Warren G. Harding Essay, Research Paper
Warren G. Harding
Warren Gamaliel Harding, (1865-1923), was the 29th President of the United States. He was elected president in 1920 by an overwhelming vote in a postwar reaction against President Wilson’s international policies. The first American president to take office after World War I, Harding was also the first president to be born after the Civil War.
Harding himself felt that his administration would be remembered in history for the treaties negotiated following the Washington Conference he had called in 1921; at the conference the governments of the United States, Britain, France, Italy, and Japan had agreed to limit naval construction for 10 years and to scrap many existing ships. But in fact, his 2 years in office are remembered mainly for the scandals that clouded his administration.
Warren Harding was born on Nov. 2, 1865, in the hamlet of Blooming Grove, Ohio, the son and first child of George Tryon Harding II, a Civil War veteran, farmer, horse trader, and later marginally successful rural doctor.
At the age of 14, Harding entered Ohio Central College, and after he graduated he briefly became a teacher. Then he became an odd-job reporter for the Democratic weekly Mirror, only to lose that job because of his over enthusiasm for the 1884 Republican presidential candidate, James G. Blaine.
In November 1884 the 19-year-old Harding and two friends bought the Marion Star, a small daily paper that was scarcely more than a flyer. Within five years the Star had become the foremost paper in Marion county and one of Ohio’s most successful small-town papers. By 1914, when Harding was elected to the U. S. Senate, the Star was earning him an income of $20,000 a year.
In 1891 he married the divorced Florence Kling DeWolfe, the daughter of Marion’s leading banker. Their daughter Elizabeth Ann was born in 1919.
Harding was elected as a Republican to the state Senate in 1899. He rapidly became one of the most popular senators in Columbus. In his second term he was chosen Republican floor leader, and at its conclusion he was elected in 1902 to the figurehead post of lieutenant governor.
Election of 1920
On the night before Harding’s nomination a group of senators met in the famous “smoke-filled room” to discuss alternatives. Contrary to legend, they did not pick Harding but merely ratified him as the most available candidate. In fact, his nomination had been determined months before by Daugherty’s countrywide collecting of second-choice and third-choice delegate votes. Harding was nominated on the 10th ballot and Calvin Coolidge was selected as his running mate.
He won 404 electoral votes to 127 for his Democratic opponent, James M. Cox. He also won 16,153,785 popular votes to Cox’s 9,147,353. His election sweep was more negative than positive, a disapproval of Wilson and a protest against postwar frustrations, a longing–in Harding’s own phrase–for a “return to normalcy.”
Harding’s cabinet included several distinguished figures–Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, and Secretary of Agriculture Henry C. Wallace–and he appointed ex-President Taft as chief justice of the United States. But he also insisted on appointing Daugherty as his attorney general and Charles R. Forbes as director of the newly created Veterans’ Bureau. The appointment that would prove most disastrous for his
reputation, although it caused no great comment at the time.
In a special session of congress shortly after his inauguration Harding called for reduction in government; lowering of taxes and repeal of the wartime excess profits tax, a reduction of railroad rates and the promotion of agricultural interests, a national budget system, a great merchant marine, and a department of public welfare. But he was reluctant to assert the power of his office and got little cooperation from Congress. His most permanent domestic accomplishment was the creation of the Bureau of the Budget, with Charles G. Dawes, as its director.
In June 1923 he set out on a “Voyage of Understanding” that took him to the west coast and as far as Alaska. Already suffering from a heart condition, he collapsed on his way back and died suddenly of a heart attack, in San Francisco, on Aug. 2, 1923.
Harding’s reputation did not long survive his death, as scandal after scandal came to light. After it was discovered that Secretary Fall had received several hundred thousand dollars from oilmen Harry Sinclair and Edward Doheny, to whom he had leased naval oil reserves in California and at Teapot Dome, Wyoming, the name Teapot Dome was linked with Harding as a symbol of corruption. Fall, finally convicted of bribery, went to jail, as did Forbes and others. Daugherty, dismissed by Coolidge, barely escaped their fate.
The Teapot Dome Scandal
The Teapot Dome scandal, which involved the secret leasing of naval oil reserve lands to private companies, was first revealed to the general public in 1924 after sensational findings by a committee of the U.S. Senate.
Origins of the scandal went back to the growth of federal conservation policy in the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson, specifically to the creation of naval petroleum reserves in Wyoming and California. These reserves were tracts of public land in which it was intended that oil should be kept in its natural reservoirs, or domes, for the future use of the Navy.
In 1921, Senator Albert B. Fall of New Mexico, became Harding’s secretary of the interior and quickly moved to open the reserves to private exploitation. Though he attempted to keep his actions secret he could not, and the Senate authorized an investigation by the committee on public lands.
The Senate committee held extended hearings and soon set in motion a whole chain of occurrences. Secretary Fall, they found, had convinced Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby and others that the administration of the reserves should be turned over to him. Fall had then leased Teapot Dome to Harry F. Sinclair’s Mammoth Oil Company and the rich Elk Hills reserve in California to Edward L. Doheny’s Pan-American Petroleum and Transport Company, meanwhile receiving from these oilmen gifts and “loans” amounting to some $400,000. The leases Fall had made were technically complicated and could be defended, but the money was his undoing.
Civil and criminal suits, lasting through the 1920’s, then followed. The Supreme Court, finding that the oil leases had been corruptly obtained, invalidated the Elk Hills lease in February 1927 and the Teapot Dome lease in October of the same year. The reserves, as a result were restored to government control. Albert Fall was found guilty of bribery in 1929. He was fined $100,000 and sentenced to one year in prison. The lessees were assessed for damages, but it is ironic that the oilmen and their associates escaped conviction on a conspiracy charge, whereas the official who took their money was convicted.