Warren G. Harding (1865-1923) was the 29th president of the United States. A Republican, his term was fraught with scandal and misdeeds by some of the members of his cabinet. Nevertheless, he still had some great accomplishments before his early death while still in office.
The Early Years
Born on November 2, 1865, on a farm in Ohio, Harding was the oldest of eight children. His father, a farmer, was also a doctor and part owner of a local newspaper while his mother, Phoebe Dickerson Harding, was a midwife.
After graduating from Ohio Central College in 1882, the future president worked as a newspaper reporter until 1884 when he and several partners published the Marion Star paper. His political career didn’t start until 1898 after he won an election to the Ohio senate. During a Republican National Convention in 1912, he gave a speech to nominate President William Taft for a second term, which put him in the spotlight and led to his own presidential nomination later.
The Oval Office
Harding believed in the high protective tariffs but was opposed to President Woodrow Wilson’s plan for the League of Nations. His front-porch campaign from his Ohio home was so well attended that the front lawn had to be replaced with gravel. He advocated for a “return to normalcy” after the end of World War I. His campaign platform, “Less government in business and more business in government,” was a popular promise that helped push his way towards becoming the next commander in chief. This was also a progressive era, and the first time women were able to exercise their right to vote during the 1920 presidential election after the 19th Amendment was ratified in August 1920. In the biggest landslide at the time, Harding was elected the 29th president with 60% of the popular vote and 404-127 in the Electoral College.
On the surface, it doesn’t look like the new president accomplished much during his term; however, there were a few notable tasks. The Harding administration was able to reduce taxes, although mostly for the wealthy and corporations. The president and staff also limited immigration and signed the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 which, among other things, established the General Accounting Office to audit the government.
Unfortunately for Warren, he surrounded himself with less-than-worthy cabinet members who caused the biggest scandal of the 1920s. Known as the Teapot Dome Scandal, it “involved ornery oil tycoons, poker-playing politicians, illegal liquor sales, a murder-suicide, a womanizing president and a bagful of bribery cash delivered on the sly,” according to History.com. It was also the first time a cabinet member served time in jail for committing a felony while in office.
The president started hearing about the unscrupulous doings of his staff, and said, “My … friends … they’re the ones that keep me walking the floors nights!” In the summer of 1923, during a cross-country tour of the nation, Harding was so depressed and unsure what to do about the situation, he talked to his Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover. “If you knew of a great scandal in our administration,” he said, “would you for the good of the country and the party expose it publicly or would you bury it?” While Hoover suggested publishing the problem, Harding was afraid of political repercussions and did not say anything.
During that tour, the president is believed to have suffered a heart attack on August 2 and died at a San Francisco, CA hospital. Millions of people across the country gathered along the railroad tracks as Harding’s body was returned to Washington D.C. His home in Marion, OH later became a National Historic Landmark, which is open to the public.