A Biography of President Warren G. Harding
Warren Gamaliel Harding
Born: November 2, 1865 in Corsica, Ohio
Wife: Florence Kling DeWolfe
Education: Ohio Central College, 1882
Political Party: Republican
Died: August 2, 1923 of cardiac arrest at the age of 57 in San Francisco, California.
In Office: March 4, 1921 - August 2, 1923
Harding was born on a farm in a rural town. Parents George Harding and Phoebe Dickerson were both doctors and Harding was the eldest of eight children. Harding grew up surrounded by family and friends and was a charming and well liked man. After graduating from college, he purchased the failing Marion Star , a newspaper local in Marion, Ohio. At first, Harding struggled to make the newspaper a success. With his marriage to Florence in 1891, however the paper became profitable. Five years older than Harding, Florence was a divorcee and had a son from her first marriage. Strong-willed and infatuated with Harding she relentlessly pursued him until he proposed. Though their marriage was rocky due to Harding's many affairs and her domineering ways, Florence had the drive to make the newspaper a success. It is also believed that she helped push Harding towards pursuing a political career.
With his business and social connections, skills as an orator, and regal looks, Harding quickly earned success in his political career. In 1899, he was elected to the Ohio State Senate. Then he became the states Lieutenant Governor, serving for two years until 1905. Both positions were relatively unremarkable. After returning to private life, Harding re-entered the political circuit in 1914, winning the vote for Ohio's United States Senator, a position he would hold until being elected president in 1921.
Harding became president with a landslide victory against Democratic candidate James Cox. His policy of "normalcy" was exactly what American people weary from World War I wanted to hear. Successes of Harding include signing peace agreements, speaking up for civil rights and pardoning war protestors; his establishment of the Bureau of the Budget would help regulate government spending. Unfortunately, Harding proved to be inept for the job. A conservative, Harding undid many of the progressive policies put in place by Woodrow Wilson and his administration. He slashed taxes for the rich, raised tariff rates, limited immigration and quickly signed bills from Republicans.
Overly trusting Harding appointed a group of political comrades to government positions. Known as the Ohio Gang these men were Harding's poker and drinking buddies. This decision would prove to be disastrous and would lead to rampant corruption and scandals. Charles Forbes, appointed director of the Veterans' Bureau would end up embezzling millions of dollars from the program. Among the most prominent scandal however, was the Teapot Dome Scandal. In which Albert Fall, Secretary of the Interior, leased the rights to oil fields owned by the federal government to oil magnates in exchange for personal loans and other gifts.
Death in office
The president and his wife had decided to tour Alaska (becoming the first president to do so) and the Western states. This "Voyage of Understanding" was to allow Harding to give speeches in different areas, expressing his views along the way and meeting with average people. The tour was rigorous and the president gave dozens of speeches in just a few short weeks. In the days before his death, Harding suffered from food poisoning and pneumonia. Harding was also known to suffer from high blood pressure and had endured several nervous breakdowns while in his 20s. His growing awareness of the scandals plaguing his administration also caused stress and strain. According to reports, the president died in his San Francisco hotel room while Florence was reading to him. Rumors and theories about his death quickly followed. Some believed his wife; aware of his many extramarital affairs might have poisoned him. This speculation was fueled in part by her refusal to allow an autopsy. Today the general consensus is that Harding died from a heart attack or stroke.
Impact on American politics
Harding's legacy has been forever tarnished by the numerous scandals that occurred while he was in office, most of which did not become public knowledge until after his death. Though Harding did not take part in the scandals, he also took no action to stop his friends. A long list of extramarital affairs and an alleged child out of wedlock also damaged his image. Harding has become an icon for failed presidency. In presidential marketing however, his candidacy has had a longer lasting impact. Harding used wide spread media coverage to sway voters, conducting speeches on his front porch with well known Broadway and Hollywood stars on hand to give their support.
After Harding's death, Vice President Calvin Coolidge was sworn into office. Though the assessment of Harding has improved somewhat over the years, he is still considered one of the weakest presidents of the 20th century. His lack of legislation, passivity on issues, and view of the presidency as mostly ceremonial has created an unshakeable image of an unfit leader.