, J.W. Thompson of the firm added $150,000 to the contract for Forbes, who also received a percentage of the profits realized.[200][201] The check on Forbes' authority at Perryville was Gen. Charles E. Sawyer, chairman of the Federal Hospitalization Board, who represented controlling interests in the valuable hospital supplies.[202]

In the Spring of 1922, Forbes went on tours, known as joy-rides, of new hospital construction sites around the country and the Pacific Coast. On these tours, Forbes allegedly received traveling perks and alcohol kickbacks, took a $5,000 bribe in Chicago, and made a secret code to ensure $17 million in government construction hospital contracts with corrupt contractors. On the tours, Forbes allegedly went to parties, drank bootleg liquor, and played craps.[198]

Charles R. Forbes, the energetic Director of the Veterans Bureau, disregarded the dire needs of wounded World War I veterans to procure his own wealth.[193] To limit corruption in the Veterans' Bureau, Harding insisted that all government contracts be by public notice, but Forbes provided inside information to his co-conspirators to ensure their bids succeeded.[194] After his appointment, Forbes was quick to have Harding issue executive orders that gave him control over veterans' hospital construction and supplies.[195] Forbes defrauded the government of an estimated $225 million through hospital construction, after increasing construction costs from $3,000 to $4,000 per bed.[196] Forbes' main task at the Veterans bureau, having an unprecedented $500 million yearly budget, was to ensure that new hospitals were built around the country to help the 300,000 wounded World War I veterans.[197]

Charles R. Forbes, director of the Veterans Bureau and convicted of defrauding the government

Veterans' bureau

Eventually, rumors of Smith's abuses—free use of government cars, going to all night parties, manipulation of Justice Department files—reached Harding. Harding withdrew Smith's White House clearance and Daugherty told him to leave Washington. On May 30, 1923, Smith's dead body was found at Daugherty's apartment with a gunshot wound to the head. William J. Burns immediately took Smith's body away and there was no autopsy. Historian Francis Russell, concluding this was a suicide, indicates that a Daugherty aide entered Smith's room moments after a noise awoke him, and found Smith on the floor with his head in a trash can and a revolver in his hand. Russell also states that Smith had purchased the gun (though he was said to have detested guns), that a bullet had entered Smith's temple, exited the forehead, and lodged in a doorjamb. Smith allegedly purchased the gun from a hardware store shortly before his death, after Daugherty verbally abused him for waking him up from a nap.[191][192]

During Prohibition, pharmacies received alcohol permits to sell alcohol for medical purposes. According to Congressional testimony, Daugherty allegedly arranged for Jess Smith and Howard Mannington to sell these permits to drug company agents who really represented bootleggers. The bootleggers, having obtained a permit could buy cases of whiskey. Smith and Mannington split the permit sales profits. Approximately 50,000 to 60,000 cases of whiskey were sold to bootleggers at a net worth of $750,000 to $900,000. Smith supplied bootleg whiskey to the White House and the Ohio Gang house on K Street, concealing the whiskey in a briefcase for poker games.[97][158]

Daugherty's personal aide, Jess W. Smith, was widely viewed as the Attorney General's (and therefore the President's) spokesman and henchman. Smith was considered Daugherty's proxy, and a central figure, in government file manipulation, paroles and pardons, influence peddling—and even served as bag man.[190]

Jess W. Smith

Daugherty, according to a 1924 Senate investigation into the Justice Department, had authorized a system of graft between aides [189]

Narcotic trafficking was rampant at the Atlanta Penitentiary while Daugherty was Attorney General. The appointed warden, J.E. Dyche, made internal prison reforms by firing two guards while two other officers were indicted by the Justice Department. Daugherty, however, was slow to follow up on these indictments. As Dyche began to investigate the drug supply ring outside the prison, Daugherty fired him and replaced him with a close friend, A. E. Sartain. Daugherty stopped the investigation into the drug ring until the two indicted officers were brought to trial. The Superintendent of Prisons, Heber Votaw, allegedly interfered and suppressed Dyche's attempted investigation into the narcotic ring outside the prison. Votaw, was Harding's brother-in-law, and had been appointed by the President in April 1921. Harding sent Charles R. Forbes, Director of the Veterans Bureau, to privately investigate the matter. This upset Daugherty, who said the Atlanta prison situation was none of Forbes' business.[188]

Harding's Attorney General hired William J. Burns to run the Justice Dept.'s Bureau of Investigation,[184] Burns was said to be unabashed in his willingness to conduct unauthorized searches and seizures of political enemies of the Justice Dept. A number of inquisitive congressmen or senators found themselves the object of wire taps, rifled files, and copied correspondence.[185] Burns' primary operative was Gaston B. Means, a reputed con man, who was known to have fixed prosecutions, sold favors, and manipulated files in the Justice Dept.[186] Means, who acted independently, took direct instructions and payments from Jess Smith, without Burn's knowledge, to spy on Congressmen. Means hired a woman, Laura Jacobson, to spy on Senator Thaddeus Caraway, a critic of the Harding administration. Means also was involved with "roping" bootleggers.[187]

Daugherty remained in his position during the early days of the Calvin Coolidge administration, then resigned on March 28, 1924, amidst allegations that he accepted bribes from bootleggers. Daugherty was later tried and acquitted twice for corruption. Both juries hung—in one case, after 65 hours of deliberation. Daugherty's famous defense attorney, Max D. Steuer, blamed all corruption allegations against Daugherty on Jess Smith, an aide at the Justice Department who had committed suicide.[182][183]

One alleged scandal involving Daugherty concerned the Wright-Martin Aircraft Corp., which supposedly overcharged the Federal government by $2.3 million on war contracts.[180] Capt. Hazel Scaife tried to bring the company to trial, but was blocked by the Department of Justice. At this time, Daugherty was said to have owned stock in the company and was even adding to these holdings, though he was never charged in the matter.[181]

Harding's appointment of Harry M. Daugherty as Attorney General received more criticism than any other. As Harding's campaign manager, Daugherty's Ohio lobbying and back room maneuvers with politicians were not considered the best qualifications.[178] Historian M.R. Werner referred to the Justice Department under Harding and Daugherty as "the den of a ward politician and the White House a night club". On September 16, 1922, Minnesota Congressman Oscar E. Keller brought impeachment charges against Daugherty. On December 4, formal investigation hearings, headed by congressman Andrew J. Volstead, began against Daugherty. The impeachment process, however, stopped, since Keller's charges that Daugherty protected interests in trust and war fraud cases could not be substantially proven.[179]

Justice Department

Fall contracted Edward Doheny of Pan American Corp. to build storage tanks in exchange for drilling rights. It later came to light that Doheny had made significant personal loans to Fall.[173] The Secretary also negotiated leases for the Teapot Dome reserves to Harry Sinclair of the Consolidated Oil Corp. in return for guaranteed oil reserves to the credit of the government. Again, it later emerged that Sinclair had personally made concurrent cash payments of over $400,000 to Fall.[172] These activities took place under the unsuspecting watch of progressive and conservationist attorney, Harry Slattery, acting for Gifford Pinchot and Robert La Follete.[174] Fall was ultimately convicted in 1931 of accepting bribes and illegal no-interest personal loans in exchange for the leasing of public oil fields to business associates.[175] In 1931, Fall was the first cabinet member in history imprisoned for crimes committed while in office.[176] Paradoxically, while Fall was convicted for taking the bribe, Doheny was acquitted of paying it.[177]

The most notorious scandal was Teapot Dome, most of which came to light after Harding's death. This affair concerned an oil reserve in Wyoming that was covered by a teapot-shaped rock formation. For years, the country had taken measures to ensure the availability of petroleum reserves, particularly for the Navy's use.[168] On February 23, 1923, Harding issued Executive Order # 3797, which created the Naval Petroleum Reserve Number 4 in Alaska. By the 1920s, it was clear that petroleum was important to the national economy and security. The reserve system was to keep the oil under government jurisdiction rather than subject to private claims.[169] Management of these reserves was the subject of multi-dimensional arguments—beginning with a turf battle between the Secretary of the Navy and the Interior Dept.[170] The strategic reserves issue was also a debate topic between conservationists and the petroleum industry, as well as those who favored public ownership versus private control.[171] Harding's Secretary of the Interior, Albert B. Fall, brought to that office significant political and legal experience, in addition to heavy personal debt, incurred in his obsession to expand his personal estate, Three Rivers, in New Mexico. He also was an avid supporter of the private ownership and management of reserves.[172]

Albert B. Fall, Harding's first Secretary of the Interior and the first former Cabinet member sent to prison

Teapot Dome

Before any of the scandalous activity became widely known, Harding's popularity began to ebb, but he responded with determination to run for re-election, despite strong support emerging for the very popular Henry Ford for the Democrats.[163] While on his trip to Alaska in 1923, Harding asked reporters and Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, how he should respond to associates who may have betrayed him.[164] He also said at this time, according to Joe Mitchell Chapple, "Someday the people will understand all that some of my erstwhile friends have done for me."[165] However much he did know at the time of his departure for Alaska, Russell concludes it did not include Fall and Daugherty.[166] Harding reformed the corrupt Veteran's Bureau in March, 1923.[167]

Upon winning the election, Harding appointed many of his longtime allies and campaign contributors to prominent political positions in control of vast amounts of government money and resources. Known as the "Ohio Gang" (a term used by Charles Mee, Jr., in his book of the same name), some of the appointees used their new powers to exploit their positions for personal gain. Although Harding was responsible for making these appointments, it is unclear how much, if anything, Harding himself knew about his friends' illicit activities. No evidence to date suggests that Harding personally profited from such crimes, but he was apparently unable to prevent them. "I have no trouble with my enemies", Harding told journalist William Allen White late in his presidency, "but my damn friends, they're the ones that keep me walking the floor nights!"[161] The only scandal which was openly discovered during Harding's lifetime was in the Veteran's Bureau.[162] Yet the gossip became rampant after the suicides of Charles Cramer (Veterans Bureau) and Jess Smith (Justice Dept.) Harding responded aggressively to all of this with a mixture of grief, anger and perplexity.

Administrative scandals

Harding's lifestyle at the White House was fairly unconventional compared to his predecessor President Woodrow Wilson. Upstairs at the White House, in the Yellow Oval Room, Harding allowed bootleg whiskey to be freely served to his guests during after-dinner parties at a time when the President was supposed to enforce Prohibition. One witness, Alice Longworth, daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, stated that trays, "...with bottles containing every imaginable brand of whiskey stood about."[157] Some of this alcohol had been directly confiscated from the Prohibition department by Jess Smith, assistant to U.S. Attorney General Harry Daugherty. Mrs. Harding, also known as the "Duchess", mixed drinks for the guests.[158] Harding played poker twice a week, smoked and chewed tobacco. Harding allegedly won a $4,000 pearl necktie pin at one White House poker game.[159] Although criticized by Prohibitionist advocate Wayne B. Wheeler over Washington, D.C. rumors of these "wild parties", Harding claimed his personal drinking inside the White House was his own business.[160]

Katherine Marcia Forbes, wife of Harding's Veterans Bureau appointment Charles R. Forbes, had unprecedented access to the White House. Mrs. Harding and Katherine had become close friends since meeting in Hawaii, when Senator Harding and his wife were on vacation. In 1921, Katherine Forbes wrote a series of articles for the Washington Post describing the daily life of President Harding and the First Lady. President Harding and Mrs. Harding wanted to be known as, "...just home folks." At dinners, Harding's dog Laddie Boy, was allowed to beg guests for food and play with children. Red velvet upholstery covered much of the furniture. Harding's informal dress included a plain tuxedo, pleated shirt, and pearl studs. Mrs. Harding herself was able to talk with many guests at the same time. Inside the White House, the Hardings had a great grandfather clock, a gold fish bowl, a French vase with pussy willows, neutral color rugs, and a grand piano. Harding sometimes gave children private tours of the White House that included the conservatories and kennels.[156]

President Harding with his dog Laddie Boy. Photo: 1922

Life at the White House

Harding was tolerant towards religious faiths. He appointed prominent Rabbi Joseph S. Kornfeld and Father Joseph M. Denning, to foreign diplomatic positions. He also appointed Albert Lasker, a Jewish businessman and Harding's 1920 Presidential campaign manager, head of the Shipping Department. In an unpublished letter, Harding advocated the establishment and funding of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.[155]

Religious toleration

On November 21, 1921, Harding signed the Sheppard–Towner Maternity Act, the first major federal government social welfare program in the U.S. The law funded almost 3,000 child and health centers throughout the U.S. Medical doctors were spurred to offer preventative health care measures in addition to treating ill children. Doctors were required to help healthy pregnant women and prevent healthy children from getting sick. Child welfare workers were sent out to make sure that parents were taking care of their children. The law was sponsored by Julia Lathrop, America's first director of the U.S. Children's Bureau. Although the law remained in effect only eight years, it set the trend for New Deal social programs during the 1930s. Many women who had been given the right to vote in 1920, were given career opportunities as welfare and social workers.[153][154]

Sheppard–Towner Maternity Act

The Per Centum Act of 1921 signed by Harding on May 19, 1921, reduced the numbers of immigrants to 3% of a country's represented population based on the 1910 census. The Act allowed unauthorized immigrants to be deported. Harding and Secretary of Labor James Davis believed that enforcement had to be humane. Harding often allowed exceptions granting reprieves to thousands of immigrants.[152]

Harding supported Congressman Leonidas Dyer's federal anti-lynching bill, known as the Dyer Bill, which passed the House of Representatives on January 26, 1922. The bill was defeated in the Senate by a Democratic filibuster.[151] Harding had previously spoken out publicly against lynching on October 21, 1921. Congress had not debated a civil rights bill since the 1890 Federal Elections Bill.

He named some African Americans to federal positions, such as Walter L. Cohen of New Orleans, Louisiana, whom he named comptroller of customs. Harding also advocated the establishment of an international commission to improve race relations between whites and blacks; however, strong political opposition by the Southern Democratic bloc prevented the commission. The Ku Klux Klan had its highest membership during its revival in the early 1920s.

Notably in an age of severe racial intolerance during the 1920s, Harding did not hold any racial animosity, according to historian Carl S. Anthony.[148] In a speech on October 26, 1921, given in segregated Birmingham, Alabama Harding advocated civil rights for African Americans; the first President to openly advocate black political, educational, and economic equality during the 20th century.[148] In the "Birmingham speech," Harding wanted African Americans to have equal educational opportunities and greater voting rights in the South. The white section of the audience listened in silence while the black section of the segregated audience cheered.[149] Harding went further and viewed the race problem as a national and international issue and desired that the sectionalism of the Solid South and black membership of the Republican party be broken up.[150] Harding, however, openly stated that he was not for black social equality in terms of racial mixing or miscegenation.[150] Harding also spoke on the Great Migration, believing that blacks migrating to the north and west to find employment had actually tempered race relations between blacks and whites.[150]

Anti-lynching movement and immigration

In 1922, Harding and Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover convened a White House conference with manufacturers and unions, to reduce the length of the 12-hour workday, in a move for the cause of labor. The labor movement supported an 8-hour day and a 6-day workweek. Harding wrote Judge Gary, head of US Steel, advocating labor reform. The labor conference, however, decided against labor's demands in 1923. Both Harding and Hoover were disappointed with the committee's ruling. Harding wrote a second letter to Gary and with public support the steel industry repealed the 12-hour work day to an eight-hour work day.[147]

A year after Harding contended with the 1921 mining labor war in West Virginia, a strike broke out during the summer of 1922 in the railroad industry. On July 1, 1922, 400,000 railroad workers and shopmen went on strike over hourly wages reduced by seven cents and a 12 hour-day workweek.[143] Strike busters were brought in to fill the positions. Harding proposed a settlement that gave the shop workers some concessions; however, the railroad owners objected. Harding sent out the National Guard and 2,200 deputy U.S. marshals to keep the peace. Attorney General Daugherty convinced Judge James H. Wilkerson to issue a broad sweeping injunction to break up the strike.[144] This was known as the "Wilkerson" or "Daugherty" injunction, which enraged the union as well as many in congress, as it prohibited First Amendment rights.[145] Harding had Daugherty and Wilkerson withdraw the objectionable parts of the injunction. The injunction ultimately succeeded in ending the strike; however, tensions remained high between railroad workers and company men for years. Daugherty's harsh injunction against labor created great discord in Harding's cabinet. This, along with Daugherty's other activities, prompted one Minnesota congressman, Oscar Keller, to unsuccessfully attempt to bring impeachment charges against the Attorney General.[146]

Great railway strike and repeal of 12-hour workday

[142] When the governor of West Virginia

Civil rights, labor disputes and strikes

Harding stunned the capital when he sent to the Senate a message supporting the participation of the U.S. in the proposed Permanent Court of International Justice. This was not favorably received by Harding's colleagues; a resolution was nevertheless drafted, in deference to the President, and then promptly buried in the Foreign Affairs Committee.[141]

Harding, in an effort to improve U.S. relations with Mexico, Latin America, and the Caribbean Islands implemented a program of military disengagement. On April 20, 1921, the Thomson–Urrutia Treaty with Colombia was ratified by the Senate and signed by Harding; that awarded $25,000,000 as indemnity payment for land used to make the Panama Canal.[128]

The conference produced six treaties and twelve resolutions among the participating nations, which ranged from limiting the size or "tonnage" of naval ships to custom tariffs. The treaties, which easily passed the Senate, also included agreements regulating submarines, dominions in the Pacific, and dealings with China.[138] The treaties only remained in effect until the mid-1930s, however, and ultimately failed. Japan eventually invaded Manchuria and the arms limitations no longer had any effect. The building of "monster warships" resumed and the U.S. and Great Britain were unable to quickly rearm themselves to defend an international order and stop Japan from remilitarizing.[139][140]

Harding spearheaded, with the urging of the Senate, a monumental global conference, held in Washington, D.C., to limit the armaments of world powers, including the U.S., Japan, Great Britain, France, Italy, China, Belgium, Netherlands and Portugal.[136] Harding's Secretary of State, Charles E. Hughes, assumed a primary role in the conference and made the pivotal proposal—the U.S would reduce its number of warships by 30 if Great Britain decommissioned 19, and Japan 17 ships.[137] Starting on November 6, 1921 and ending February 6, 1922, world leaders met to control a naval arms race and to bring stability to East Asia. The conference enabled the great powers to potentially limit their large naval deployment and avoid conflict in the Pacific. The delegation of nations also worked out security issues and promoted cooperation in the Far East.

Charles Evans Hughes, former Supreme Court Justice and Harding's Secretary of State

Washington arms conference and treaties 1921–1922

Harding was very specific in commenting on the appointment of Secretary of State Charles E. Hughes, that the secretary would be the sole spokesman for the State Department (as opposed to the Wilson administration).[134] The U.S. Senate had refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles in both 1919 and 1920 because it required the U.S. to endorse the League of Nations.[135] Hughes worked behind the scenes to formally make peace with Germany and the successor states to Austria-Hungary, Austria and Hungary. This began with the Knox–Porter Resolution. The U.S.–German Peace Treaty, U.S.–Austrian Peace Treaty and U.S.–Hungarian Peace Treaty were ratified in 1921.

Foreign policies

On September 21, 1922, Harding enthusiastically signed the Fordney–McCumber Tariff Act.[132] The protectionist legislation was sponsored by Representative Joseph W. Fordney and Senator Porter J. McCumber. It increased the tariff rates contained in the previous Underwood-Simmons Tariff Act of 1913, to the highest level in the nation's history. Harding became concerned when the agriculture business suffered economic hardship from the high tariffs. Previously, on May 21, 1921 Harding had signed emergency legislation that put tariffs on select foreign inputs. By 1922, Harding began to realize that the long-term effects of tariffs could be detrimental to national economy, despite the short-term benefits.[106] His successors, Coolidge and Hoover, advocated tariff legislation. The tariffs established in the 1920s have historically been viewed as a contributing factor to causing the Wall Street Crash of 1929.[104][133]

Fordney–McCumber Tariff

The 1920s were a time of modernization for America—with the advent of movies, flappers, and automobiles. To improve and expand the nation's highway system, Harding signed the Federal Highway Act of 1921. From 1921 to 1923, the federal government spent $162 million on America's highway system, infusing the U.S. economy with a large amount of capital.[130] In 1922, Harding proclaimed that America was in the age of the "motor car". He stated that the automobile, "reflects our standard of living and gauges the speed of our present-day life."[131]

On November 22, 1921, Harding signed the Revenue Act of 1921, which greatly reduced taxes for the wealthiest Americans. Protests from Republican farmers caused the deductions to be less than Secretary of Treasury Andrew Mellon desired. The lengthy 96-page Act reduced the corporate tax from 65% to 50% and provided for ultimate elimination of the excess-profits tax during World War I.[128][129]

Left to right, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harding, and Harvey Firestone, 1921

Revenue Act and Highway Act of 1921

Harding became the first president to have a radio in his office, when on February 8, 1922, he had a radio set installed in the White House so he could listen to news and music as his schedule permitted.[127] On June 14, Harding was also the first president that the American public heard on the new mass medium. He spoke on radio at a dedication site in honor of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the words to the Star Spangled Banner.[76]

A second radio conference was called in 1923, and this time Secretary Hoover successful obtained radio regulation power without legislation. Hoover himself, in January 1923, told the press there was an, "...urgent need for radio regulation." Large radio stations such as Westinghouse advocated that only 25 larger radio stations in large metropolitan areas be allowed to broadcast, while smaller stations would be given limited power. At the end of the meeting, the industrialists agreed to give Hoover the power to, "...regulate hours and wave lengths of operation of stations when such action is necessary to prevent interference detrimental to the public good."[126]

On February 27, 1922, Harding implemented the first of a series of Radio Conferences headed by Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover. The last Radio Act of 1912 was considered "inadequate" and "chaotic"; change was necessary to help the fledgling radio industry. At the first meeting, 30 representatives—including amateurs, governmental agencies, and the radio industry made "cooperative efforts" to ensure the public interest in broadcasting, who would broadcast, and for what purpose, and to curb direct advertising. Also discussed was how wattage power used by broadcasters would be distributed depending on the radio station's conditional use and location.[126]

In 1921 and 1922, Harding signed a series of bills regulating agriculture. The legislation emanated from President Woodrow Wilson's 1919 Federal Trade Commission report, which investigated and discovered "manipulations, controls, trusts, combinations, or restraints out of harmony with the law or the public interest" in the meat packing industry. The first law was the Packers and Stockyards Act, prohibiting packers from engaging in unfair and deceptive practices. Two amendments were made to the Farm Loan Act of 1916 that President Wilson had signed into law, which had expanded the maximum size of rural farm loans. The Emergency Agriculture Credit Act authorized new loans to farmers to help them sell and market livestock. The Capper–Volstead Act, signed by Harding on February 18, 1922, protected farm cooperatives from anti-trust legislation. The Future Trading Act was also enacted, regulating puts and calls, bids, and offers on futures contracting. Later, on May 15, 1922, the Supreme Court ruled this legislation unconstitutional.[104]

Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover listening to a radio

Farm acts and Radio Conferences

Robert Gordon, a Keynesian, notes, "government policy to moderate the depression and speed recovery was minimal. The Federal Reserve authorities were largely passive. ... Despite the absence of a stimulative government policy, however, recovery was not long delayed." Kenneth Weiher, an economic historian, notes, "despite the severity of the contraction, the Fed did not move to use its powers to turn the money supply around and fight the contraction." He concedes that "the economy rebounded quickly from the 1920–1921 depression and entered a period of quite vigorous growth."[114] Paul Krugman argues that the monetary base expanded significantly from 1922 to 1925, and that this expansion was accompanied by a reduction in commercial paper rates.[124] Allan Meltzer agrees that the rising real money stock motivated wealth owners to invest.[125] Recovery did not last long. Another economic contraction began near the end of Harding's presidency in 1923, while tax cuts were still underway. A third contraction followed in 1927 during the next presidential term.[122]

Revenues to the treasury decreased substantially.[119] Libertarian historian Thomas Woods contends that the tax cuts ended the Depression of 1920–1921.[114] Historians Schweikart and Allen also attribute this to the tax cuts.[120] Schweikart and Allen argue that Harding's tax and economic policies in part "... produced the most vibrant eight year burst of manufacturing and innovation in the nation's history,"[121] though the recession had already ended three months into Harding's first term (before taxes were cut) and was yet again in recession by 1923.[122] Wages, profits, and productivity all made substantial gains during the 1920s. Daniel Kuehn has attributed the improvement to the earlier monetary policy of the Federal Reserve, and notes that the changes in marginal tax rates were accompanied by an expansion in the tax base that could account for the increase in revenue.[123]

On March 4, Harding assumed office while the nation was in the midst of a postwar economic decline, known as the Depression of 1920–21. By summer of his first year in office, an economic recovery began. He convened the Conference of Unemployment in 1921, headed by Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, that proactively advocated stimulating the economy with local public work projects and encouraged businesses to apply shared work programs.[117] Harding's Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon, ordered a study that claimed to demonstrate that as income tax rates were increased, money was driven underground or abroad. Mellon concluded that lower rates would increase tax revenues. Based on this advice, Harding cut taxes, starting in 1922. The top marginal rate was reduced annually in four stages from 73% in 1921 to 25% in 1925. Taxes were cut for lower incomes starting in 1923.[118]

Secretary of Treasury Andrew W. Mellon

Postwar recession and recovery

On August 9, 1921, Harding signed legislation known as the Sweet Bill, which established the Veterans Bureau as a new agency. After World War I, 300,000 wounded veterans were in need of hospitalization, medical care, and job training. To handle the needs of these veterans, the new Veterans Bureau incorporated the War Risk Insurance Bureau, the Brig. Gen. Charles E. Sawyer's Federal Hospitalization Bureau, along with three other bureaus that dealt with veteran affairs.[115] Harding regrettably appointed Colonel Charles R. Forbes, albeit a decorated war veteran, as the Veteran Bureau's first director (see scandal below), a position that reported directly to the President. The Veterans Bureau later was incorporated into the Veterans Administration and ultimately the Department of Veterans Affairs.[116]

Harding believed the federal government should be fiscally managed in a way similar to private sector businesses. He had campaigned on the slogan, "Less government in business and more business in government."[113] "Harding was true to his word, carrying on budget cuts that had begun under a debilitated Woodrow Wilson. Federal spending declined from $6.3 billion in 1920 to $5 billion in 1921 and $3.3 billion in 1922. Tax rates, meanwhile, were slashed—for every income group. And over the course of the 1920s, the national debt was reduced by one third."[114]

Harding signed the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, considered one of his greatest domestic and enduring achievements.[109] Harding got authorization from Congress for the country's first formal budgeting process—establishing of the Bureau of the Budget.[110] The law created the presidential budget director, who was directly responsible to the President rather than to the Secretary of Treasury. The law also stipulated that the President must submit a budget annually to the U.S. Congress. All presidents since have had to submit an annual budget to Congress.[111] The General Accounting Office was created to assure oversight in the federal budget expenditures. Harding appointed Charles Dawes, known for being an effective financier, as the first director of the Bureau of the Budget. Dawes reduced government spending by $1.5 billion his first year as director, a 25% reduction, along with another 25% reduction the following year. In effect, the Government budget was nearly cut in half in just two years.[112]

Charles Dawes—the first budget director

Bureau of the Budget and Veterans Bureau

Domestic policies and economy

On April 12, Harding called a joint session of Congress to address matters that he deemed of national and urgent importance. That speech, considered his best, contained few political platitudes and was enthusiastically received by Congress. On the economic front, Harding urged Congress to create a Bureau of the Budget, cut expenditures, and revise federal tax laws. Harding urged increased protectionist tariffs, lower taxes, and agriculture legislation to help farmers. In the speech, Harding advocated aviation technology for civil and military purposes, development and regulation of radio technology, and passage of a federal anti-lynching law to protect African Americans. Harding advocated, in terms of foreign affairs, a "conference and cooperation" of nations to prevent war—yet flatly stated that the U.S. should not enter the League of Nations. Harding endorsed peace between all former enemy nations from World War I and the funding and liquidation of war debts.[108]

Joint Session of Congress 1921

The Hardings visited their home community of Marion, Ohio, once during the term, when the city celebrated its centennial during the first week of July. Harding arrived on July 3, gave a speech to the community at the Marion County Fairgrounds on July 4, and left the following morning for other speaking commitments.

Harding's party suffered the loss of 79 seats in the House in the 1922 mid-term elections, leaving them with a razor-thin majority.[106] The President determined to fill the void of leadership in the party and attempted to take a more aggressive role in setting the legislative agenda.[107]

On December 23, 1921 Harding calmed the 1919–1920 Bolshevik scare, and released an election opponent, socialist leader Eugene Debs, from prison. This was part of an effort to return the United States to normalcy after the Great War. Debs, a forceful World War I antiwar activist, had been convicted under sedition charges brought by the Wilson administration for his opposition to the draft during World War I.[103] Despite many political differences between the two candidates Harding commuted Debs' sentence to time served; however, he was not granted an official Presidential pardon. Debs' failing health was a contributing factor for the release. Harding granted a general amnesty to 23 prisoners, alleged anarchists and socialists, active in the Red Scare.[104][105]

Eugene Debs after release from prison by President Harding, visits the White House

Harding presided over the nation's initial consecration of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This followed similar commemorations established by Britain, France and Italy. The fallen hero was chosen from a group previously interred at Romagne Military Cemetery in France, and was re-interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

A 2008 study of presidential rankings for The Times placed Harding at number 34[100] and a 2009 C-SPAN survey ranked Harding at 38.[101] In 2010, a Siena College poll of Presidential scholars placed Harding at 41. The same poll ranked Harding 26 in the Ability to Compromise category.[102]

Although Harding was committed to putting the "best minds" on his cabinet, he often rewarded those persons who were active and contributed to his campaign by appointing them to high federal department positions. Wayne Wheeler, leader of the Anti-Saloon League, was allowed by Harding to dictate who would serve on the Prohibition Commission.[96] Graft and corruption charges permeated Harding's Department of Justice; bootleggers confiscated tens of thousands cases of whiskey through bribery and kickbacks.[97] Harding, out of loyalty, appointed Harry M. Daugherty to U.S. Attorney General because he felt he owed Daugherty for running his 1920 campaign. After the election, many people from the Ohio area moved to Washington, D.C., made their headquarters in a green house on K Street, and would be eventually known as the "Ohio Gang".[98] The financial and political scandals caused by these men, in addition to Harding's own personal controversies, severely damaged Harding's personal reputation and eclipsed his presidential accomplishments. In his most open challenge to Congress, Harding forced a deferral of a budget-busting World War I soldier's bonus in an effort to reduce costs.[99]

According to biographers, Harding got along better with the press than any other previous President, being a former newspaperman. Reporters admired his frankness, candor, and his confessed limitations. He took the press behind the scenes and showed them the inner circle of the presidency. Harding, in November 1921, also implemented a policy of taking written questions from reporters during a press conference.[94] Harding's relationship with Congress, however, was strained and he did not receive the traditional honeymoon given to new Presidents. Before Harding's election, the nation had been adrift; President Woodrow Wilson had been ill by a debilitating stroke for 18 months and before that Wilson had been in Europe for several months attempting to negotiate a peace settlement after World War I. By contrast, at the March 4, 1921 Inaugural, Harding looked strong, with grey hair and a commanding physical presence.[94] Wilson's successor stressed the importance of the ceremonial aspects of the office of President. This emphasis fulfilled his desire to travel the breadth of the country to officiate at formal functions.[95]

Harding pushed for the establishment of the Bureau of Veterans Affairs (later organized as the Department of Veterans Affairs), the first permanent attempt at answering the needs of those who had served the nation in time of war.[90] In April 1921, Harding spoke before a special joint session of Congress that he had called. He argued for peacemaking with Germany and Austria, emergency tariffs, new immigration laws, regulation of radio and trans-cable communications, retrenchment in government, tax reduction, repeal of wartime excess profits tax, reduction of railroad rates, promotion of agricultural interests, a national budget system, an enlarged merchant marine, and a department of public welfare.[91] He also called for measures to end lynching, but not wanting to make enemies in his own party and with the Democrats, he did not fight for his program.[92] Generally, there was a lack of strong leadership in the Congress and, unlike his predecessors Roosevelt and Wilson, Harding was not inclined to fill that void.[93]

One of Harding's most important decisions was the appointment of former President William Howard Taft as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a position Taft had always coveted, more so than the Presidency.[89]

President Warren G. Harding
Official White House Portrait

Harding's administration followed the Republican national platform. Energized by his landslide, Harding felt the "pulse" of the nation and for the 28 months in office he remained popular both nationally and internationally. Harding's administration has been critically viewed due to multiple scandals, while his successes in office were often given credit to his capable cabinet appointments that included future President Herbert Hoover. Author Wayne Lutton asked, "Was Harding really a failure?", citing former Watergate persona John Dean, who grew up near Harding's home, as saying Harding's accomplishments included income tax and federal spending reductions, economic policies that reduced "stagflation", a reduction of unemployment by 10%, and a bold foreign policy that created peace with Germany, Japan, and Central America,[86] although Dean's work itself only cites a "slight decline in unemployment figures" and does not mention "stagflation" at all.[87] Herbert Hoover, while serving in Harding's cabinet, was confident the President would serve two terms and return the world to normalcy. Later, in his own memoirs, he stated that Harding had "neither the experience nor the intellect that the position needed."[88]

He writes the worst English I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights.[84] The Hardings brought a different style to the running of the White House. Though Mrs. Harding did keep a little red book of those who had offended her, the executive mansion was now once again open to the public, including the annual Easter egg roll.[85]

Harding preferred a low-key inauguration, without the customary parade, leaving only the swearing-in ceremony and a brief reception at the White House. In his inaugural speech he declared, "Our most dangerous tendency is to expect too much from the government and at the same time do too little for it."[83] Literary critic H.L. Mencken was appalled, announcing that:

Inauguration of Warren G. Harding, March 4, 1921.

Presidency: 1921–1923

Historian and opponent William Estabrook Chancellor publicized the rumors, based on supposed family research, but perhaps reflecting no more than local gossip.[80] The rumors may have been sustained by a statement Harding allegedly made to newspaperman James W. Faulkner on the subject, which he perhaps meant to be dismissive: "How do I know, Jim? One of my ancestors may have jumped the fence."[81] However, while there are gaps in the historical record, studies of his family tree have not found evidence of an African-American ancestor.[82]

During the campaign, Democratic opponents spread rumors that Harding's great-great-grandfather was a West Indian black person and that other blacks might be found in his family tree.[79] In an era when the "one-drop rule" would classify a person with any African ancestry as black, and black people in the South had been effectively disfranchised, Harding's campaign manager responded, "No family in the state (of Ohio) has a clearer, a more honorable record than the Hardings', a blue-eyed stock from New England and Pennsylvania, the finest pioneer blood."[70]

African-American lineage contention

The 1920 election was the first in which women could vote nationwide, and the first to be covered on the radio, thanks to KDKA ("8ZZ") in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 8MK (later WWJ) in Detroit, and the educational and amateur radio station 1XE (later WGI) at Medford Hillside, Massachusetts – all of which carried the election returns. Harding received 60% of the national vote, the highest percentage ever recorded up to that time, and 404 electoral votes. Cox received 34% of the national vote and 127 electoral votes.[75] Campaigning from a federal prison, Socialist Eugene V. Debs received 3% of the national vote. The Presidential election results of 1920, for the first time in U.S. history, were announced live by radio.[76] Harding was the only Republican presidential candidate to ever defeat Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt on a presidential ticket. At the same time, the Republicans picked up an astounding 63 seats in the House of Representatives.[77] Harding immediately embarked on a vacation that included an inspection tour of facilities in the Panama Canal Zone.[78]

The campaign also drew on Harding's popularity with women. Considered handsome, Harding photographed well compared to Cox. However, it was mainly Harding's Senate support for women's suffrage legislation that made him popular in that demographic. Ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920 brought huge crowds of women to Marion, Ohio to hear Harding speak. Immigrant groups such as ethnic German Americans and Irish Americans, who made up an important part of the Democratic coalition, also voted for Harding, in reaction to the nation's persecution of the Germans during and after the war and Wilson's retraction of support for Irish independence.

Campaign manager Lasker struck a deal with Harding's paramour, Carrie Phillips, and her husband Jim Phillips, whereby the couple agreed to leave the country until after the election. Ostensibly, Mr. Phillips was to investigate the silk trade.[74]

The campaign owed a great deal to Florence Harding, who played a more active role than the wives of previous candidates had. She cultivated the relationship between the campaign and the press. As the business manager of the Star, she understood reporters and their industry. She played to their needs by being available to answer questions, pose for pictures, or deliver food from her kitchen to the press office—a bungalow that she had constructed at the rear of their property in Marion. Mrs. Harding even coached her husband on the proper way to wave to newsreel cameras to make the most of coverage.

Lasker designed the "front porch campaign" during the late summer and fall of 1920 that put Harding's name and image everywhere. It was the first front porch campaign since McKinley in 1896, and the first to receive widespread newsreel coverage. It was also the first modern campaign to use the power of Hollywood and Broadway stars, who travelled to Marion for photo opportunities with Harding and his wife. Al Jolson, Lillian Russell, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford were among the luminaries to make the pilgrimage to his house in central Ohio. Business icons Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone also lent their cachet to the campaign. From the onset of the campaign until the November election, over 600,000 people travelled to Marion to participate.

Warren G. Harding campaigning in 1920

On July 28, 1920, Harding's aide Albert Lasker, a top advertising executive from Chicago, unleashed a broad-based advertising campaign that used modern advertising techniques for the first time in a presidential campaign.[72] Lasker's approach included newsreels and sound recordings, all in an effort to enhance Harding's patriotism and affability. Farmers were sent brochures decrying the alleged abuses of Democratic agriculture policies. African Americans and women were also given literature in an attempt to take away votes from the Democrats. Professional advertisers including Chicagoan Albert Tucker were consulted. Billboard posters, newspapers and magazines were employed in addition to motion pictures. Five thousand speakers were trained by advertiser Harry New and sent abroad to speak for Harding; 2,000 of these speakers were women. Telemarketers were used to make phone conferences with perfected dialogues to promote Harding. Lasker had 8,000 photos distributed around the nation every two weeks of Harding and his wife.[73]

Harding ran on a promise to "Return to Normalcy", a seldom-used term he popularized, and healing for the nation after World War I. The policy called for an end to the abnormal era of the Great War, along with a call to reflect three trends of the time: a renewed isolationism in reaction to the War, a resurgence of nativism, and a turning away from government activism.[71]

In the 1920 election, Harding ran against Democratic Ohio Governor James M. Cox, whose running mate was Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. The election theme became a rejection of the "progressive" ideology of the Woodrow Wilson Administration in favor of the "laissez-faire" approach of the William McKinley era.[70]

Harding's home in Marion, Ohio from which he conducted his 1920 "front porch" campaign.
Photo 1918–1921

General election

Harding's supporters thought of him as the next McKinley. By the time the convention began, a Senate sub-committee had tallied the monies spent by the various candidates, with totals as follows: Wood—$1.8 million; Lowden—$414,000; Johnson—$194,000; and Harding—$114,000; the committed delegate count at the opening gavel was: Wood—124; Johnson—112; Lowden—72; Harding—39.[63] Still, at the opening, less than one-half of the delegates were committed.[64] No candidate was able to corral a majority after nine ballots.[65] Republican Senators and other leaders, who were divided without a singular political boss, met in Room 404 of the [67] The next day, when Harding was nominated on the tenth ballot, Mrs. Harding was so startled, she inadvertently stabbed Harry Daugherty in the side with her hatpins.[68] The local Masons could not resist the opportunity to co-opt Harding's new status, and promoted him to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason.[69]

In 1918, when Theodore Roosevelt was entertaining plans (later abandoned) to reprise his presidency, he considered Harding had strong potential to run and serve as Vice President, and discussed with Harry Daugherty the desirability of having Harding on his ticket.[55] In 1919, the first candidate to declare for the GOP nomination was General Leonard Wood. The GOP bosses were nevertheless determined to have a dependable listener, and were lukewarm toward the General.[56] Some in the party began to scout for such an alternative, and Harding's name arose, despite his reluctance, due to his unique ability to draw vital Ohio votes.[57] Also at the forefront of a throng of candidates for the nomination were Hiram Johnson, Frank Lowden and Herbert Hoover.[58] Harry Daugherty, who became Harding's campaign manager, and who was sure none of these candidates could garner a majority, convinced Harding to run after a marathon discussion of six-plus hours.[59] Daugherty's campaign style was variously described as pugnacious, devious and no holds barred.[60] For example, shortly before the GOP convention, Daugherty struck a deal with millionaire and political opportunist Jake Hamon, whereby 18 Oklahoma delegates whose votes Hamon had bought for Lowden were committed to Harding as a second choice if Lowden's effort faltered.[61][62]

Republican nomination

Presidential election of 1920

[54] This popularity led to his serving as Chairman of the 1916 Republican Convention as well as Keynote Speaker.[53][48] He was nevertheless popular and acquired many very close friends in the chamber.[52] Harding introduced 134 bills, but substantively his six-year record as Senator was unremarkable; his attendance was inconsistent, he spoke minimally on the floor of the Senate and offered no major bill or debate. Harding was not even present for the vote on the women's suffrage amendment, though he "paired" his vote with another member, in effect supporting it.[51] When Harding joined the U.S. Congress, the Democrats controlled the Senate and House of Representatives, led by a progressive Democratic President

In 1912, incumbent President William Howard Taft chose Harding, a talented speaker, to give Taft's nominating speech at the embattled Republican National Convention in Chicago.[44] [45] Taft would later be nominated by President Harding, confirmed by the Senate, and served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court during Harding's administration. Before Harding completed his introduction, a fist fight ensued between the Taft supporters and the more progressive Roosevelt faction, but his speech was a personal success.[45] By 1914 the Republican Party was beginning to show signs of reunification, so that support weakened for Ohio's U.S. Senator Theodore Burton, who then decided not to stand for re-election. When prompted, Harding agreed to run for Burton's seat against his mentor, "Fire Engine" Joe Foraker, in the Republican primary, and he emerged victorious.[46] Henry Daugherty at this point was on a first name basis with Harding and supported his campaign. Harding's general election opponent, Timothy Hogan, fell victim to fervid anti-Catholic sentiment (which Harding did not voice). Having defeated Hogan, Harding became Ohio's first U.S. Senator elected by popular vote. The 1914 general election came on the heels of the outbreak of World War I—an issue Harding played down because of the significant German immigrant population in his district.[46] He served in the Senate from 1915 until his inauguration as President in 1921, making him the first sitting senator to be elected President of the United States; John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama followed in this pattern. (James A. Garfield was at the time of his presidential election a non-incumbent senator-elect.)

Warren G. Harding c.1919

U.S. Senator

Harding sought the 1909 gubernatorial nomination of the GOP, which was deeply divided between progressive and conservative wings of the party, but could not defeat the united Democrats; he lost the election to incumbent Judson Harmon.[42] Harding took his first election loss in stride, saying "...I have lost nothing which I ever had except a few dollars which I can make again, a few pounds of flesh which I can grow again, a few false friends of whom I am well rid, and an ambition which simply fettered my freedom and did not make for happiness."[43]

While Harding was dwindling politically, there were developments on the personal and business front. In 1907, Amos Kling married his second wife and began an effort at rapprochement with daughter and son-in-law. As a result, the Klings and the Hardings took a cruise to Europe together.[40] Soon after their return, Harding reorganized his newspaper business into the Harding Publishing Co., issued stock in the company, took two-thirds for himself and allowed his employees to purchase the rest; this was the first profit-sharing arrangement of its kind in Ohio.[41]

As a Republican state senator, Harding was a partisan regular and did favors for political bosses Mark Hanna and Harry M. Daugherty. Harding's only notable reform effort in his first term (Ohio state offices had 2-year terms) was a progressive bill to revamp the municipal code, which had passed the Senate but was halted by a single member's procedural call to "reconsider".[36] As asserted by Sinclair, Harding, against his own conscience, signed a municipal bill that protected Republican party patronage and graft.[33] In his second term, he was chosen Republican Floor Leader.[37] In early 1903 Harding announced his campaign for Governor of Ohio, which was soon thwarted by an intra-party alliance that assured the election of fellow Republican Myron T. Herrick; Harding was awarded the position of Lieutenant Governor of Ohio, a post he occupied from 1904 to 1906.[38] In short order, a number of ill-advised decisions by Gov. Herrick damaged his popularity. As the 1906 election approached, Harding saw an opening and announced his candidacy for Governor again. Nevertheless, the party bosses stuck by Herrick, and Harding took his name out of the running for any position on the ticket, which was defeated by the Democrats.[39]

Harding's ally and Ohio political boss Mark Hanna

Harding made his foray into politics running for the Marion County Auditor's office, primarily to gain political exposure—his inability to win the election was a foregone conclusion in the heavily Democratic county.[32] When his newspaper business attained sufficient economic stability, and even dominance, in Marion, Harding and his wife traveled widely throughout the country, which broadened Harding's exposure at political gatherings. Biographer Andrew Sinclair asserts that, like many contemporaries during the days of Ohio Republican Party boss Mark Hanna, Harding was involved with graft and excessive patronage.[33] Harding allegedly arranged free public-transit passes for his family in return for favorable coverage in his newspaper.[33] Harding, in 1897, was said to have facilitated his sister's appointment as a teacher for the blind over supposedly more qualified candidates.[33] Harding was also accused of collusion with other newspapers on the price-fixing of public printing bids and dividing the profits from low-straw biddings.[33] No formal charges were made against Harding based on these accusations. The accomplished publisher also gained a flair for public speaking, and in 1899 Harding was elected to fill the Ohio State Senate seat for the 13th Senatorial District, despite Amos Kling's financing of a primary opponent.[34] Shortly after this victory, there was a fortuitous meeting with Ohio Republican party leader and McKinley ally, Harry M. Daugherty, who commented about him, "Gee, what a great looking President he'd make."; Daugherty later assumed the primary role in Harding's political career.[35]

Ohio emergence

Early political career

The couple was complementary, with Harding's affable personality balancing his wife's no-nonsense approach to life. Florence Harding, exhibiting her father's determination and business sense, turned the Marion Daily Star into a profitable business in her management of the circulation.[30] She has been credited with helping Harding achieve more than he might have alone; some have speculated that she pushed him all the way to the White House.[31] Early in their marriage, Harding bestowed on her the lasting nickname "Duchess" as a nod to the imperious (and often alienating) persona she shared with her father.[30]

On July 8, 1891 Harding married Florence Kling DeWolfe, the daughter of his nemesis Amos Hall Kling—who was also her nemesis. Florence Kling DeWolfe was a divorcee, 5 years Harding's senior, and the mother of a young son, Marshall Eugene DeWolfe.[26] Florence's father had soundly condemned her first—compulsory—marriage, to an alcoholic. He had disowned her, but her mother had remained loyal and supportive.[27] She pursued Harding persistently, until he reluctantly proposed. According to noted biographer Russell, he was compelled to propose not so much because of true love, but of the prospect of social acceptance and standing.[28] Incensed by his daughter's decision to marry Harding, Amos Kling prohibited his wife from attending the wedding (she sneaked in long enough to see the vows exchanged) and refused to speak to his daughter or son-in-law for 8 years. Her mother continued to provide support on the sly.[29]

In 1900, political opponent J.F. McNeal, with Amos Kling's help, secretly bought up $20,000 in loans owed by Harding, and immediately called them due in full. Harding just barely secured the funds to pay off the debt to save the Star.[24] In the last year of his Presidency, anticipating no resumption of his journalism career following his years in the White House, Harding sold the Star to Louis H. Brush and Roy D. Moore for $550,000.[25]

While Harding won the war of words and made the Marion Daily Star one of the most popular newspapers in the county, the battle took a toll on his health. In 1889, at age 24, he suffered from exhaustion and nervous fatigue. He spent several weeks at the Battle Creek Sanitarium to regain his strength and ultimately made 5 visits over 14 years.[19] Harding later returned to Marion to continue operating the paper. He spent his days promoting the community on the editorial pages, and his evenings "bloviating" (a word Harding used frequently) with his friends over games of poker.[20] In 1893, the Star supplanted the Independent as the official paper for Marion's governmental notices, after Harding exposed the rival paper for overcharging the city.[21] In 1896, the Independent ceased doing business and Amos Kling immediately financed and launched another rival paper, the Republican Transcript, in a failed attempt to derail his son-in-law.[22] Harding also made political speeches on the Chautauqua circuit and expressed admiration for his ideal American patron, Alexander Hamilton.[14] He also is said to have originated the phrase "Founding Fathers".[23]

Florence Harding

Upon graduating, Harding had stints as a teacher and insurance man, and made a brief attempt at studying law. He then raised $300 in partnership with others to purchase the failing Marion Daily Star, the weakest of the growing city's three newspapers. By 1886, he completely owned the Star.[14][16] He revamped the paper's editorial platform to support the Republican Party and became an ardent supporter of Governor "Fire Alarm Joe" Foraker. This political stance put him at odds with those who controlled local politics in Marion.[17] When Harding moved to unseat the Marion Independent as the official daily paper, he met with strong resistance from local figures, such as Amos Hall Kling, one of Marion's wealthiest real estate speculators. The editorial battle with the Independent became so heated that, at the inevitable mention of Harding's questionable bloodline, father and son brought a shotgun and demanded a retraction at gunpoint. They were successful.[18]

Journalism career and marriage

Harding continued to study the printing and newspaper trade as a college student at Ohio Central College in Iberia. At the same time, he worked at the Union Register in Mount Gilead.[13] Harding became an accomplished public speaker in college, and graduated in 1882 at the age of 17 with a Bachelor of Science degree.[14] As a youngster, he had become an accomplished cornet player and played in various bands, and in 1884 Harding gained popular recognition in Marion when his Citizens' Cornet Band won the third-place $200 prize at the highly competitive Ohio State Band Festival in Findlay. The money paid for the band's snappy dress uniforms, which Harding had bought on credit.[15]

[12] that Harding, from the age of 10, learned the basics of the journalism business. In 1878, his brother Charles and sister Persilla died, presumably from typhoid fever.The Argus, a local weekly newspaper. It was at The Argus, where his father acquired Caledonia, Ohio Harding's family eventually moved to [11] Harding's great-great grandfather Amos claimed that a thief, who had been caught in the act by the family, started the rumor in an attempt at extortion.[10].African American It was rumored in Blooming Grove that one of Harding's great-grandmothers might have been [9], and also acquired a medical degree and started a small practice.Mount Gilead, Ohio school north of rural His mother, a devout Methodist, was a midwife who later obtained her medical license. His father, never quite content with his job or possessions, was forever swapping them for something better, and was usually in debt; he variously owned a farm, taught at a [8], including the well known Van Kirk family.Dutch His mother's ancestors were [7]

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