Warren Gamaliel Harding (November 2, 1865 – August 2, 1923) was
the 29th president of the United States from March 4, 1921, until his
death in 1923. At the time of his death, Harding was one of the most
popular presidents, but the subsequent exposure of scandals that took
place under his administration such as Teapot Dome eroded his popular
regard, as did revelations of an affair by Nan Britton, one of his
mistresses. In historical rankings of the U.S. Presidents, Harding is
often rated among the worst.
Harding lived in rural
Ohio all his life, except when political
service took him elsewhere. As a young man, he bought The Marion Star,
building it into a successful newspaper. In 1899, he was elected to
Ohio State Senate and after four years there successfully ran for
lieutenant governor. He was defeated for governor in 1910, but was
elected to the U.S. Senate in 1914. When Harding ran for the
Republican nomination for president in 1920 he was considered a long
shot until after the convention began. Then the leading candidates,
such as General Leonard Wood, could not gain the needed majority and
the convention deadlocked. Harding's support gradually grew until he
was nominated on the 10th ballot. He conducted a front porch campaign,
remaining for the most part in Marion and allowing the people to come
to him. He won in a landslide over Democrat
James M. Cox
James M. Cox and Socialist
Party candidate Eugene Debs, running on a theme of return to normalcy
and becoming the first sitting U.S. Senator to be elected president.
Harding appointed a number of well-regarded figures to his cabinet,
Andrew Mellon at the Treasury,
Herbert Hoover at Commerce
Charles Evans Hughes
Charles Evans Hughes at the State Department. A major foreign
policy achievement came with the
Washington Naval Conference
Washington Naval Conference of
1921–1922, in which the world's major naval powers agreed on a naval
limitations program that lasted a decade. Two members of his cabinet
were implicated in corruption: Interior Secretary
Albert Fall and
Attorney General Harry Daugherty. The resulting scandals did not fully
emerge until after Harding's death, nor did word of his extramarital
affairs, but both greatly damaged his reputation. Harding died of a
heart attack in San Francisco while on a western speaking tour, and
was succeeded by his vice president, Calvin Coolidge.
1 Early life and career
1.1 Childhood and education
1.3 Start in politics
2 Rising politician (1897–1919)
2.1 State senator
Ohio state leader
2.3 U.S. senator
2.3.1 Election of 1914
2.3.2 Junior senator
3 Presidential election of 1920
3.1 Primary campaign
3.3 General election campaign
4 President (1921–1923)
4.1 Inauguration and appointments
4.2 Foreign policy
4.2.1 European relations and formally ending the war
4.2.3 Latin America
4.3 Domestic policy
4.3.1 Postwar recession and recovery
4.3.2 Mellon's tax cuts
4.3.3 Embracing new technologies
4.3.4 Business and labor
4.3.5 Civil rights and immigration
4.3.6 Debs and political prisoners
4.3.7 Judicial appointments
4.4 Final months, death, and funeral
4.4.1 Political setbacks and western tour
4.4.2 Death in San Francisco, funeral, and memorial
4.5.1 Teapot Dome
4.5.2 Justice Department
4.5.3 Veterans' Bureau
5 Extramarital affairs
6 Historical view
7 See also
11 External links
Early life and career
Childhood and education
Childhood home in Caledonia
Harding was born November 2, 1865, in Blooming Grove, Ohio.
Nicknamed "Winnie" as a small child, Harding was the eldest of eight
children born to
George Tryon Harding
George Tryon Harding (1843–1928; usually known as
Tryon) and Phoebe Elizabeth (née Dickerson) Harding (1843–1910).
Phoebe was a state-licensed midwife. Tryon farmed and taught school
near Mount Gilead, Ohio. Through apprenticeship, study and a year of
medical school, Tryon became a doctor and started a small practice.
Some of Harding's mother's ancestors were Dutch, including the
well-known Van Kirk family. Harding also had ancestors from
England, Wales and Scotland.
It was rumored by a political opponent in Blooming Grove that one of
Harding's great-grandmothers was African American. His great-great
grandfather Amos Harding claimed that a thief, who had been caught in
the act by the family, started the rumor in an attempt at extortion or
revenge. After Warren Harding's death in 1923, some African
Americans continued to claim he had black ethnicity. This issue was
resolved in 2015.
Genetic testing of Harding's descendants determined,
with more than a 95% chance of accuracy, that he lacked sub-Saharan
African forebears within four generations.
In 1870, the Harding family, who were abolitionists, moved to
Caledonia, Ohio, where Tryon acquired The Argus, a local weekly
newspaper. At The Argus, Harding, from the age of 11, learned the
basics of the newspaper business.
In late 1879, at the age of 14, Harding enrolled at his father's alma
Ohio Central College in Iberia – where he proved
an adept student. He and a friend put out a small newspaper, the
Iberia Spectator, during their final year at
Ohio Central, intended to
appeal to both college and town. During his final year, the Harding
family moved to Marion, Ohio, about 6 miles (9.7 km) from
Caledonia, and when he graduated in 1882, he joined them there.
Harding, c. 1882
In Harding's youth, the majority of the population still lived on
farms and in small towns. He would spend much of his life in Marion, a
small city in rural Ohio, and would become closely associated with it.
When Harding rose to high office, he made clear his love of Marion and
its way of life, telling of the many young Marionites who had left and
enjoyed success elsewhere, while suggesting that the man, once the
"pride of the school", who had remained behind and become a janitor,
was "the happiest one of the lot".
Upon graduating, Harding had stints as a teacher and as an insurance
man, and made a brief attempt at studying law. He then raised $300 in
partnership with others to purchase a failing newspaper, The Marion
Star, weakest of the growing city's three papers, and its only daily.
The 18-year-old Harding used the railroad pass that came with the
paper to attend the 1884 Republican National Convention, where he
hobnobbed with better-known journalists and supported the presidential
nominee, former Secretary of State James G. Blaine. Harding returned
from Chicago to find that the paper had been reclaimed by the
sheriff. During the election campaign, Harding worked for the
Marion Democratic Mirror and was annoyed at having to praise the
Democratic presidential nominee, New York Governor Grover Cleveland,
who won the election. Afterward, with the financial aid of his
father, the budding newspaperman redeemed the paper.
Through the later years of the 1880s, Warren Harding built the Star.
The city of Marion tended to vote Republican (as did Ohio), but Marion
County was Democratic. Accordingly, Harding adopted a tempered
editorial stance, declaring the daily Star nonpartisan and circulating
a weekly edition that was moderate Republican. This policy attracted
advertisers and put the town's Republican weekly out of business.
According to his biographer, Andrew Sinclair:
The success of Harding with the Star was certainly in the model of
Horatio Alger. He started with nothing, and through working, stalling,
bluffing, withholding payments, borrowing back wages, boasting, and
manipulating, he turned a dying rag into a powerful small-town
newspaper. Much of his success had to do with his good looks,
affability, enthusiasm, and persistence, but he was also lucky. As
Machiavelli once pointed out, cleverness will take a man far, but he
cannot do without good fortune.
The population of Marion grew from 4,000 in 1880 to twice that in
1890, increasing to 12,000 by 1900. This growth helped the Star, and
Harding did his best to promote the city, purchasing stock in many
local enterprises. Although a few of these turned out badly, he was in
general successful as an investor, leaving an estate of $850,000 in
1923. According to Harding biographer and former White House
Counsel John Dean, Harding's "civic influence was that of an activist
who used his editorial page to effectively keep his nose—and a
prodding voice—in all the town's public business". To date,
Harding is the only U.S. president to have had journalism
experience. He became an ardent supporter of Governor Joseph B.
Foraker, a Republican.
Harding first came to know Florence Kling, five years older than he,
as the daughter of a local banker and developer. Amos Kling was a man
accustomed to getting his way, but Harding attacked him relentlessly
in the paper. Amos involved Florence in all his affairs, taking her to
work from the time she could walk. As hard-headed as her father,
Florence came into conflict with him after returning from music
college.[a] After she eloped with Pete deWolfe, and returned to Marion
without deWolfe, but with an infant called Marshall, Amos agreed to
raise the boy, but would not support Florence, who made a living as a
piano teacher. One of her students was Harding's sister Charity. By
1886, Florence Kling had obtained a divorce, and she and Warren
Harding were courting, though who was pursuing whom is uncertain,
depending on who later told the story of their romance.
A truce between the Klings was snuffed out by the budding match. Amos
believed that the Hardings had
African American blood, and was also
offended by Harding's editorial stances. He started to spread rumors
of Harding's supposed black heritage and encouraged local businessmen
to boycott Harding's business interests. When Harding found out
what Kling was doing, he warned Kling "that he would beat the tar out
of the little man if he didn't cease".[b]
The Hardings were married on July 8, 1891 at their new home on
Mount Vernon Avenue in Marion, which they had designed together in the
Queen Anne style. The marriage produced no children. Warren
Harding affectionately called his wife "the Duchess", based on a
character in a serial from The New York Sun, in which the Duchess kept
a close eye on the Duke and their money, running anything that
Florence Harding became deeply involved in her husband's career, both
at the Star and once he entered politics. Exhibiting her father's
determination and business sense, she helped turn the Star into a
profitable enterprise through her tight management of the paper's
circulation department. She has been credited with helping Harding
achieve more than he might have alone; some have suggested that she
pushed him all the way to the White House.
Start in politics
Shown on a $10 gold piece (part of the Presidential $1 Coin Program),
Florence Harding pushed her husband Warren ahead in his career.
Soon after purchasing the Star, Harding turned his attention to
politics, supporting Foraker in his first successful bid for governor
in 1885. Foraker was part of the war generation that challenged older
Ohio Republicans, such as Senator John Sherman, for control of state
politics. Harding, always a party loyalist, supported Foraker in the
complex internecine warfare that was
Ohio Republican politics. Harding
was willing to tolerate Democrats, as necessary to a two-party system,
but had only contempt for those who bolted the Republican Party to
join third-party movements. He was a delegate to the Republican
state convention in 1888, at the age of 22, representing Marion
County, and would be elected a delegate in most years until becoming
Harding's success as an editor took a toll on his health. Five times
between 1889 (when he was 23) and 1901, he spent time at the Battle
Creek Sanitorium for reasons Sinclair described as "fatigue,
overstrain, and nervous illnesses". Dean ties these visits to
early occurrences of the heart ailment that would kill Harding in
1923. During one such absence from Marion, in 1894, the Star's
business manager quit.
Florence Harding took his place. She became her
husband's top assistant at the Star on the business side, maintaining
her role until the Hardings moved to Washington in 1915. Her
assistance and competence allowed Warren Harding to travel to make
speeches (his use of the free railroad pass increased greatly after
Florence Harding made sure no cents escaped
her—sometimes sending Warren to the bank with a gallon (3.8 l)
bucket full in each hand—and wrote of her husband, "he does well
when he listens to me and poorly when he does not."
In 1892, Harding traveled to Washington, where he met Democratic
Nebraska Congressman William Jennings Bryan, and listened to the "Boy
Orator of the Platte" speak on the floor of the House of
Representatives. Harding traveled to Chicago's
Columbian Exposition in
1893. Both visits were without Florence. Democrats generally won
Marion County's offices; when Harding ran for auditor in 1895, he
lost, but did better than expected. The following year, Harding was
one of many orators who spoke across
Ohio as part of the campaign of
the Republican presidential candidate, that state's former governor,
William McKinley. According to Dean, "while working for McKinley
[Harding] began making a name for himself through Ohio".
Rising politician (1897–1919)
Harding wished to try again for elective office. Though a longtime
admirer of Foraker (by then a U.S. senator), he had been careful to
maintain good relations with the party faction led by the state's
other U.S. senator, Mark Hanna, McKinley's political manager and
chairman of the
Republican National Committee
Republican National Committee (RNC). Both Foraker and
Hanna supported Harding for state Senate in 1899; he gained the
Republican nomination and was easily elected to a two-year term.
Harding began his four years as a state senator as a political
unknown; he ended them as one of the most popular figures in the Ohio
Republican Party. He always appeared calm and displayed humility,
characteristics that endeared him to fellow Republicans even as he
passed them in his political rise. Legislative leaders consulted him
on difficult problems. It was usual at that time for state
Ohio to serve only one term, but Harding gained
renomination in 1901. After the assassination of McKinley in September
(he was succeeded by Vice President Theodore Roosevelt), much of the
appetite for politics was temporarily lost in Ohio. In November,
Harding won a second term, more than doubling his margin of victory to
Like most politicians of his time, Harding accepted that patronage and
graft would be used to repay political favors. He arranged for his
sister Mary (who was legally blind) to be appointed as a teacher at
Ohio School for the Blind, although there were better-qualified
candidates. In another trade, he offered publicity in his newspaper in
exchange for free railroad passes for himself and his family.
According to Sinclair, "it is doubtful that Harding ever thought there
was anything dishonest in accepting the perquisites of position or
office. Patronage and favors seemed the normal reward for party
service in the days of Hanna."
Soon after Harding's initial election as senator, he met Harry M.
Daugherty, who would take a major role in his political career. A
perennial candidate for office who served two terms in the state House
of Representatives in the early 1890s, Daugherty had become a
political fixer and lobbyist in the state capital of Columbus. After
first meeting and talking with Harding, Daugherty commented, "Gee,
what a great-looking President he'd make."
Ohio state leader
In early 1903, Harding announced he would run for Governor of Ohio,
prompted by the withdrawal of the leading candidate, Congressman
Charles Dick. Hanna and George Cox felt that Harding was not electable
due to his work with Foraker—as the
Progressive Era commenced, the
public was starting to take a dimmer view of the trading of political
favors and of bosses such as Cox. Accordingly, they persuaded
Cleveland banker Myron T. Herrick, a friend of McKinley's, to run.
Herrick was also better-placed to take votes away from the likely
Democratic candidate, reforming Cleveland Mayor Tom L. Johnson. With
little chance at the gubernatorial nomination, Harding sought
nomination as lieutenant governor, and both Herrick and Harding were
nominated by acclamation. Foraker and Hanna (who died of typhoid
fever in February 1904) both campaigned for what was dubbed the Four-H
ticket. Herrick and Harding won by overwhelming margins.
Once he and Harding were inaugurated, Herrick made ill-advised
decisions that turned crucial Republican constituencies against him,
alienating farmers by opposing the establishment of an agricultural
college. On the other hand, according to Sinclair, "Harding had
little to do, and he did it very well". His responsibility to
preside over the state Senate allowed him to increase his growing
network of political contacts. Harding and others envisioned a
successful gubernatorial run in 1905, but Herrick refused to stand
aside. In early 1905, Harding announced he would accept nomination as
governor if offered, but faced with the anger of leaders such as Cox,
Foraker and Dick (Hanna's replacement in the Senate), announced he
would seek no office in 1905. Herrick was defeated, but his new
running mate, Andrew L. Harris, was elected, and succeeded as governor
after five months in office on the death of Democrat John M. Pattison.
One Republican official wrote to Harding, "Aren't you sorry Dick
wouldn't let you run for Lieutenant Governor?"
Joseph B. Foraker
Joseph B. Foraker in 1908, his final full year as senator
before his re-election defeat
In addition to helping pick a president,
Ohio voters in 1908 were to
choose the legislators who would decide whether to re-elect Foraker.
The senator had quarreled with President Roosevelt over the
Brownsville Affair. Though Foraker had little chance of winning, he
sought the Republican presidential nomination against his fellow
Cincinnatian, Secretary of War William Howard Taft, who was
Roosevelt's chosen successor. On January 6, 1908, Harding's Star
endorsed Foraker and upbraided Roosevelt for trying to destroy the
senator's career over a matter of conscience. On January 22, Harding
in the Star reversed course and declared for Taft, deeming Foraker
defeated. According to Sinclair, Harding's change to Taft "was
not ... because he saw the light but because he felt the
heat". Jumping on the Taft bandwagon allowed Harding to survive
his patron's disaster—Foraker failed to gain the presidential
nomination, and was defeated for a third term as senator. Also helpful
in saving Harding's career was the fact that he was popular with, and
had done favors for, the more progressive forces that now controlled
Ohio Republican Party.
Harding sought and gained the 1910 Republican gubernatorial
nomination. At that time, the party was deeply divided between
progressive and conservative wings, and could not defeat the united
Democrats; he lost the election to incumbent Judson Harmon. Harry
Daugherty managed Harding's campaign, but the defeated candidate did
not hold the loss against him. Despite the growing rift between them,
both President Taft and former president Roosevelt came to
campaign for Harding, but their quarrels split the Republican Party
and helped assure Harding's defeat.
The party split grew, and in 1912, Taft and Roosevelt were rivals for
the Republican nomination. The
1912 Republican National Convention
1912 Republican National Convention was
bitterly divided. At Taft's request, Harding gave a speech nominating
the president, but the angry delegates were not receptive to Harding's
oratory. Taft was renominated, but Roosevelt supporters bolted the
party. Harding, as a loyal Republican, supported Taft. The Republican
vote was split between Taft, the party's official candidate, and
Roosevelt, running under the label of the Progressive Party. This
allowed the Democratic candidate, New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson,
to be elected.
Election of 1914
United States Senate
United States Senate election in Ohio, 1914
Congressman Theodore Burton had been elected as senator in Foraker's
place in 1909, and announced that he would seek a second term in the
1914 elections. By this time, the Seventeenth Amendment to the United
States Constitution had been ratified, giving the people the right to
elect senators, and
Ohio had instituted primary elections for the
office. Foraker and former congressman
Ralph D. Cole
Ralph D. Cole also entered the
Republican primary. When Burton withdrew, Foraker became the favorite,
but his Old Guard Republicanism was deemed outdated, and Harding was
urged to enter the race. Daugherty claimed credit for persuading
Harding to run, "I found him like a turtle sunning himself on a log,
and I pushed him into the water." According to Harding biographer
Randolph Downes, "he put on a campaign of such sweetness and light as
would have won the plaudits of the angels. It was calculated to offend
nobody except Democrats." Although Harding did not attack Foraker,
his supporters had no such scruples. Harding won the primary by 12,000
votes over Foraker.
Read The Menace and get the dope,
Go to the polls and beat the Pope.
Slogan written on
Ohio walls and fences, 1914
Harding's general election opponent was
Ohio Attorney General Timothy
Hogan, who had risen to statewide office despite widespread prejudice
against Roman Catholics in rural areas. In 1914, the start of World
War I and the prospect of a Catholic senator from
nativist sentiment. Propaganda sheets with names like The Menace and
The Defender contained warnings that Hogan was the vanguard in a plot
led by Pope
Benedict XV through the
Knights of Columbus
Knights of Columbus to control
Ohio. Harding did not attack Hogan (an old friend) on this or most
other issues, but he did not denounce the nativist hatred for his
Harding's conciliatory campaigning style aided him; one Harding
friend deemed the candidate's stump speech during the 1914 fall
campaign as "a rambling, high-sounding mixture of platitudes,
patriotism, and pure nonsense". Dean notes, "Harding used his
oratory to good effect; it got him elected, making as few enemies as
possible in the process." Harding won by over 100,000 votes in a
landslide that also swept into office a Republican governor, Frank B.
When Harding joined the U.S. Senate, the Democrats controlled both
houses of Congress, and were led by President Wilson. As a junior
senator in the minority, Harding received unimportant committee
assignments, but carried out those duties assiduously. He was a
safe, conservative, Republican vote. As during his time in the
Ohio Senate, Harding came to be widely liked.
On two issues, women's suffrage, and the prohibition of alcohol, where
picking the wrong side would have damaged his presidential prospects
in 1920, he prospered by taking nuanced positions. As senator-elect,
he indicated that he could not support votes for women until
Increased support for suffrage there and among Senate Republicans
meant that by the time Congress voted on the issue, Harding was a firm
supporter. Harding, who drank, initially voted against banning
alcohol. He voted for the Eighteenth Amendment, which imposed
Prohibition, after successfully moving to modify it by placing a time
limit on ratification, which was expected to kill it. Once it was
ratified anyway, Harding voted to override Wilson's veto of the
Volstead Bill, which implemented the amendment, assuring the support
of the Anti-Saloon League.
Harding, as a politician respected by both Republicans and
Progressives, was asked to be temporary chairman of the 1916
Republican National Convention
Republican National Convention and to deliver the keynote address. He
urged delegates to stand as a united party. The convention nominated
Justice Charles Evans Hughes. Harding reached out to Roosevelt
once the former president declined the 1916 Progressive nomination, a
refusal that effectively scuttled that party. In the November 1916
presidential election, despite increasing Republican unity, Hughes was
narrowly defeated by Wilson.
Harding spoke and voted in favor of the resolution of war requested by
Wilson in April 1917 that plunged the United States into World War
I. In August, Harding argued for giving Wilson almost dictatorial
powers, stating that democracy had little place in time of war.
Harding voted for most war legislation, including the Espionage Act of
1917, which restricted civil liberties, though he opposed the excess
profits tax as anti-business. In May 1918, Harding, less enthusiastic
about Wilson, opposed a bill to expand the president's powers.
In the 1918 midterm congressional elections, held just before the
armistice, Republicans narrowly took control of the Senate.
Harding was appointed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Wilson took no senators with him to the Paris Peace Conference,
confident that he could force what became the Treaty of Versailles
through the Senate by appealing to the people. When he returned
with a single treaty establishing both peace and a League of Nations,
the country was overwhelmingly on his side. Many senators disliked
Article X of the League Covenant, that committed signatories to the
defense of any member nation that was attacked, seeing it as forcing
the United States to war without the assent of Congress. Harding was
one of 39 senators who signed a round-robin letter opposing the
League. When Wilson invited the Foreign Relations Committee to the
White House to informally discuss the treaty, Harding ably questioned
Wilson about Article X; the president evaded his inquiries. The Senate
debated Versailles in September 1919, and Harding made a major speech
against it. By then, Wilson had suffered a stroke while on a speaking
tour. With an incapacitated president in the
White House and less
support in the country, the treaty was defeated.
Presidential election of 1920
Main article: United States presidential election, 1920
Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding c. 1919
With most Progressives having rejoined the Republican Party, their
former leader, Theodore Roosevelt, was deemed likely to make a third
run for the
White House in 1920, and was the overwhelming favorite for
the Republican nomination. These plans ended when Roosevelt suddenly
died on January 6, 1919. A number of candidates quickly emerged,
including General Leonard Wood, Illinois Governor Frank Lowden,
California Senator Hiram Johnson, and a host of relatively minor
possibilities such as
Herbert Hoover (renowned for his World War I
relief work), Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge, and General John
Harding, while he wanted to be president, was as much motivated in
entering the race by his desire to keep control of
politics, enabling his re-election to the Senate in 1920. Among those
coveting Harding's seat were former governor Willis (he had been
James M. Cox
James M. Cox in 1916) and Colonel William Cooper Procter
(head of Procter & Gamble). On December 17, 1919, Harding made a
low-key announcement of his presidential candidacy. Leading
Republicans disliked Wood and Johnson, both of the progressive faction
of the party, and Lowden, who had an independent streak, was deemed
little better. Harding was far more acceptable to the "Old Guard"
leaders of the party.
Daugherty, who became Harding's campaign manager, was sure none of the
other candidates could garner a majority. His strategy was to make
Harding an acceptable choice to delegates once the leaders faltered.
Daugherty established a Harding for president campaign office in
Washington (run by his confidant, Jess Smith), and worked to manage a
network of Harding friends and supporters, including
Frank Scobey of
Texas (clerk of the
Ohio State Senate during Harding's years
there). Harding worked to shore up his support through incessant
letter-writing. Despite the candidate's work, according to Russell,
"without Daugherty's Mephistophelean efforts, Harding would never have
stumbled forward to the nomination".
America's present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but
normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but
adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the
dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in
internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.
Warren G. Harding, speech before the Home Market Club, Boston, May 14,
There were only 16 presidential primary states in 1920, of which the
most crucial to Harding was Ohio. Harding had to have some loyalists
at the convention to have any chance of nomination, and the Wood
campaign hoped to knock Harding out of the race by taking Ohio. Wood
campaigned in the state, and his supporter, Procter, spent large sums;
Harding spoke in the nonconfrontational style he had adopted in 1914.
Harding and Daugherty were so confident of sweeping Ohio's 48
delegates that the candidate went on to the next state, Indiana,
before the April 27
Ohio primary. Harding carried
Ohio by only
15,000 votes over Wood, taking less than half the total vote, and won
only 39 of 48 delegates. In Indiana, Harding finished fourth, with
less than ten percent of the vote, and failed to win a single
delegate. He was willing to give up and have Daugherty file his
nomination papers for the Senate, but
Florence Harding grabbed the
phone from his hand, "Warren Harding, what are you doing? Give up? Not
until the convention is over. Think of your friends in Ohio!" On
learning that Daugherty had left the phone line, the future First Lady
retorted, "Well, you tell
Harry Daugherty for me that we're in this
fight until Hell freezes over."
After he recovered from the shock of the poor results, Harding
traveled to Boston, where he delivered a speech that according to
Dean, "would resonate throughout the 1920 campaign and history".
There, he stated that "America's present need is not heroics, but
healing; not nostrums, but normalcy;[c] not revolution, but
restoration". Dean notes, "Harding, more than the other aspirants,
was reading the nation's pulse correctly."
Further information: 1920 Republican National Convention
1920 Republican National Convention
1920 Republican National Convention opened at the Chicago Coliseum
on June 8, 1920, assembling delegates who were bitterly divided, most
recently over the results of a Senate investigation into campaign
spending, which had just been released. That report found that Wood
had spent $1.8 million, lending substance to Johnson's claims that
Wood was trying to buy the presidency. Some of the $600,000 that
Lowden had spent had wound up in the pockets of two convention
delegates. Johnson had spent $194,000 and Harding $113,000. Johnson
was deemed to be behind the inquiry, and the rage of the Lowden and
Wood factions put an end to any possible compromise among the
frontrunners. Of the almost 1,000 delegates, 27 were women—the
Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing
women the vote, was within one state of ratification, and would pass
before the end of August. The convention had no boss, most
uninstructed delegates voted as they pleased, and with a Democrat in
the White House, the party's leaders could not use patronage to get
Reporters deemed Harding unlikely to be nominated due to his poor
showing in the primaries, and relegated him to a place among the dark
horses. Harding, who like the other candidates was in Chicago
supervising his campaign, had finished sixth in the final public
opinion poll, behind the three main candidates as well as former
justice Hughes and Herbert Hoover, and only slightly ahead of
After the convention dealt with other matters, the nominations for
president opened on the morning of Friday, June 11. Harding had asked
Willis to place his name in nomination, and the former governor
responded with a speech popular among the delegates both for its
folksiness and for its brevity in the intense Chicago heat.
Reporter Mark Sullivan, who was present, called it a splendid
combination of "oratory, grand opera, and hog calling". Willis
confided, leaning over the podium railing, "Say, boys—and girls
too—why not name Warren Harding?" The laughter and applause that
followed created a warm feeling for Harding.
I don't expect Senator Harding to be nominated on the first, second,
or third ballots, but I think we can well afford to take chances that
about eleven minutes after two o'clock on Friday morning at the
convention, when fifteen or twenty men, somewhat weary, are sitting
around a table, some one of them will say: "Who will we nominate?" At
that decisive time, the friends of Senator Harding can suggest him and
afford to abide by the result.
Harry M. Daugherty
Four ballots were taken on the afternoon of June 11, and they revealed
a deadlock. With 493 votes needed to nominate, Wood was the closest
with 3141⁄2; Lowdon had 2891⁄2. The best Harding had done
was 651⁄2. Chairman
Henry Cabot Lodge
Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, the
Senate Majority Leader, adjourned the convention about
The night of June 11–12, 1920 would become famous in political
history as the night of the "smoke-filled room", in which, legend has
it, party elders agreed to force the convention to nominate Harding.
Historians have focused on the talks held in the suite of Republican
National Committee (RNC) Chairman Will Hays at the Blackstone Hotel,
at which senators and others came and went, and numerous possible
candidates were discussed. Utah Senator Reed Smoot, before his
departure early in the evening, backed Harding, telling Hays and the
others that as the Democrats were likely to nominate Governor Cox,
they should pick Harding to win Ohio. Smoot also told The New York
Times that there had been an agreement to nominate Harding, but that
it would not be done for several ballots yet. This was not true: a
number of participants backed Harding (others supported his rivals),
but there was no pact to nominate him, and the senators had little
power to enforce any agreement. Two other participants in the
smoke-filled room discussions, Kansas Senator
Charles Curtis and
Colonel George Brinton McClellan Harvey, a close friend of Hays,
predicted to the press that Harding would be nominated because of the
liabilities of the other candidates.
Colonel Harvey's account of the smoke-filled room had Harding being
sent for in the early morning hours, to be informed by Harvey that the
Ohioan would be the candidate. Harvey stated he asked if there was
anything in Harding's background that might harm his candidacy, to
which the senator, who had had at least one extramarital affair,
replied there was not. Harding biographer Charles W. Murray noted that
there is no evidence besides Harvey's word that Harding went to the
Hays suite that night, and that other participants denied that Harding
was there. Harding was so uncertain of victory that he filed for
re-election to the Senate, though Daugherty continued to urge
delegates to support him.
The reassembled delegates had heard rumors that Harding was the choice
of a cabal of senators. Although this was not true, delegates believed
it, and sought a way out by voting for Harding. When balloting resumed
on the morning of June 12, Harding gained votes on each of the next
four ballots, rising to 1331⁄2 as the two frontrunners saw little
change. Lodge then declared a three-hour recess, to the outrage of
Daugherty, who raced to the podium and confronted him, "You cannot
defeat this man this way! The motion was not carried! You cannot
defeat this man!" Lodge and others used the break to try to stop
the Harding momentum and make RNC Chairman Hays the nominee, a scheme
Hays refused to have anything to do with. The ninth ballot, after
some initial suspense, saw delegation after delegation break for
Harding, who took the lead with 3741⁄2 votes to 249 for Wood and
1211⁄2 for Lowden (Johnson had 83). Lowden released his delegates
to Harding, and the tenth ballot, held at 6 p.m., was a mere
formality, with Harding finishing with 6721⁄5 votes to 156 for
Wood. The nomination was made unanimous. The delegates, desperate to
leave town before they incurred more hotel expenses, then proceeded to
the vice presidential nomination. Harding wanted Senator Irvine
Lenroot of Wisconsin, who was unwilling to run, but before Lenroot's
name could be withdrawn and another man decided on, an Oregon delegate
proposed Governor Coolidge, which was met with a roar of approval from
the delegates. Coolidge, popular for his role in breaking the Boston
police strike of 1919, was nominated for vice president, receiving two
and a fraction votes more than Harding had. James Morgan wrote in The
Boston Globe: "The delegates would not listen to remaining in Chicago
over Sunday ... the President makers did not have a clean shirt.
On such things, Rollo, turns the destiny of nations."
General election campaign
Harding begins his front porch campaign by accepting the Republican
nomination, July 22, 1920.
The Harding/Coolidge ticket was quickly backed by Republican
newspapers, but those of other viewpoints expressed disappointment.
New York World
New York World found Harding the least-qualified candidate since
James Buchanan, deeming the
Ohio senator a "weak and mediocre" man who
"never had an original idea". The Hearst newspapers called Harding
"the flag-bearer of a new Senatorial autocracy". The New York
Times described the Republican presidential candidate as "a very
Ohio politician of the second class".
The Democratic National Convention opened in San Francisco on June 28,
1920, under a shadow cast by Woodrow Wilson, who wished to be
nominated for a third term. Delegates were convinced Wilson's health
would not permit him to serve, and looked elsewhere for a candidate.
Former Treasury Secretary
William G. McAdoo
William G. McAdoo was a major contender, but
he was Wilson's son-in-law, and refused to consider a nomination so
long as the president wanted it. Many at the convention voted for
McAdoo anyway, and a deadlock ensued with Attorney General A. Mitchell
Palmer. On the 44th ballot, the Democrats nominated Governor Cox
for president, with his running mate Assistant Secretary of the Navy
Franklin D. Roosevelt. As Cox was, when not in politics, a newspaper
owner and editor, this placed two
Ohio editors against each other for
the presidency, and some complained there was no real political
choice. Both Cox and Harding were economic conservatives, and were
reluctant progressives at best.
"How Does He Do It?" In this
Clifford Berryman cartoon, Harding and
Cox ponder another big story of 1920: Babe Ruth's record-setting home
Harding elected to conduct a front porch campaign, like McKinley in
1896. Some years earlier, Harding had had his front porch
remodeled to resemble McKinley's, which his neighbors felt signified
presidential ambitions. The candidate remained at home in Marion
and gave addresses to visiting delegations. In the meantime, Cox and
Roosevelt stumped the nation, giving hundreds of speeches. Coolidge
spoke in the Northeast, later on in the South, and was not a
significant factor in the election.
In Marion, Harding ran his campaign. As a newspaperman himself, he
fell into easy camaraderie with the press covering him, enjoying a
relationship few presidents have equaled. His "Return to Normalcy"
theme was aided by the atmosphere that Marion provided, an orderly
place that induced nostalgia in many voters. The front porch campaign
allowed Harding to avoid mistakes, and as time dwindled towards the
election, his strength grew. The travels of the Democratic candidates
eventually caused Harding to make several short speaking tours, but
for the most part, he remained in Marion. America had no need for
another Wilson, Harding argued, appealing for a president "near the
Democratic candidates Cox (right) and Roosevelt at a campaign
appearance in Washington, DC, 1920
Harding's vague oratory irritated some; McAdoo described a typical
Harding speech as "an army of pompous phrases moving over the
landscape in search of an idea. Sometimes these meandering words
actually capture a straggling thought and bear it triumphantly, a
prisoner in their midst, until it died of servitude and over
H. L. Mencken
H. L. Mencken concurred, "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. It is so bad that a kind of grandeur creeps
into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm ... of pish, and
crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of tosh. It is rumble and
bumble. It is balder and dash."[d]
The New York Times
The New York Times took a more
positive view of Harding's speeches, stating that in them the majority
of people could find "a reflection of their own indeterminate
Wilson had stated that the 1920 election would be a "great and solemn
referendum" on the League of Nations, making it difficult for Cox to
maneuver on the issue—although Roosevelt strongly supported the
League, Cox was less enthusiastic. Harding opposed entry into the
League of Nations
League of Nations as negotiated by Wilson, but favored an "association
of nations", based on the
Permanent Court of Arbitration
Permanent Court of Arbitration at The
Hague. This was general enough to satisfy most Republicans, and only a
few bolted the party over this issue. By October, Cox had realized
there was widespread public opposition to Article X, and stated that
reservations to the treaty might be necessary; this shift allowed
Harding to say no more on the subject.
Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding campaigning in 1920
The RNC hired Albert Lasker, an advertising executive from Chicago, to
publicize Harding, and Lasker unleashed a broad-based advertising
campaign that used many now-standard advertising techniques for the
first time in a presidential campaign. Lasker's approach included
newsreels and sound recordings. Visitors to Marion had their
photographs taken with Senator and Mrs. Harding, and copies were sent
to their hometown newspapers. Billboard posters, newspapers and
magazines were employed in addition to motion pictures. Telemarketers
were used to make phone calls with scripted dialogues to promote
During the campaign, opponents spread old rumors that Harding's
great-great-grandfather was a
West Indian black person and that other
blacks might be found in his family tree. Harding's campaign
manager rejected the accusations.
Wooster College professor William
Estabrook Chancellor publicized the rumors, based on supposed family
research, but perhaps reflecting no more than local gossip.
1920 electoral vote results
By Election Day, November 2, 1920, few had any doubts that the
Republican ticket would win. Harding received 60.2 percent
of the popular vote, the highest percentage since the evolution of the
two-party system, and 404 electoral votes. Cox received
34 percent of the national vote and 127 electoral votes.
Campaigning from a federal prison where he was serving a sentence for
opposing the war,
Eugene V. Debs
Eugene V. Debs received 3 percent of
the national vote. The Republicans greatly increased their majority in
each house of Congress.
President Warren G. Harding
White House Portrait
Main article: Presidency of Warren G. Harding
Inauguration and appointments
Further information: Inauguration of Warren G. Harding
Warren Harding was sworn in as president on March 4, 1921, in the
presence of his wife and father. 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 address he declared, "Our most dangerous tendency is to
expect too much from the government and at the same time do too little
After the election, Harding had announced he was going on vacation,
and that no decisions about appointments would be made until he
returned to Marion in December. He went to Texas, where he fished and
played golf with his friend
Frank Scobey (soon to be Director of the
Mint), then took ship for the Panama Canal Zone. He went to
Washington, where he was given a hero's welcome[e] when Congress
opened in early December as the first sitting senator to be elected to
the White House. Back in Ohio, he planned to consult the "best minds"
of the country on appointments, and they dutifully journeyed to Marion
to offer their counsel.
Harding chose pro-League
Charles Evans Hughes
Charles Evans Hughes as his Secretary of
State, ignoring advice from Senator Lodge and others. After Charles G.
Dawes declined the Treasury position, Harding asked Pittsburgh banker
Andrew W. Mellon, one of the richest men in the country; he agreed.
Herbert Hoover as United States Secretary of
Commerce. RNC Chairman Will Hays was made Postmaster General,
then a cabinet post; he would leave after a year in the position to
become chief censor to the motion picture industry.
The two Harding cabinet appointees who darkened the reputation of his
administration for their involvement in scandal were Harding's Senate
Albert B. Fall
Albert B. Fall of New Mexico, the Interior Secretary, and
Daugherty, who became Attorney General. Fall was a Western rancher and
former miner, and was pro-development. He was opposed by
conservationists such as Gifford Pinchot, who wrote, "it would have
been possible to pick a worse man for Secretary of the Interior, but
not altogether easy".
The New York Times
The New York Times mocked the Daugherty
appointment, stating that rather than select one of the best minds,
Harding had been content "to choose merely a best friend". Eugene
P. Trani and David L. Wilson, in their volume on Harding's presidency,
suggest that the appointment made sense then, since Daugherty was "a
competent lawyer well-acquainted with the seamy side of
politics ... a first-class political troubleshooter and someone
Harding could trust".
Inauguration of Warren G. Harding, March 4, 1921
President Harding's original Cabinet, 1921
The Harding Cabinet
Warren G. Harding
Secretary of State
Charles Evans Hughes
Secretary of Treasury
Secretary of War
John W. Weeks
Harry M. Daugherty
Will H. Hays
Harry S. New
Secretary of the Navy
Secretary of the Interior
Albert B. Fall
Secretary of Agriculture
Henry C. Wallace
Secretary of Commerce
Secretary of Labor
James J. Davis
European relations and formally ending the war
Harding made it clear when he appointed Hughes as Secretary of State
that the former justice would run foreign policy, a change from
Wilson's close management of international affairs. Hughes had to
work within some broad outlines; after taking office, Harding hardened
his stance on the League of Nations, deciding the U.S. would not join
even a scaled-down version of the League. With the Treaty of
Versailles unratified by the Senate, the U.S. remained technically at
war with Germany, Austria, and Hungary. Peacemaking began with the
Knox–Porter Resolution, declaring the U.S. at peace and reserving
any rights granted under Versailles. Treaties with Germany, Austria
and Hungary, each containing many of the non-League provisions of the
Treaty of Versailles, were ratified in 1921.
This still left the question of relations between the U.S. and the
League. Hughes' State Department initially ignored communications from
the League, or tried to bypass it through direct communications with
member nations. By 1922, though, the U.S., through its consul in
Geneva, was dealing with the League, and though the U.S. refused to
participate in any meeting with political implications, it sent
observers to sessions on technical and humanitarian matters.
By the time Harding took office, there were calls from foreign
governments for reduction of the massive war debt owed to the United
States, and the German government sought to reduce the reparations
that it was required to pay. The U.S. refused to consider any
multilateral settlement. Harding sought passage of a plan proposed by
Mellon to give the administration broad authority to reduce war debts
in negotiation, but Congress, in 1922, passed a more restrictive bill.
Hughes negotiated an agreement for Britain to pay off its war debt
over 62 years at low interest, effectively reducing the present value
of the obligations. This agreement, approved by Congress in 1923, set
a pattern for negotiations with other nations. Talks with Germany on
reduction of reparations payments would result in the
Dawes Plan of
A pressing issue not resolved by Wilson was the question of policy
Bolshevik Russia. The U.S. had been among the nations that had
sent troops there after the Russian Revolution. Afterwards, Wilson
refused to recognize the Russian SFSR. Under Harding, Commerce
Secretary Hoover, with considerable experience of Russian affairs,
took the lead on policy. When famine struck Russia in 1921, Hoover had
the American Relief Administration, which he had headed, negotiate
with the Russians to provide aid. Soviet leaders (the
established in 1922) hoped in vain that the agreement would lead to
recognition. Hoover supported trade with the Soviets, fearing U.S.
companies would be frozen out of the Soviet market, but Hughes opposed
this, and the matter was not resolved under Harding's presidency.
Main article: Washington Naval Conference
Charles Evans Hughes, former Supreme Court justice and Harding's
Secretary of State
Harding had urged disarmament and lower defense costs during the
campaign, but it had not been a major issue. He gave a speech to a
joint session of Congress in April 1921, setting out his legislative
priorities. Among the few foreign policy matters he mentioned was
disarmament, with the president stating that the government could not
"be unmindful of the call for reduced expenditure" on defense.
William Borah had proposed a conference at which the
major naval powers, the U.S., Britain, and Japan, would agree to cuts
in their fleets. Harding concurred, and after some diplomatic
discussions, representatives of nine nations convened in Washington in
November 1921. Most of the diplomats first attended Armistice Day
ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, where Harding spoke at the
entombment of the Unknown Soldier of World War I, whose identity,
"took flight with his imperishable soul. We know not whence he came,
only that his death marks him with the everlasting glory of an
American dying for his country".
Hughes, in his speech at the opening session of the conference on
November 12, 1921, made the American proposal—the U.S. would
decommission or not build 30 warships if Great Britain did the same
for 19 vessels, and Japan 17 ships. The secretary was generally
successful, and agreements were reached on this and other points,
including settlements to disputes over islands in the Pacific, and
limitations on the use of poison gas. The naval agreement was limited
to battleships and to some extent aircraft carriers, and in the end
did not prevent rearmament. Nevertheless, Harding and Hughes were
widely applauded in the press for their work. Harding had appointed
Senator Lodge and the Senate Minority Leader, Alabama's Oscar
Underwood, to the U.S. delegation; they helped ensure that the
treaties made it through the Senate mostly unscathed, though that body
added reservations to some of the treaties.
The U.S. had acquired over a thousand vessels during World War I, and
still owned most of them when Harding took office. Congress had
authorized their disposal in 1920, but the Senate would not confirm
Wilson's nominees to the Shipping Board. Harding appointed Albert
Lasker as its chairman; the advertising executive undertook to run the
fleet as profitably as possible until it could be sold. Most ships
proved impossible to sell at anything approaching the government's
cost. Lasker recommended a large subsidy to the merchant marine to
enable the sales, and Harding repeatedly urged Congress to enact it.
Unpopular in the Midwest, the bill passed the House but was defeated
by a filibuster in the Senate, and most government ships were
Intervention in Latin America had been a minor campaign issue; Harding
spoke against Wilson's decision to send U.S. troops to the Dominican
Republic and Haiti, and attacked the Democratic vice presidential
candidate, Franklin Roosevelt, for his role in the Haitian
intervention. Once Harding was sworn in, Hughes worked to improve
relations with Latin American countries who were wary of the American
use of the
Monroe Doctrine to justify intervention; at the time of
Harding's inauguration, the U.S. also had troops in Cuba and
Nicaragua. The troops stationed in Cuba to protect American interests
were withdrawn in 1921; U.S. forces remained in the other three
nations through Harding's presidency.[f] In April 1921, Harding
gained the ratification of the
Thomson–Urrutia Treaty with Colombia,
granting that nation $25,000,000 as settlement for the U.S.-provoked
Panamanian revolution of 1903. The Latin American nations were
not fully satisfied, as the U.S. refused to renounce interventionism,
though Hughes pledged to limit it to nations near the Panama Canal and
to make it clear what the U.S. aims were.
The U.S. had intervened repeatedly in Mexico under Wilson, and had
withdrawn diplomatic recognition, setting conditions for
reinstatement. The Mexican government under President Álvaro Obregón
wanted recognition before negotiations, but Wilson and his final
Secretary of State, Bainbridge Colby, refused. Both Hughes and Fall
opposed recognition; Hughes instead sent a draft treaty to the
Mexicans in May 1921, which included pledges to reimburse Americans
for losses in Mexico since the 1910 revolution there. Obregón was
unwilling to sign a treaty before being recognized, and worked to
improve the relationship between American business and Mexico,
reaching agreement with creditors, and mounting a public relations
campaign in the United States. This had its effect, and by mid-1922,
Fall was less influential than he had been, lessening the resistance
to recognition. The two presidents appointed commissioners to reach a
deal, and the U.S. recognized the Obregón government on August 31,
1923, just under a month after Harding's death, substantially on the
terms proffered by Mexico.
Postwar recession and recovery
Main article: Depression of 1920–21
Charles Dawes—the first budget director and later, vice president
When Harding took office on March 4, 1921, the nation was in the midst
of a postwar economic decline. At the suggestion of its leaders,
Harding called a special session of Congress to convene on April 11.
When Harding addressed the joint session the following day, he urged
the reduction of income taxes (raised during the war), an increase in
tariffs on agricultural goods to protect the American farmer, as well
as more wide-ranging reforms, such as support for highways, aviation,
and radio. But it was not until May 27 that Congress passed
an emergency tariff increase on agricultural products. An act
Bureau of the Budget
Bureau of the Budget followed on June 10; Harding
Charles Dawes as bureau director with a mandate to cut
Mellon's tax cuts
Treasury Secretary Mellon also recommended to Congress that income tax
rates be cut. He asked that the excess profits tax on corporations be
House Ways and Means Committee
House Ways and Means Committee endorsed Mellon's
proposals, but some congressmen, who wanted to raise tax rates on
corporations, fought the measure. Harding was unsure what side to
endorse, telling a friend, "I can't make a damn thing out of this tax
problem. I listen to one side, and they seem right, and
then—God!—I talk to the other side, and they seem just as
right." Harding tried compromise, and gained passage of the bill
in the House after the end of the excess profits tax was delayed a
year. In the Senate, the tax bill became entangled in efforts to vote
World War I
World War I veterans a soldier's bonus. Frustrated by the delays, on
July 12, Harding appeared before the Senate and urged it to pass the
tax legislation without the bonus. It was not until November that the
revenue bill finally passed, with higher rates than Mellon had
Secretary of the Treasury
Andrew W. Mellon
Andrew W. Mellon advocated lower tax rates.
Harding had opposed payment of a bonus to veterans, arguing in his
Senate address that much was already being done for them by a grateful
nation, and that the bill would "break down our Treasury, from which
so much is later on to be expected." The Senate sent the bonus
bill back to committee, but the issue returned when Congress
reconvened in December 1921. A bill providing a bonus, without a means
of funding it, was passed by both houses in September 1922. Harding
vetoed it, and the veto was narrowly sustained. A bonus, not payable
in cash, was voted to soldiers despite Coolidge's veto in 1924.
In his first annual message to Congress, Harding sought the power to
adjust tariff rates. The passage of the tariff bill in the Senate, and
in conference committee became a feeding frenzy of lobbyist
interests. Harding, when he enacted the Fordney–McCumber Tariff
Act on September 21, 1922, made a brief signing statement, praising
only that the bill gave him some power to adjust rates. According
to Trani and Wilson, the bill was "ill-considered. It wrought havoc in
international commerce and made the repayment of war debts more
Mellon ordered a study which demonstrated historically that, as income
tax rates were increased, money was driven underground or abroad. He
concluded that lower rates would increase tax revenues.
Based on his advice, Harding's revenue bill 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. The lower rates substantially increased the money flowing to
the treasury. They also pushed massive deregulation and federal
spending as a share of GDP fell from 6.5% to 3.5%. By late 1922 the
economy began to turn around. Unemployment was pared from its 1921
high of 12% to an average of 3.3% for the remainder of the decade. The
misery index which is a combination of unemployment and inflation had
its sharpest decline in U.S. history under Harding. Wages, profits,
and productivity all made substantial gains; annual GDP increases
averaged at over 5% during the 1920s. Libertarian historians Larry
Schweikart and Michael Allen argue that, "Mellon's tax policies set
the stage for the most amazing growth yet seen in America's already
Embracing new technologies
The 1920s were a time of modernization for America. Use of electricity
became increasingly common. Mass production of the motor car
stimulated other industries, as well, such as highway construction,
rubber, steel, and building, as hotels were erected to accommodate the
tourists venturing upon the roads. This economic boost helped bring
the nation out of the recession. 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. In 1922, Harding
proclaimed that America was in the age of the "motor car", which
"reflects our standard of living and gauges the speed of our
Harding had urged regulation of radio broadcasting in his April 1921
speech to Congress. Commerce Secretary Hoover took charge of this
project, and convened a conference of radio broadcasters in 1922,
which led to a voluntary agreement for licensing of radio frequencies
through the Commerce Department. Both Harding and Hoover realized
something more than an agreement was needed, but Congress was slow to
act, not imposing radio regulation until 1927.
Harding also wished to promote aviation, and Hoover again took the
lead, convening a national conference on commercial aviation. The
discussions focused on safety matters, inspection of airplanes, and
licensing of pilots. Harding again promoted legislation but nothing
was done until 1926, when the Air Commerce Act created the Bureau of
Aeronautics within Hoover's Commerce Department.
Business and labor
Further information: Great Railroad Strike of 1922
Harding's attitude toward business was that government should aid it
as much as possible. He was suspicious of organized labor,
viewing it as a conspiracy against business. He sought to get
them to work together at a conference on unemployment that he called
to meet in September 1921 at Hoover's recommendation. Harding warned
in his opening address that no federal money would be available. No
important legislation came as a result, though some public works
projects were accelerated.
Within broad limits, Harding allowed each cabinet secretary to run his
department as he saw fit. Hoover expanded the Commerce Department
to make it more useful to business. This was consistent with Hoover's
view that the private sector should take the lead in managing the
economy. Harding greatly respected his Commerce Secretary, often
asked his advice, and backed him to the hilt, calling Hoover "the
smartest 'gink' I know"
Widespread strikes marked 1922, as labor sought redress for falling
wages and increased unemployment. In April, 500,000 coal miners, led
by John L. Lewis, struck over wage cuts. Mining executives argued that
the industry was seeing hard times; Lewis accused them of trying to
break the union. As the strike became protracted, Harding offered
compromise to settle it. As Harding proposed, the miners agreed to
return to work, and Congress created a commission to look into their
On July 1, 1922, 400,000 railroad workers went on strike. Harding
proposed a settlement that made some concessions, but management
objected. Attorney General Daugherty convinced Judge James H.
Wilkerson to issue a sweeping injunction to break up the strike.
Although there was public support for the Wilkerson injunction,
Harding felt it went too far, and had Daugherty and Wilkerson amend
it. The injunction succeeded in ending the strike; however, tensions
remained high between railroad workers and management for years.
By 1922, the eight-hour day had become common in American industry.
One exception was in steel mills, where workers labored through a
twelve-hour workday, seven days a week. Hoover considered this
practice barbaric, and got Harding to convene a conference of steel
manufacturers with a view to ending it. The conference established a
committee under the leadership of
U. S. Steel
U. S. Steel chairman Elbert Gary,
which in early 1923 recommended against ending the practice. Harding
sent a letter to Gary deploring the result, which was printed in the
press, and public outcry caused the manufacturers to reverse
themselves and standardize the eight-hour day.
Civil rights and immigration
Harding addresses the segregated crowd in Birmingham, October 26, 1921
Although Harding's first address to Congress called for passage of
anti-lynching legislation, he initially seemed inclined to do no
more for African Americans than Republican presidents of the recent
past had; he asked cabinet officers to find places for blacks in their
departments. Sinclair suggested that the fact that Harding received
two-fifths of the Southern vote in 1920 led him to see political
opportunity for his party in the Solid South. On October 26, 1921,
Harding gave a speech in Birmingham, Alabama, to a segregated audience
of 20,000 whites and 10,000 blacks. Harding, while stating that the
social and racial differences between whites and blacks could not be
bridged, urged equal political rights for the African American. Many
African Americans at that time voted Republican, especially in the
Democratic South, and Harding stated he did not mind seeing that
support end if the result was a strong two-party system in the South.
He was willing to see literacy tests for voting continue, if applied
fairly to white and black. "Whether you like it or not," Harding
told his segregated audience, "unless our democracy is a lie, you must
stand for that equality." The white section of the audience
listened in silence while the black section cheered.
Harding (center) with Chief Justice Taft (left) and
Robert Lincoln at
the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial, May 30, 1922
Harding 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. 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
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. Harding and Secretary of Labor James Davis believed that
enforcement had to be humane, and at the secretary's recommendation,
Harding allowed almost a thousand deportable immigrants to
remain. Coolidge signed a bill permanently restricting
immigration to the U.S. in 1924.
Debs and political prisoners
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.
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.
Further information: List of federal judges appointed by Warren G.
Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding Supreme Court candidates
Harding appointed four justices to the Supreme Court of the United
States. When Chief Justice
Edward Douglass White
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.
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 Appeals.
Final months, death, and funeral
Political setbacks and western tour
See also: Harding Railroad Car
Harding aboard the presidential train in Alaska, with secretaries
Hoover, Wallace, Work, and Mrs. Harding
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.
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. 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.
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. 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".
In June 1923, Harding set out on a journey, which he dubbed the
"Voyage of Understanding". The president planned to cross the
country, go north to Alaska Territory, journey south along the West
Coast, then travel by Navy ship through the Panama Canal, to Puerto
Rico, and to return to Washington at the end of August. Harding
loved to travel and had long contemplated a trip to Alaska. 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 away from Washington's oppressive summer heat.
Harding's political advisers had given him a physically demanding
schedule, even though the president had ordered it cut back. 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, and dedicated a monument on the
Oregon Trail at a
celebration organized by venerable pioneer
Ezra Meeker and
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. 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.
On July 26, 1923, Harding toured Vancouver,
British Columbia as the
first sitting American president to visit Canada. He was welcomed by
the Premier of
British Columbia and the Mayor of
Vancouver and spoke
to a crowd of over 50,000. Two years after his death a memorial to
Harding was unveiled in Stanley Park. Harding visited a golf
course, but completed only six holes before being fatigued. After
resting, he played the 17th and 18th holes so it would appear he
completed the round. He was not successful in hiding his exhaustion;
one reporter deemed him so tired a rest of mere days would not be
sufficient to refresh him.
In Seattle the next day, Harding kept up his busy schedule, giving a
speech to 25,000 people at the stadium at the University of
Washington. In the final speech he gave, Harding predicted statehood
for Alaska. The president rushed through his speech, not waiting
for applause by the audience.
Death in San Francisco, funeral, and memorial
The funeral procession for President Harding passes by the front of
the White House.
Harding went to bed early on the evening of July 27, 1923, a few hours
after giving his final speech at the University of Washington. Later
that night, he called for his physician, Charles E. Sawyer,
complaining of pain in the upper abdomen. Sawyer thought it was a
recurrence of a dietary upset, but Dr.
Joel T. Boone
Joel T. Boone suspected a heart
problem. The next day, as the train rushed to San Francisco, Harding
felt better, and when they arrived on the morning of July 29, 1923, he
insisted on walking from the train to the car, which rushed him to the
Palace Hotel where he suffered a relapse. Doctors found that
not only was Harding's heart causing problems, but he also had
pneumonia, a serious matter in the days before effective antibiotics.
Harding was then confined to bed rest in his hotel room for the
remainder of the time. When treated with caffeine and digitalis,
Harding seemed to improve. He was pleased when his planned foreign
policy address advocating membership in the World Court was released
to the press by Hoover and received a favorable reception. By the
afternoon of August 2, 1923, doctors allowed Harding to sit up in bed.
That evening, at about 7:30 pm, he was listening to his wife read him
a flattering article about him from The Saturday Evening Post, "A Calm
Review of a Calm Man". When she paused to plump his pillows, he said,
"That's good, read some more." These were his last words. As Florence
Harding resumed, her husband suddenly twisted convulsively and
collapsed back in his bed, and she raced to get the doctors. They
attempted stimulants, but were unable to revive him, and President
Harding was pronounced dead. He was 57 years old. His death was
initially attributed to a cerebral hemorrhage, as doctors at the time
did not generally understand the symptoms of a heart attack.
Harding Tomb in Marion
Harding's death came as a great shock to the nation. The president was
liked and admired, and the press and public had followed his illness
closely, and been reassured by his apparent recovery. Harding's
body was returned to his train in a casket for a journey across the
nation followed closely in the newspapers. Nine million people lined
the tracks as Harding's body was taken from San Francisco to
Washington, D.C., and after funeral services there, home to Marion,
Ohio, for burial.
In Marion, the body of Warren Harding was placed on a horse-drawn
hearse, which was followed by President Coolidge and Chief Justice
Taft, then by Harding's wife and father. They followed it through
the city, past the Star building where the presses stood silent, and
at last to the Marion Cemetery, where the casket was placed in the
cemetery's receiving vault. Harding's body, along with that
of his wife who died in 1924, rests today in the Harding Tomb, which
was dedicated in 1931 by President Hoover.
Harding appointed a number of friends and acquaintances to federal
positions. Some served competently, such as Charles E. Sawyer, the
Hardings' personal physician from Marion who attended to them in the
White House. Sawyer alerted Harding to the Veterans' Bureau scandal.
Others proved ineffective in office, such as Daniel R. Crissinger, a
Marion lawyer whom Harding made
Comptroller of the Currency
Comptroller of the Currency and later
a governor of the Federal Reserve Board; or Harding's old friend,
Director of the Mint
Director of the Mint Frank Scobey, who Trani and Wilson noted "did
little damage during his tenure". Harding's brother-in-law Heber
H. Votaw, superintendent of federal prisons, was unable to root out
the drug trade from within the facilities. Others of these
associates proved corrupt and were later dubbed the "
Harding made his friend, Frank E. Scobey, Director of the Mint. Medal
by Chief Engraver George T. Morgan.
Most of the scandals that have marred the reputation of Harding's
administration did not emerge until after his death. The Veterans'
Bureau scandal was known to Harding in January 1923 but, according to
Trani and Wilson, "the president's handling of it did him little
credit". Harding allowed the corrupt director of the bureau,
Charles R. Forbes, to flee to Europe, though he later returned and
served prison time. Harding had learned that Daugherty's factotum
at the Justice Department, Jess Smith, was involved in corruption. The
president ordered Daugherty to get Smith out of Washington and removed
his name from the upcoming presidential trip to Alaska. Smith
committed suicide on May 30, 1923. It is uncertain how much
Harding knew about Smith's illicit activities. Murray noted that
Harding was not involved in the corruption and did not condone
Hoover accompanied Harding on the Western trip and later wrote that
Harding asked then what Hoover would do if he knew of some great
scandal, whether to publicize it or bury it. Hoover replied that
Harding should publish and get credit for integrity, and asked for
details. Harding stated that it had to do with Smith but, when Hoover
enquired as to Daugherty's possible involvement, Harding refused to
Further information: Teapot Dome scandal
Albert B. Fall, Harding's first Secretary of the Interior and the
first former cabinet member sent to prison for crimes committed in
The scandal which has likely done the greatest damage to Harding's
reputation is Teapot Dome. Like most of the administration's scandals,
it came to public light after Harding's death, and he was not aware of
the illegal aspects. Teapot Dome involved an oil reserve in Wyoming
which was one of three set aside for the use of the Navy in a national
emergency. There was a longstanding argument that the reserves should
be developed; Wilson's first Interior Secretary Franklin Knight Lane
was an advocate of this position. When the Harding administration took
office, Interior Secretary Fall took up Lane's argument and Harding
signed an executive order in May 1921 transferring the reserves from
the Navy Department to Interior. This was done with the consent of
Navy Secretary Edwin C. Denby.
The Interior Department announced in July 1921 that
Edward Doheny had
been awarded a lease to drill along the edges of naval reserve Elk
Hills in California. The announcement attracted little controversy, as
the oil would have been lost to wells on adjacent private land.
Wyoming Senator John Kendrick had heard from constituents that Teapot
Dome had also been leased, but no announcement had been made. The
Interior Department refused to provide documentation, so he secured
the passage of a Senate resolution compelling disclosure. The
department sent a copy of the lease granting drilling rights to Harry
Sinclair's Mammoth Oil Company, along with a statement that there had
been no competitive bidding because military preparedness was
involved—Mammoth was to build oil tanks for the Navy as part of the
deal. This satisfied some people, but some conservationists, such as
Gifford Pinchot, Harry A. Slattery, and others, pushed for a full
investigation into Fall and his activities. They got Wisconsin Senator
Robert M. La Follette Sr.
Robert M. La Follette Sr. to begin a Senate investigation into the oil
leases. La Follette persuaded Democratic Montana Senator Thomas J.
Walsh to lead the investigation, and Walsh read through the truckload
of material provided by the Interior Department through 1922 into
1923, including a letter from Harding stating that the transfer and
leases had been with his knowledge and approval.
Hearings into Teapot Dome began in October 1923, two months after
Harding's death. Fall had left office earlier that year, but he denied
receiving any money from Sinclair or Doheny; Sinclair agreed. The
following month, Walsh learned that Fall had spent lavishly on
expanding and improving his New Mexico ranch. Fall reappeared and
stated that the money had come as a loan from Harding's friend and The
Washington Post publisher Edward B. McLean, but McLean denied it when
he testified. Doheny told the committee that he had given Fall the
money in cash as a personal loan out of regard for their past
association, but Fall invoked the Fifth Amendment right against
self-incrimination when he was compelled to appear again, rather than
Investigators found that Fall and a relative had received a total of
about $400,000 from Doheny and Sinclair, and that the transfers were
contemporaneous with the controversial leases. Fall was
ultimately convicted in 1929 for accepting bribes and, in 1931, became
the first U.S. cabinet member to be imprisoned for crimes committed
while in office. Sinclair was convicted only of contempt of court
for jury tampering. Doheny was brought to trial before a jury in April
1930 for giving the bribe Fall had been convicted of accepting, but he
Harry M. Daugherty
Harry M. Daugherty was implicated in the scandals but was never
convicted of any offense.
Harding's appointment of
Harry M. Daugherty
Harry M. Daugherty as Attorney General
received more criticism than any other. Daugherty's
Ohio lobbying and
back room maneuvers were not considered to qualify him for his
office. When the scandals broke in 1923 and 1924, Daugherty's
many enemies were delighted at the prospect of connecting him with the
dishonesty, and assumed he had taken part in Teapot Dome, though Fall
and Daugherty were not friends. In February 1924, the Senate voted to
investigate the Justice Department, where Daugherty remained Attorney
Democratic Montana Senator
Burton K. Wheeler
Burton K. Wheeler was on the investigating
committee and assumed the role of prosecutor when hearings began on
March 12, 1924.
Jess Smith had engaged in influence peddling
before his suicide, conspiring with two other Ohioans, Howard
Mannington and Fred A. Caskey, to accept payoffs from alcohol
bootleggers to secure either immunity from prosecution or the release
of liquor from government warehouses. Mannington and Caskey's
residence became infamous as the Little Green House on K Street.
Some witnesses, such as Smith's divorced wife Roxy Stinson, and
FBI agent Gaston Means, alleged that Daugherty was
personally involved. Coolidge requested Daugherty's resignation when
the Attorney General indicated that he would not allow Wheeler's
committee access to Justice Department records, and Daugherty complied
on March 28, 1924.
The illicit activity that caused Daugherty the most problems was a
Smith deal with Colonel Thomas W. Miller, a former Delaware
congressman, whom Harding had appointed Alien Property Custodian.
Smith and Miller received a payoff of almost half a million dollars
for getting a German-owned firm, the American Metal Company, released
to new U.S. owners. Smith deposited $50,000 in a joint account with
Daugherty, used for political purposes. Records relating to that
account were destroyed by Daugherty and his brother. Miller and
Daugherty were indicted for defrauding the government. The first
trial, in September 1926, resulted in a hung jury; at the second,
early in 1927, Miller was convicted and served prison time, but the
jury again hung as to Daugherty. Though charges against Daugherty were
then dropped, and he was never convicted of any offense, his refusal
to take the stand in his own defense devastated what was left of his
reputation. The former Attorney General remained defiant, blaming his
troubles on his enemies in the labor movement and on the Communists,
and wrote that he had "done nothing that prevents my looking the whole
world in the face".
Charles R. Forbes, director of the Veterans' Bureau, who was sent to
prison for defrauding the government
Charles R. Forbes, the energetic director of the Veterans' Bureau,
sought to consolidate control of veterans' hospitals and their
construction in his bureau. At the start of Harding's presidency, this
power was vested in the Treasury Department. The politically-powerful
American Legion backed Forbes and denigrated those who opposed him,
like Secretary Mellon, and in April 1922, Harding agreed to transfer
control to the Veterans' Bureau. Forbes' main task was to ensure
that new hospitals were built around the country to help the 300,000
World War I
World War I veterans.
Near the beginning of 1922, Forbes had met Elias Mortimer, agent for
the Thompson-Black Construction Company of St. Louis, which wanted to
construct the hospitals. The two men became close, and Mortimer paid
for Forbes' travels through the West, looking at potential hospital
sites for the wounded
World War I
World War I veterans. Forbes was also friendly
with Charles F. Hurley, owner of the Hurley-Mason Construction Company
of Washington state. Harding had ordered that all contracts be
pursuant to public notice, but the three worked out a deal
whereby the two companies would get the contracts with the profits
divided three ways. Some of the money went to the bureau's chief
counsel, Charles F. Cramer. Forbes defrauded the government in
this hospital construction, increasing construction costs from $3,000
to $4,000 per bed. A tenth of the inflated construction billings
was set aside for the conspirators, with Forbes receiving a third of
the take. The graft then spread to land acquisition, with Forbes
authorizing the purchase of a San Francisco tract – that was
worth less than $20,000 – for $105,000. At least $25,000 of the
resulting financial excess was divided between Forbes and Cramer.
Intent on making more money, Forbes in November 1922 began selling
valuable hospital supplies under his control in large warehouses at
the Perryville Depot in Maryland. The government had stockpiled
huge quantities 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 at a time when the Veterans' Bureau was buying
supplies for the hospitals at a much higher price.
The check on Forbes' authority at Perryville was Dr. Sawyer, Harding's
physician and chairman of the Federal Hospitalization Board.
Sawyer told Harding that Forbes was selling valuable hospital supplies
to an insider contractor. At first Harding did not believe it,
but Sawyer secured proof in January 1923. A shocked Harding, who
alternated between rage and despondency over the corruption in his
administration, summoned Forbes to the
White House and demanded his
resignation. Harding did not want an open scandal and allowed Forbes
to flee to Europe, from where he resigned on February 15, 1923. In
spite of Harding's efforts, gossip about Forbes' activities resulted
in the Senate ordering an investigation two weeks later, and in
mid-March, Cramer committed suicide.
Mortimer was willing to tell all, as Forbes had had an affair with his
wife (which also broke up the Forbes marriage). The construction
executive was the star witness at the hearings in late 1923, after
Harding's death. Forbes returned from Europe to testify, but convinced
few, and in 1924, he and John W. Thompson, of Thompson–Black, were
tried in Chicago for conspiracy to defraud the government. Both were
convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. Forbes began to serve
his sentence in 1926; Thompson, who had a bad heart, died that year
before commencing his. According to Trani and Wilson, "One of the
most troublesome aspects of the Harding presidency was that he
appeared to be far more concerned with political liabilities of a
scandal than in securing justice."
Panel discussion at the
Library of Congress
Library of Congress on the love letters of
Warren G. Harding, July 22, 2014, C-SPAN
Harding had an extramarital affair with
Carrie Fulton Phillips
Carrie Fulton Phillips of
Marion, which lasted about fifteen years before ending in 1920.
Letters from Harding to Phillips were discovered by Harding biographer
Francis Russell in the possession of Marion attorney Donald Williamson
while Russell was researching his book in 1963. Before that, the
affair was not generally known. Williamson donated the letters to the
Ohio Historical Society. Some there wanted the letters destroyed to
preserve what remained of Harding's reputation. A lawsuit ensued, with
Harding's heirs claiming copyright over the letters. The case was
ultimately settled in 1971, with the letters donated to the Library of
Congress. They were sealed until 2014, but before their opening,
historians used copies at
Case Western Reserve University
Case Western Reserve University and in
Russell's papers at the University of Wyoming. 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", but historian Justin P. Coffey in his 2014 review of
Harding biographies criticizes him for "obsess[ing] over Harding's sex
The allegations of Harding's other known mistress, Nan Britton, long
remained uncertain. In 1927, Britton, also a Marionite, published The
President's Daughter, alleging that her child Elizabeth Ann Blaesing
had been fathered by Harding. The book, which was dedicated to "all
unwedded mothers" and "their innocent children whose fathers are
usually not known to the world", was sold, like pornography,
door-to-door wrapped in brown paper. The late president's
reputation had deteriorated since his death in 1923, and many believed
Britton. The public was tantalized by salacious details such as
Britton's claim that the two had sex in a
White House closet, with
Secret Service agents posted to ward off intruders. Although part
of the public believed her, a jury found against her when she alleged
she was libeled by a refutation of her book. According to Harding
family lore, the late president was infertile and could not have
fathered a child, having suffered from mumps in childhood; Britton
maintained that Harding had provided child support of $500 per month
for the daughter he never met, but she had destroyed romantic
correspondence from him at his request.
Harding's biographers, writing while Britton's allegations remained
uncertain, differed on their truth; Russell believed them
unquestioningly while Dean, having reviewed Britton's papers at
UCLA, regarded them as unproven. In 2015, DNA comparisons between
members of the Harding and Blaesing families conducted by ancestry.com
indicated that Harding was Elizabeth's father. Sinclair wondered
why Harding's infidelity was held so much against him, given that
Grover Cleveland was elected president in 1884 although it was known
he had a mistress and may have fathered a son out of wedlock.
Harding memorial issue, issued September 1, 1923
Upon his death, Harding was deeply mourned. He was called a man of
peace in many European newspapers; American journalists praised him
lavishly, with some describing him as having given his life for his
country. His associates were stunned by his demise; Daugherty wrote,
"I can hardly write about it or allow myself to think about it
yet." Hughes stated, "I cannot realize that our beloved Chief is
no longer with us."
Hagiographic accounts of Harding's life quickly followed his death,
such as Joe Mitchell Chapple's Life and Times of Warren G. Harding,
Our After-War President (1924). By then, the scandals were
breaking, and the Harding administration soon became a byword for
corruption in the view of the public. Works written in the late 1920s
helped shape Harding's historical reputation: Masks in a Pageant by
William Allen White
William Allen White mocked and dismissed Harding, as did Samuel
Hopkins Adams' fictionalized account of the Harding administration,
Revelry. These books depicted Harding's time in office as one of
great presidential weakness. The publication of Nan Britton's
bestselling book disclosing they had had an affair also lowered the
late president in public esteem. President Coolidge, not wishing to be
further associated with his predecessor, refused to dedicate the
Harding Tomb. Hoover, Coolidge's successor, was similarly reluctant,
but with Coolidge in attendance presided over the dedication in 1931.
By that time, with the
Great Depression in full swing, Hoover was
nearly as discredited as Harding.
Adams continued to shape the negative view of Harding with several
nonfiction works in the 1930s, culminating with The Incredible
Era—The Life and Times of
Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding (1939) in which he
called his subject "an amiable, well-meaning third-rate Mr. Babbitt,
with the equipment of a small-town semi-educated journalist ...
It could not work. It did not work." Dean deems the works of
White and Adams "remarkably unbalanced and unfair accounts,
exaggerating the negative, assigning responsibility to Harding for all
wrongs, and denying him credit for anything done right. Today there is
considerable evidence refuting their portrayals of Harding. Yet the
myth has persisted."
President Harding and First Lady Florence Harding. Photo c. 1922. Mrs.
Harding was highly protective of her husband's personal legacy.
The opening of Harding's papers for research in 1964 sparked a small
spate of biographies, of which the most controversial was Russell's
The Shadow of Blooming Grove (1968), which concluded that the rumors
of black ancestry (the "shadow" of the title) deeply affected Harding
in his formative years, causing both Harding's conservatism and his
desire to get along with everyone. Coffey faults Russell's methods,
and deems the biography "largely critical, though not entirely
unsympathetic." Murray's The Harding Era (1969) took a more
positive view of the president, and put him in the context of his
times. Trani and Wilson faulted Murray for "a tendency to go
overboard" in trying to connect Harding with the successful policies
of cabinet officers, and for asserting, without sufficient evidence,
that a new, more assertive Harding had emerged by 1923.
Booknotes interview with Robert Ferrell on The Strange Deaths of
President Harding, January 12, 1997, C-SPAN
Booknotes interview with
John Dean on Warren G. Harding, March 14,
More recently, there have been revisionist books on Harding. Robert
Ferrell's The Strange Deaths of President Harding (1996), according to
Coffey, "spends almost the entire work challenging every story about
Harding and concludes that almost everything that is read and taught
about his subject is wrong." In 2004, John Dean, noted for his
involvement in another presidential scandal, Watergate, wrote the
Harding volume in "The American Presidents" series of short
biographies, edited by
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Coffey deemed that
book the most revisionist to date, and faults Dean for glossing over
some unfavorable episodes in Harding's life, like his silence during
the 1914 Senate campaign, when his opponent Hogan was being attacked
for his faith.
Harding has traditionally been ranked as one of the worst
presidents. In a 1948 poll conducted by Harvard University,
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. conducted the first notable
survey of scholars' opinions of the presidents, Harding ranked last
among the 29 presidents considered. He has also been last in
other polls since, which Ferrell attributes to scholars reading little
but sensational accounts of Harding. Murray argued that Harding
deserves more credit than historians have given: "He was certainly the
equal of a Franklin Pierce, an Andrew Johnson, a Benjamin Harrison, or
even a Calvin Coolidge. In concrete accomplishments, his
administration was superior to a sizable portion of those in the
nation's history." Coffey believes "the academic lack of interest
in Harding has cost him his reputation, as scholars still rank Harding
as nearly dead last among presidents."
Murray argued that Harding sowed the seeds for his administration's
In the American system, there is no such thing as an innocent
bystander in the White House. If Harding can rightly claim the
achievements of a Hughes in State or a Hoover in Commerce, he must
also shoulder responsibility for a Daugherty in Justice and a Fall in
Interior. Especially must he bear the onus of his lack of punitive
action against such men as Forbes and Smith. By his inaction, he
forfeited whatever chance he had to maintain the integrity of his
position and salvage a favorable image for himself and his
administration. As it was, the subsequent popular and scholarly
negative verdict was inevitable, if not wholly deserved.
Trani likewise faults Harding's own lack of depth and decisiveness as
bringing about his tarnished legacy. Still, modern authors and
historians continue to call for a reconsideration of Harding's
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Cultural depictions of Warren G. Harding
Laddie Boy, Harding's dog
List of people on the cover of Time Magazine: 1920s: March 10, 1923
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^ Kling was determined that his daughter be able to make a living if
it became necessary, and so sent her to the Cincinnati Conservatory of
Music. After their estrangement, it became necessary. See Dean,
^ Harding apparently never knew with certainty whether he had any
black ancestry, telling a reporter, "One of my ancestors may have
jumped the fence."
^ Although Harding did not invent the word "normalcy", he is credited
with popularizing it. See Russell, p. 347. The other word that
Harding popularized was bloviate, which he said was a
somewhat-obsolete term used in
Ohio meaning to sit around and talk.
After Harding's resurrection of it, it came to mean empty oratory. See
Dean, p. 37.
^ Mencken nevertheless voted for Harding. See Sinclair, p. 165.
^ Harding resigned from the Senate in January 1921, waiting until
Cox's term as governor expired. A Republican governor, Harry L. Davis,
appointed Willis, already elected to a full term on Harding's
coattails, to serve the remainder of Harding's term. See Dean,
^ By Hughes's departure from office in 1925, American forces had left
the Dominican Republic and were about to leave Nicaragua. The
departure from Haiti was still being planned. See Trani & Wilson,
^ a b Russell, p. 33.
^ Russell, p. 35.
^ Russell, Thomas (1923). The illustrious life and work of Warren G.
Harding, twenty-ninth President of the United States. the University
of Wisconsin–Madison. p. 51.
^ The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volumes
76–77. October 1923, p. 244
^ a b Gage, Beverly (April 6, 2008). "Our First Black President?". The
New York Times. Retrieved June 15, 2015.
^ Russell, p. 26.
^ a b c d Baker, Peter (August 12, 2015). "DNA Is Said to Solve a
Mystery of Warren Harding's Love Life". The New York Times. Retrieved
August 13, 2015.
^ a b c d e f Baker, Peter (August 18, 2015). "DNA Shows Warren
Harding Wasn't America's First Black President". The New York Times.
Retrieved August 18, 2015.
^ Dean, p. 6.
^ Dean, pp. 7–9.
^ Sinclair, pp. 6–9.
^ a b c Dean, pp. 9–13.
^ Nevins, p. 252.
^ Sinclair, pp. 12–13.
^ Sinclair, pp. 14–15.
^ Dean, pp. 13–14.
^ Russell, pp. 56–68.
^ a b Gutin, Myra G. "Harding, Florence Kling deWolfe". American
National Biography Online. (subscription required)
^ Dean, pp. 14–19.
^ Dean, pp. 18–19.
^ Russell, p. 81.
^ Marion Star staff report (August 13, 2015). "Genetic testing
confirms Harding's daughter". The Marion Star. Retrieved August 13,
^ a b c Hawley, Ellis W. "Harding, Warren Gamaliel". American National
Biography Online. (subscription required)
^ Dean, pp. 20–21.
^ a b Russell, p. 90.
^ Schlesinger, p. 50.
^ Russell, pp. 68–70.
^ Sinclair, p. 35.
^ Sinclair, p. 286.
^ a b Dean, pp. 21–23.
^ Sibley, p. 20.
^ Russell, pp. 105–108.
^ Dean, pp. 23–24.
^ Russell, pp. 172–173.
^ Sinclair, pp. 40–42.
^ Russell, pp. 108–112.
^ Russell, pp. 147–155.
^ a b Russell, pp. 155–157.
^ a b Sinclair, p. 44.
^ Russell, pp. 163–168.
^ Sinclair, pp. 42–45.
^ Russell, p. 188.
^ Sinclair, p. 46.
^ Sinclair, pp. 46–47.
^ Russell, pp. 197, 208–210.
^ Sinclair, pp. 47–49.
^ Russell, pp. 227–235.
^ Russell, p. 246.
^ Dean, pp. 34–35.
^ Walters, pp. 291–293.
^ Sinclair, pp. 54–55.
^ Russell, pp. 250–251.
^ a b Sinclair, p. 54.
^ a b c Dean, p. 35.
^ Dean, p. 44.
^ Nevins, p. 253.
^ Dean, pp. 38, 44.
^ Russell, p. 141.
^ Sinclair, pp. 63–65.
^ Dean, pp. 37–39.
^ Sinclair, p. 70.
^ Russell, p. 283.
^ Sinclair, p. 77.
^ Russell, p. 299.
^ a b Sinclair, p. 82.
^ Dean, p. 47.
^ Sinclair, pp. 91–100.
^ Trani & Wilson, p. 21.
^ Dean, pp. 49–51.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 659–660.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 26–27.
^ Russell, pp. 336–339.
^ a b c d Dean, p. 56.
^ Dean, pp. 55–56.
^ Russell, pp. 346–347.
^ Russell, p. 347.
^ a b Bagby, p. 660.
^ Russell, pp. 351–356, 363.
^ Murray 1969, p. 33.
^ Russell, p. 335.
^ Dean, p. 60.
^ Russell, pp. 374–375.
^ a b c Murray 1969, p. 34.
^ Bagby, p. 661.
^ Dean, p. 61.
^ Bagby, pp. 662–663.
^ a b Murray 1969, p. 38.
^ Sinclair, pp. 141–142.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 35–36.
^ Russell, pp. 387–390.
^ Dean, p. 65.
^ Russell, pp. 392–394.
^ Dean, pp. 66–67.
^ a b Dean, p. 67.
^ Sinclair, p. 156.
^ Sinclair, pp. 157–159.
^ a b Dean, pp. 71–73.
^ Sinclair, p. 61.
^ Sinclair, pp. 163–165.
^ a b Dean, p. 72.
^ Sinclair, p. 166.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 43–45.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 27–28.
^ Dean, p. 69.
^ Morello, pp. 64–65.
^ Russell 1962, p. 372.
^ Russell 1962, pp. 403–405.
^ Murray 1969, p. 62.
^ Russell, p. 418.
^ Russell, p. 420.
^ Murray 1969, p. 66.
^ Russell, pp. 2,14.
^ Russell, pp. 420–424.
^ Sinclair, p. 181.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 38–39.
^ a b Dean, p. 89.
^ Noggle, p. 242.
^ Sinclair, p. 188.
^ Trani & Wilson, p. 43.
^ Russell, p. 43.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 142–145.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 145–147.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 162–163.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 116–126.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 149–150.
^ Dean, pp. 130–131.
^ Russell, p. 481.
^ Sinclair, pp. 241–245.
^ Dean, pp. 132–134.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 174–178.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 133–135.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 340–341.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 136–137.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 130–132.
^ Murray 1973, pp. 40–41.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 54–57.
^ a b Murray 1973, pp. 52–55.
^ Murray 1973, pp. 51–52.
^ Murray 1973, pp. 55–58.
^ Dean, p. 108.
^ a b Dean, pp. 107–108.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 78–79.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 74–75.
^ Dean, p. 104.
^ Trani & Wilson, p. 74.
^ A.W. Mellon. Taxation. p. 16.
^ Joel Slemrod (2000). Does Atlas Shrug?: The Economic Consequences of
Taxing the Rich. Harvard UP. pp. 48–49.
^ Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A patriot's history of the
United States: From Columbus's great discovery to the war on terror
(Penguin, 2004) p. 536.
^ Sinclair, p. 206.
^ Wynn, pp. 217–218.
^ Harding, Warren G. (December 8, 1922). "Second Annual Message".
University of California Santa Barbara. Retrieved August 3,
^ Murray 1973, p. 46.
^ a b Trani & Wilson, p. 88.
^ Trani & Wilson, p. 83.
^ Sinclair, pp. 253–254.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 92–93.
^ Murray 1973, p. 29.
^ Trani & Wilson, p. 84.
^ Murray 1973, pp. 32–33.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 97–99.
^ Russell, pp. 546–549.
^ Sinclair, pp. 255–256.
^ Sinclair, pp. 230–234.
^ Radosh, Ronald; Radosh, Allis (July 16, 2014). "What If Warren
Harding Wasn't a Terrible President?". Slate. Retrieved July 18,
^ Dean, p. 123.
^ Murray 1973, pp. 89–90.
^ Sinclair, p. 215.
^ Dean, pp. 101–102.
^ Sinclair, p. 217.
^ Dean, pp. 126–129.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 168–169.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 48–49.
^ "Biographical Dictionary of the Federal Judiciary". Federal Judicial
Center. Archived from the original on July 30, 2016. Retrieved June
14, 2015. Searches run from page by choosing "select research
categories" then check "court type" and "nominating president", then
select type of court and Warren G. Harding.
^ a b Trani & Wilson, pp. 80–81.
^ a b c Murray 1973, p. 95.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 172–173.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 438–439.
^ Murray 1969, p. 441.
^ Trani & Wilson, p. 172.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 439–440.
^ Dean, p. 147.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 442–443.
^ Dary, pp. 322–323.
^ Dean, p. 149.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 446–447.
Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding & Stanley Park". The History of Metropolitan
Vancouver. Retrieved June 14, 2015.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 447–448.
^ Murray 1969, p. 448.
^ Lange, Greg (February 10, 1999). "U.S. President Warren G. Harding
makes his last speech in Seattle on July 27, 1923".
HistoryLink.org. Retrieved June 14, 2015.
^ a b Murray 1969, pp. 449–450.
^ Ziv, Stav (December 9, 2012). "President Harding's mysterious S.F.
death". SF Gate. San Francisco. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
^ NCC Staff (August 1, 2014). "After 91 years, President Warren
Harding's sudden death recalled". Constitution Daily. National
Constitution Center. Retrieved February 28, 2017. Today, most
historians accept that Harding, 57, died from a heart attack brought
on by ample evidence of cardiac problems.
^ Murray 1969, p. 450.
^ Dean, pp. 152–153.
^ Russell, pp. 601–602.
^ Russell, p. 602.
^ Murray 1969, p. 454.
^ Russell, pp. 633, 640.
^ a b Trani & Wilson, pp. 45–46, 182.
^ Nevins, p. 256.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 181–182.
^ a b c Trani & Wilson, p. 182.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 179–180.
^ Dean, pp. 139–141.
^ Murray 1973, pp. 125–126.
^ Sinclair, pp. 284–285.
^ Murray 1973, p. 107.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 183, 185.
^ Noggle, pp. 254–256.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 463–465.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 465–471.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 471–472.
^ Russell, pp. 497–498.
^ Murray 1969, p. 472.
^ Russell, p. 444.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 473–475.
^ Murray 1969, p. 478.
^ Trani & Wilson, p. 180.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 478–479.
^ Trani & Wilson, pp. 180–181.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 480–481.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 459–460.
^ Adams, p. 287.
^ a b c Murray 1969, p. 460.
^ Russell, p. 526.
^ Russell, p. 525.
^ Ferrell, 2369.
^ Adams, pp. 289, 292.
^ Russell, pp. 524–525.
^ Adams, pp. 232, 292, 294.
^ Adams, p. 294.
^ Murray 1973, p. 103.
^ Russell, p. 563.
^ Murray 1973, pp. 106–107.
^ Coffey, p. 84.
^ Russell, pp. 650–663.
^ Ferrell, 3207.
^ Russell, p. 167.
^ a b Coffey, p. 85.
^ a b Robenalt, James D. (August 13, 2015). "If we weren't so obsessed
with Warren G. Harding's sex life, we'd realize he was a pretty good
president". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 13, 2015.
^ a b c Coffey, p. 80.
^ a b Sinclair, p. 293.
^ a b Strochlic, Nina (August 14, 2015). "Our Dirtiest President's
Mistress Tells All". The Daily Beast. Retrieved August 15, 2015.
^ Dean, p. 162.
^ Murray 1969, pp. 456–457.
^ Murray 1969, p. 457.
^ Trani & Wilson, p. 208.
^ Ferrell, 2970.
^ Russell, pp. 632–633, 639–640.
^ Payne, pp. 125, 127.
^ Trani & Wilson, p. 209.
^ Dean, p. 163.
^ a b Coffey, p. 86.
^ Trani & Wilson, p. 211.
^ Coffey, pp. 88–89.
^ Coffey, p. 89.
^ a b Ferrell, 3474–3485.
^ Schlesinger, Arthur M. (November 1, 1948). "Historians Rate the U.S.
Presidents". Life: 65–66, 68, 73–74.
^ a b Murray 1969, p. 536.
^ Trani, Eugene P. "Warren G. Harding: Impact and Legacy". Miller
Center. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
^ Pecquet, Gary M.; Thies, Clifford F. (Summer 2016). "Reputation
Overrides Record: How
Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding Mistakenly Became the 'Worst'
President of the United States" (PDF). The Independent Review.
Independent Institute. 21: 29–45. ISSN 1086-1653.
Adams, Samuel Hopkins (1939). The Incredible Era: The Life and Times
of Warren Gamaliel Harding. Houghton Mifflin.
Bagby, Wesley M. (March 1955). "The 'Smoke Filled Room' and the
Nomination of Warren G. Harding". The Mississippi Valley Historical
Review. 41 (4): 657–674. JSTOR 1889182.
Coffey, Justin P. (2014), "Harding Biographies", in Sibley, Katherine
A. S., A Companion to Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert
Hoover, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., pp. 79–93,
Dary, David (2004). The Oregon Trail: An American Saga. Alfred A.
Knopf. ISBN 978-0-375-41399-5.
Dean, John W. (2004). Warren Harding (Kindle ed.). Henry Holt and Co.
Downes, Randolph C. (1970). The Rise of Warren Gamaliel Harding,
Ohio University Press. ISBN 0-8142-0140-7.
Ferrell, Robert H. (1996). The Strange Deaths of President Harding
(Kindle ed.). University of Missouri Press.
Morello, John A. (2001). Selling the President, 1920: Albert D.
Lasker, Advertising, and the Election of Warren G. Harding. Praeger.
Murray, Robert K. (1969). The Harding Era 1921–1923: Warren G.
Harding and his Administration. University of Minnesota Press.
Murray, Robert K. (1973). The Politics of Normalcy: Governmental
Theory and Practice in the Harding–Coolidge Era. W. W. Norton &
Company. ISBN 0-393-05474-8.
Nevins, Allan (1932). Dumas Malone, ed. Dictionary of American
Biography: Harding, Warren Gamaliel. Charles Scribner's Sons.
pp. 252–257. OCLC 4171403.
Noggle, Burl (September 1957). "The Origins of the Teapot Dome
Investigation". The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. Organization
of American Historians. 44 (2): 237–266. JSTOR 1887189.
Payne, Phillip G. (2014), "The Harding Presidency: Scandals, Legacy,
and Memory", in Sibley, Katherine A. S., A Companion to Warren G.
Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover, John Wiley & Sons,
Inc., pp. 79–93, ISBN 978-1-4443-5003-6
Russell, Francis (1968). The Shadow of Blooming Grove: Warren G.
Harding In His Times. Easton Press. ISBN 0-07-054338-0.
Schlesinger, Arthur M. Jr. (1957). The Age of Roosevelt: The Crisis of
the Old Order, 1919–1933. Heinemann. ISBN 0-618-34085-8.
Sibley, Katherine A. S. (2009). First Lady Florence Harding: Behind
the Tragedy and Controversy. University Press of Kansas.
Sinclair, Andrew (1969) . The Available Man: The Life behind the
Masks of Warren Gamaliel Harding (1st Quadrangle Paperback ed.).
Quadrangle Books. OCLC 422550801.
Trani, Eugene P.; Wilson, David L. (1977). The Presidency of Warren G.
Harding. American Presidency. The Regents Press of Kansas.
Walters, Everett (1948). Joseph Benson Foraker: An Uncompromising
Ohio History Press. OCLC 477641.
Wynn, Neil (1986). From Progressivism to Prosperity:
World War I
World War I and
American Society. Holmes & Meier. ISBN 0-8419-1107-X.
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