The Presidents of the USA


 
 
 

Biography

 
29
Warren Harding
R R R R R
 
1921-1923
 
Very popular as president, he was later regarded as one of the worst presidents in American history. He pushed a pro-business agenda but made bad choices for his cabinet and presided over one of the most corrupt administrations. He died before the end of his term.


Born Nov. 2, 1865, Blooming Grove, Ohio
Political partyRepublican
EducationOhio Central College, 1879-82
Military service none
Previous public office ♦ Ohio Senate, 1899-1903
♦ lieut. Governor of Ohio, 1903-4
♦ U.S. Senate, 1915-21
Died Aug. 2, 1923, San Francisco, CA.
picture of Warren Harding



Early Life

Warren G. Harding was born on Nov. 2, 1865, on a farm near Blooming Grove, Ohio. He attended local schools and graduated from Ohio Central College in 1882. His father moved the family to Marion that same year.

After unsatisfactory attempts to teach, study law, and sell insurance, young Harding got a job on a local newspaper. In 1884 he purchased the struggling Marion Star with two partners (whom he later bought out). The growth of Marion and his own business skill and editorial abilities made him rich. On July 8, 1891, he married Florence DeWolfe, a widow with one child; they had no children of their own.



Political Career

Active in local Republican politics, Harding was elected in 1899 to the Ohio Senate, where he served two terms and became Republican floor leader. In 1903 he was elected lieutenant governor but retired in 1905. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1910.

In the Republican comeback in 1914, Harding was elected to the U.S. Senate. As a senator, he strongly supported business, pushing for high tariffs, favoring the return of the railroads to private hands, and denouncing radicals. He was a "strong reservationist" on the League of Nations, and he followed Ohio public opinion by voting for the prohibition amendment.

In 1919 Harding announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination; he won the nomination on the tenth ballot. Legend has pictured Harding as a puppet in the hands of his wife or his campaign manager. But Harding was no one's puppet: he was an ambitious and calculating politician. Nor was he the handpicked nominee of a group of Old Guard senators. However, Harding, with his reputation as a loyal party man, his amiable personality, and his avoidance of controversial stands, was the second choice of the majority of the rank-and-file delegates. When the two front-runners deadlocked, the convention had swung to the handsome Ohioan.

In the election Harding successfully straddled the explosive League of Nations issue. By capitalizing on the public's yearning for a return to "normalcy" after World War I, Harding won by the largest popular majority yet recorded.



Presidency

Harding's Presidential policies were pro-business: high tariffs (taxes on imports) to protect American industry, lower government expenditures, tax cuts for corporations, and an end to antitrust enforcement (the regulation or breakup of large financial empires that established business monopolies). Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, one of the wealthiest men in the United States, got Congress to reduce income taxes on millionaires by two-thirds.

Harding wished to remain neutral in labor disputes and worked behind the scenes for conciliation, but when his hand was forced, he took management's side. Thus, after his attempted mediation in the 1922 railroad shopmen's strike failed, he approved a sweeping injunction against the strikers - this won him the bitter enmity of organized labor.

But Harding was not the extreme conservative of later myth. He supported the Sheppard-Towner Act (1921), extending federal aid to the states to reduce infant mortality. He unsuccessfully proposed establishing a department of public welfare to coordinate and expand Federal programs in education, public health, child welfare, and recreation. He was instrumental in ending the 12-hour day in the steel industry. He promoted increased federal spending on highways. He commuted the sentences of most of the wartime political prisoners, including Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs. While balking at government subsidies or price-fixing to assist farmers hard hit by postwar falling prices, he approved legislation for extending credit to farmers, for stricter federal supervision of the meat industry, for regulating speculation on the grain exchanges, and for exempting farm marketing cooperatives from the antitrust laws.

Harding was the first President to broadcast a radio address, when he dedicated the Francis Scott Key Memorial at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 14, 1922.

In foreign policy Harding was largely guided by his pro-internationalist secretary of state, Charles Evans Hughes.

USA , provided $20 million in emergency food relief for the Soviet Union in 1921 to avert a famine, saving as many as 10 million people. Harding concluded a treaty with Colombia that paid $25 million in reparations for the U.S. role in detaching Panama. Charles Evans Hughes organized the Naval Disarmament Conference of 1921-22, a successful effort to limit naval expenditures of major military powers. It resulted in treaties establishing ceilings on the total number of battleships owned by the United States, Great Britain, Japan, and several other nations.

Unfortunately, Harding presided over one of the most corrupt administrations in U.S. history. The Ohio Gang from his state party took key positions; his main political adviser, the director of the Veterans Bureau, Charles Forbes, received tens of millions of dollars in bribes for the construction of veterans hospitals. Forbes was forced to resign and eventually spent two years in jail.

The biggest scandal of all involved naval oil reserves at Teapot Dome, Wyoming. The Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby transferred control of naval petroleum reserves from the Navy Department to the Department of the Interior, headed by Albert Fall. Fall then leased the Teapot Dome reserve to oil producer Harry Sinclair after receiving at least $300,000 from him in bribes. (In 1927 the government canceled the leases and Fall went to prison.) Though Harding himself was not involved in these scandals, he was embarrassed by the way in which his friends betrayed his trust for personal gain.

Although the Republicans had suffered sharp losses in the 1922 congressional elections, Harding personally remained tremendously popular. However, his health was affected by overwork and anxiety over his wife's health and the multiplying evidences of corruption in his administration. He suffered a heart attack followed by bronchopneumonia while on his cross-country tour in the summer of 1923. He died on Aug. 2, 1923, probably from a cerebral hemorrhage.



Legacy

Warren Harding was a handsome, amiable man who looked like a President but hardly acted like one. He won election by a landslide but did nothing with his mandate. A conservative Republican, he favored a return to “normalcy” after Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom program of business regulation. Scandals rocked Harding's Presidency and contributed to his untimely death in office.

He was highly popular during his lifetime. The posthumous exposure of the scandals in Harding's administration - including Fall's conviction for bribery, the attorney general's forced resignation and narrow escape from jail, and prison sentences for the head of two government bureaus - and the charges that Harding had fathered an illegitimate daughter and that he drank excessively all led to his decline in public esteem.

Most historians have regarded Harding as the nation's worst president, not only a man flawed by bad personal habits but one basically unfitted for the office and manipulated by others.

Recent revisionist scholarship, however, has shown that contrary to myth, Harding was hardworking, effective, conscientious, and nobody's puppet. He might well be credited with facilitating national passage through a painful transitional period.




 
 
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