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Warren Gamaliel Harding (November 2, 1865 – August 2, 1923) was the 29th president of the United States from 1921 until his death in 1923. A member of the Republican Party, he was one of the most popular U.S. presidents to that point. After his death, a number of scandals—including Teapot Dome—came to light, as did his extramarital affair with Nan Britton; each eroded his popular regard.

Harding lived in rural Ohio all his life, except when political service took him elsewhere. As a young man, he bought The Marion Star and built it into a successful newspaper. In 1899, he was elected to the Ohio State Senate; he spent four years there, then was elected lieutenant governor. He was defeated for governor in 1910, but was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1914. He ran for the Republican nomination for president in 1920, and he was considered a long shot until after the convention began. The leading candidates could not gain the needed majority, and the convention deadlocked. Harding's support gradually grew until he was nominated on the tenth ballot. He conducted a front porch campaign, remaining for the most part in Marion and allowing the people to come to him, and running on a theme of a return to normalcy of the pre-World War I period. He won in a landslide over Democrat James M. Cox and the then imprisoned Socialist Party candidate Warren Gamaliel Harding (November 2, 1865 – August 2, 1923) was the 29th president of the United States from 1921 until his death in 1923. A member of the Republican Party, he was one of the most popular U.S. presidents to that point. After his death, a number of scandals—including Teapot Dome—came to light, as did his extramarital affair with Nan Britton; each eroded his popular regard.

Harding lived in rural Ohio all his life, except when political service took him elsewhere. As a young man, he bought The Marion Star and built it into a successful newspaper. In 1899, he was elected to the Ohio State Senate; he spent four years there, then was elected lieutenant governor. He was defeated for governor in 1910, but was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1914. He ran for the Republican nomination for president in 1920, and he was considered a long shot until after the convention began. The leading candidates could not gain the needed majority, and the convention deadlocked. Harding's support gradually grew until he was nominated on the tenth ballot. He conducted a front porch campaign, remaining for the most part in Marion and allowing the people to come to him, and running on a theme of a return to normalcy of the pre-World War I period. He won in a landslide over Democrat James M. Cox and the then imprisoned Socialist Party candidate Eugene Debs and became the first sitting senator to be elected president.

Harding appointed a number of well-regarded figures to his cabinet, including Andrew Mellon at Treasury, Herbert Hoover at the Department of Commerce, and Charles Evans Hughes at the State Department. A major foreign policy achievement came with the Washington Naval Conference of 1921–1922, in which the world's major naval powers agreed on a naval limitations program that lasted a decade. Harding released political prisoners who had been arrested for their opposition to World War I. His cabinet members Albert B. Fall (Interior Secretary) and Harry Daugherty (Attorney General) were each later tried for corruption in office; Fall was convicted though Daugherty was not. These and other scandals greatly damaged Harding's posthumous reputation; he is generally regarded as one of the worst presidents. Harding died of a heart attack in San Francisco while on a western tour and was succeeded by Vice President Calvin Coolidge.

Harding (center) with Chief Justice TaftHarding had spoken out against lynching in his April 1921 speech before Congress, and supported Congressman Leonidas Dyer's federal anti-lynching bill, which passed the House of Representatives in January 1922.[166] When it reached the Senate floor in November 1922, it was filibustered by Southern Democrats, and Lodge withdrew it so as to allow the ship subsidy bill Harding favored to be debated (it was likewise filibustered). Blacks blamed Harding for the Dyer bill's defeat; Harding biographer Robert K. Murray noted that it was hastened to its end by Harding's desire to have the ship subsidy bill considered.[167]

With the public suspicious of immigrants, especially those who might be socialists or communists, Congress passed the Per Centum Act of 1921, signed by Harding on May 19, 1921, as a quick means of restricting immigration. The act reduced the numbers of immigrants to 3% of those from a given country living in the U.S., based on the 1910 census. This would, in practice, not restrict immigration from Ireland and Germany, but would bar many Italians and eastern European Jews.[168] Harding and Secretary of Labor James Davis believed that enforcement had to be humane, and at the Secretary's recommendation, Harding allowed almost 1,000 deportable immigrants to remain.[169]With the public suspicious of immigrants, especially those who might be socialists or communists, Congress passed the Per Centum Act of 1921, signed by Harding on May 19, 1921, as a quick means of restricting immigration. The act reduced the numbers of immigrants to 3% of those from a given country living in the U.S., based on the 1910 census. This would, in practice, not restrict immigration from Ireland and Germany, but would bar many Italians and eastern European Jews.[168] Harding and Secretary of Labor James Davis believed that enforcement had to be humane, and at the Secretary's recommendation, Harding allowed almost 1,000 deportable immigrants to remain.[169] Coolidge later signed the Immigration Act of 1924, permanently restricting immigration to the U.S.[170]

Harding's Socialist opponent in the 1920 election, Eugene Debs, was serving a ten-year sentence in the Atlanta Penitentiary for speaking against the war. Wilson had refused to pardon him before leaving office. Daugherty met with Debs, and was deeply impressed. There was opposition from veterans, including the American Legion, and also from Florence Harding. The president did not feel he could release Debs until the war was officially over, but once the peace treaties were signed, commuted Debs' sentence on December 23, 1921. At Harding's request, Debs visited the president at the White House before going home to Indiana.[171]

Harding released 23 other war opponents at the same time as Debs, and continued to review cases and rel

Harding released 23 other war opponents at the same time as Debs, and continued to review cases and release political prisoners throughout his presidency. Harding defended his prisoner releases as necessary to return the nation to normalcy.[172]

Harding appointed four justices to the Supreme Court of the United States. When Chief Justice Edward Douglass White died in May 1921, Harding was unsure whether to appoint former president Taft or former Utah senator George Sutherland—he had promised seats on the court to both men. After briefly considering awaiting another vacancy and appointing them both, he chose Taft as Chief Justice. Sutherland was appointed to the court in 1922, to be followed by two other economic conservatives, Pierce Butler and Edward Terry Sanford, in 1923.[173]

Harding also appointed six judges to the United States Courts of Appeals, 42 judges to the United States district courts, and two judges to the United States Court of Customs AppealsHarding also appointed six judges to the United States Courts of Appeals, 42 judges to the United States district courts, and two judges to the United States Court of Customs Appeals.[174]

Entering the 1922 midterm congressional election campaign, Harding and the Republicans had followed through on many of their campaign promises. But some of the fulfilled pledges, like cutting taxes for the well-off, did not appeal to the electorate. The economy had not returned to normalcy, with unemployment at 11 percent, and organized labor angry over the outcome of the strikes. From 303 Republicans elected to the House in 1920, the new 68th Congress would see that party fall to a 221–213 majority. In the Senate, the Republicans lost eight seats, and had 51 of 96 senators in the new Congress, which Harding did not survive to meet.[175]

A month after the election, the lame-duck session of the old 67th Congress met. Harding had come to believe that his early view of the presidency—that it should propose policies, but leave whether to adopt them to Congress—was not enough, and he lobbied Congress, although in vain, to get his ship subsidy bill through.[175] Once Congress left town in early March 1923, Harding's popularity in the country began to recover. The economy was improving, and the programs of Harding's more able Cabinet members, such as Hughes, Mellon and Hoover, were showing results. Most Republicans realized that there was no practical alternative to supporting Harding in 1924.[176]

In the first half of 1923, Harding did two acts that were later said to indicate foreknowledge of death: he sold the Star (though undertaking to remain as a contributing editor for ten years after his presidency), and made a new will.lame-duck session of the old 67th Congress met. Harding had come to believe that his early view of the presidency—that it should propose policies, but leave whether to adopt them to Congress—was not enough, and he lobbied Congress, although in vain, to get his ship subsidy bill through.[175] Once Congress left town in early March 1923, Harding's popularity in the country began to recover. The economy was improving, and the programs of Harding's more able Cabinet members, such as Hughes, Mellon and Hoover, were showing results. Most Republicans realized that there was no practical alternative to supporting Harding in 1924.[176]

In the first half of 1923, Harding did two acts that were later said to indicate foreknowledge of death: he sold the Star (though undertaking to remain as a contributing editor for ten years after his presidency), and made a new will.[177] Harding had long suffered occasional health problems, but when he was not experiencing symptoms, he tended to eat, drink and smoke too much. By 1919, he was aware he had a heart condition. Stress caused by the presidency and by Florence Harding's ill health (she had a chronic kidney condition) debilitated him, and he never really recovered from an episode of influenza in January 1923. After that, Harding, an avid golfer, had difficulty completing a round. In June 1923, Ohio Senator Willis met with Harding, but brought to the president's attention only two of the five items he intended to discuss. When asked why, Willis responded, "Warren seemed so tired."[178]

In early June 1923, Harding set out on a journey, which he dubbed the "Voyage of Understanding."[176] The president planned to cross the country, go north to Alaska Territory, journey south along the West Coast, then travel by a US Navy ship from San Diego along the Mexican and Central America West Coast, through the Panama Canal, to Puerto Rico, and to return to Washington at the end of August.[179] Harding loved to travel and had long contemplated a trip to Alaska.[180] The trip would allow him to speak widely across the country, to politic and bloviate in advance of the 1924 campaign, and allow him some rest[181] away from Washington's oppressive summer heat.[176]

Harding's political advisers had given him a physically demanding schedule, even though the president had ordered it cut back.[182] In Kansas City, Harding spoke on transportation issues; in Hutchinson, Kansas, agriculture was the theme. In Denver, he spoke on Prohibition, and continued west making a series of speeches not matched by any president until Franklin Roosevelt. Harding had become a supporter of the World Court, and wanted the U.S. to become a member. In addition to making speeches, he visited Yellowstone and Zion National Parks,[183] and dedicated a monument on the Oregon Trail at a celebration organized by venerable pioneer Ezra Meeker and others.[184]

On July 5, Harding embarked on USS Henderson in Washington state. The first president to visit Alaska, he spent hours watching the dramatic landscapes from the deck of the Henderson.[185] After several stops along the coast, the presidential party left the ship at Seward to take the Alaska Central Railway to McKinley Park and Fairbanks, where he addressed a crowd of 1,500 in 94 °F (34 °C) heat. The party was to return to Seward by the Richardson Trail, but due to Harding's fatigue, it went by train.[186]