From Ohio History Central
Warren G. Harding was the 29th President of the United States.
Warren Gamaliel Harding was born on November 2, 1865, in Blooming Grove, Ohio. He spent most of his youth in the Marion County village of Caledonia, Ohio. Beginning in 1879, Harding attended Ohio Central College in Iberia, Ohio. At age 19, he and two friends purchased The Marion Daily Star, a newspaper in Marion, Ohio. Within a short time, he was the sole owner, acting as publisher and editor.
The Star did not make money for several years. It had competition from several other newspapers, and Harding was the youngest newspaperman in town. The paper's future improved once Harding married Florence Kling De Wolfe, a divorcee with a 10-year-old son, Marshall. Although Florence came from a wealthy family, her father did not like the idea of her marrying Harding, and he did not give her any of his money. Together, the Hardings pushed the Star forward. For 12 years, Florence managed the financial books and refined Harding’s use of news carriers. Her help allowed Warren to concentrate on what he did best – writing, editing the newspaper, and making good connections with advertisers and other people in Marion.
In 1898, Harding embarked on a political career in addition to running the Star, winning election to the Ohio legislature in both 1898 and 1900 as a Republican. In 1903, he became the state's lieutenant governor. Following a two-year stint in this office, Harding returned to The Star, but his life in politics was far from over.
Following an unsuccessful campaign for Ohio governor's seat in 1910, Harding won election to the United States Senate three years later. In addition, he gained attention as the person who put President William Howard Taft’s name into nomination for president at the 1912 Republican Convention, and was selected as chairman of the 1916 Convention.
As senator, Harding actively supported business interests by calling for high protective tariffs. Like many other Republicans, he also endorsed the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Volstead Act, even though he thought Prohibition was a moral issue that could not be policed. Harding also was a strong opponent of President Woodrow Wilson's peace plan, known as the Fourteen Points, for World War I because of the vague language of one element of the League of Nations framework.
In 1920, the Republican Party deadlocked on its candidate for president of the United States, paving the way for Harding’s nomination on the tenth round of voting. He won the presidential election of 1920 with more than 60 percent percent of the popular vote. Harding was the first sitting-senator in American history to win election to the presidency. Harding entered the White House during a serious post-war recession, so he was concerned with helping businesses restart so people could find jobs, and with aiding farmers. He was also concerned with helping the soldiers from World War I who had been injured. He organized the Veterans Bureau, so these men could get both medical treatment and job retraining. During Harding's administration, the federal government implemented high protective tariffs, limited immigration, reduced taxes, and cut the federal deficit by 25 percent in two years. Harding’s actions were important to America’s economic recovery, but some historians also think the policies of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover, combined with many other factors, also contributed to the Great Depression's outbreak.
Harding assembled “the best minds” for his cabinet, with such highly regarded men as Charles Evans Hughes as secretary of state, and Andrew Mellon in treasury. Two of them, though – Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall and Veterans Bureau Director Charles Forbes – were caught up in scandal. In early 1923, Harding learned that Forbes was pocketing money from the Veterans Bureau and forced him to resign. Two months after Harding’s untimely death in August 1923, Congress convened hearings about Fall’s activities. He was accused of accepting a bribe in exchange for awarding contracts for oil drilling on government land. After nearly 10 years in the news, the Teapot Dome Scandal (as it was known in the media) was settled. Fall was found guilty of accepting a bribe; an oilman was found innocent of giving the bribe to Fall, so people still were confused about what had happened. There has been no indication that Harding knew about Fall’s unscrupulous activities.
In June 1923, Harding left Washington, D.C., to travel across the country and visit Alaska. Calling the long-planned trip the “Voyage of Understanding,” he wanted to hear from typical Americans about how they were doing, and he also wanted to tell them about what his administration was doing to help them. His visits to Canada and Alaska were firsts for an American president. His visit to Alaska was important to him. He wanted to fully understand how to craft a new policy which would both protect and wisely use Alaska’s natural resources. While on this trip, Harding died unexpectedly on August 2, 1923 in San Francisco due to a heart attack.
Florence Harding died of kidney disease just 15 months after Warren died. Within the next few years, several books were written that severely damaged the Hardings’ reputations. Harding was criticized for occasionally drinking alcohol in the private quarters of the White House while relaxing with friends. During this time of Prohibition, it was illegal to buy and sell alcohol, but not to drink it. A book was written by a man who was serving time in prison, alleging that Florence Harding poisoned her husband. Even though it was not true, people thought it was an exciting story and bought thousands of copies of it. In addition, a woman named Nan Britton wrote a book naming Harding as the father of her daughter. Ms. Britton lost the lawsuit she filed against the Harding estate. Today, historians are split over whether the relationship happened or not. Harding, however, did have an extra-marital affair with a Marion woman, Carrie Fulton Phillips. The affair occurred over a ten-year period and ended before Harding was in the White House. Because Harding’s presidential papers were not available for research until 1964, no historian could investigate the truth of many of the rumors swirling around the Harding story in the late 1920s and 1930s. The papers today are available for research in the Archives of the Ohio History Connection in Columbus, Ohio.
- Dean, John W. Warren G. Harding. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2004.
- Murray, Robert K. The Harding Era: Warren G. Harding and His Administration. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1969.
- Stratton, David Hodges. Tempest Over Teapot Dome: The Story of Albert B. Fall. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.