From Ohio History Central
Photograph of Florence Harding and Jess Smith sitting on a bench on the grounds of the Harding's home in Marion, Ohio during the 1920 presidential campaign.
Jess Smith served as an aide to United States Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty during President Warren G. Harding's administration.
In 1920, Harding, an Ohioan, won election as president of the United States of America. Smith, a fellow Ohioan, helped campaign for Harding. According to some accounts, Smith's primary role was to quiet women, including Carrie Fulton Phillips, who claimed that Harding had affairs with them. Daugherty also actively campaigned for Harding, and once elected, Harding rewarded Daugherty with the position of attorney general.
As president, for the most part, Harding proved to be a poor manager of the federal government. He delegated authority to his cabinet officials. These men became known as the "Ohio Gang," because they supposedly were a gang of thieves from Ohio. In reality, most of the men linked to the Ohio Gang were not from Harding's home state.
Smith and Daugherty were members of the Ohio Gang, and they actually were both from Ohio. While Daugherty served as attorney general, Smith held no formal position in the federal government. He simply served as an unofficial assistant to Daugherty. Smith lived with Daugherty at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC, and it was rumored, at the time, that the two men were engaged in a homosexual relationship. Smith was single, while Daugherty was married.
As rumors spread about corrupt officials in Harding's administration, eventually Attorney General Daugherty launched various investigations. Critics, especially in the United States Congress, claimed that Daugherty did not vigorously pursue the investigations. Eventually, it was suggested that Daugherty was also working with bootleggers. Bootlegging was a direct violation of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment established Prohibition in the United States. Smith also was supposedly involved in Daugherty's illegal activities. Rather than face legal charges and a possible prison sentence, Smith committed suicide. Daugherty claimed that Smith's suicide resulted from poor health, including an appendicitis and diabetes, but most contemporaries linked Smith's death to his legal troubles.
Smith's actions, along with those of several other of Harding's cabinet officials, caused a great deal of distrust of government officials among the American people and also solidified Harding's reputation as a poor president.