Warren G. Hardings Mysterious Death Essay, Research Paper
Warren G. Harding was born on November 2, 1865, on a farm near Blooming grove,
Ohio. Harding wasn?t always into politics. He started in teaching and selling insurance before
becoming a lawyer. In 1884 Harding borrowed three hundred dollars to buy a struggling
newspaper, the Marion Ohio Star. (Anthony, Carl. American Heritage pg. 2) He was editor
and business manager. Under his guidance the paper began to prosper. Harding got to know
local community leaders and political bosses. Harding?s life took a dramatic change when he
met Florence Kling DeWolfe.
In 1891, Harding married her. Since Florence Harding was the daughter of the richest
man in Marion, she was able to pull some strings making him an important figure in the
community. Because of his wives urging he decided to embark upon a political career. He was
soon elected to the state senate in 1900 and also became lieutenant governor in 1903.(Anthony,
Carl. American Heritage pg. 4) After he lost an election for governor in 1910 he was soon
going to meet the next important person in his life.
He soon met Harry M. Daughterty, a lobbyist and political strategist. Along with Mrs.
Harding , the two worked as a team to boast Harding?s political career. Finally in 1914 with
Daughterty as his campaign manager, Harding successfully ran for a seat in the United Sates
Senate.(Groiler Online – American Presidency pg. 3)
Although he was against high taxes and federal regulation of business, Harding made no
memorable speeches in the senate nor did he sponsor any important legislation. He spent a
good deal of his time seeking government jobs for his friends, soon known as the ?Ohio Gang?.
Early in 1920, when Republicans began to seek a presidential candidate Harding?s name was
brought up a couple of times. Harding didn?t want such recognition. All he wanted was to
remain in the senate, where he was enjoying himself. But, like before, his ambitious wife
convinced him that he should have higher goals for himself.(Sullivan, George. Unsolved! II pg.
Harding was soon nominated to be the Republican Party?s presidential nominee. Then in
November of that year, Harding easily defeated James Cox, the Democrats candidate. All was
going well for the new president, he cut high taxes and removed controls that had been place on
some business that had been in effect since World War I.(Ferrell, Robert H. The Strange
Deaths pg. 36) His campaign headed by his ?Back to Normalcy? slogan was soon in danger
after some of his ?Ohio Gang? betrayed the president in their quest for money and position.
Fear and suspicion spread like an epidemic.
Two words will be forever linked to Harding?s administration : Teapot Dome, the name
of the Wyoming naval oil reserve that secretary of Interior Albert Fall secretly leased to the oil
tycoons Edward Doheny and Harry Sinclair in return for more than 400,000$ in bribes. When
Harding learned of the influence peddling, bootlegging, and other nefarious activities of Jess
Smith the Attorney General and Harry Daugherty, he immediately removed smith from his inner
circle. The most damaging scandal of all, though a less colorful one, involved the exorbitant,
profiteering of Charlie Forbes, the head of the Veterans Bureau. He had resold medical supplies
and hospital building site contracts.(Ferrell, Robert H. The Strange Deaths pg. 78)
Fearing that word of these scandals would get out, he started out on the ?Voyage of
Understanding?(), where he would travel across the United States, into Canada, and to the
territory of Alaska. He stopped to talk to them for support and about trying to gain a new state,
Alaska. His theory was why would they impeach someone who had all of them supporting him.
About a week after his visit to Alaska he suddenly died. ? stroke of apoplexy? was given as the
cause of death. The Newspapers called it a ?Death Stroke?.
The Final Moments of Warren G. Harding?s life started to go downhill two months
before his death. On June 20, 1923, the President, his wife, and some 63 officials, aids, and
reporters boarded the train that would take his accorded the continent on his ?Voyage of
Understanding?.() After boarding the U.S.S. Henderson, a navy transport, the presidential party
sailed for Metlakahla, Alaska. While there he gave a speech to the Alaskan territory saying that
?One Day you too will be able to call yourself part of the United States.?(Sullivan, George.
Unsolved! II pg. 62)
During his stay in Alaska, Harding received a message in code from Washington DC
about the Senate investigating into oil leases.(Sullivan, George. Unsolved! II pg. 70) The
message had a stunning effect on him. For the rest of the day, he seemed wary and dazed. He
also had asked newspapermen who where accompanying the party what a president should do
when his friends betrayed his trust.(Ferrell, Robert H. The Strange pg. 123) The following day
in Seattle, which was very hot and humid, he had made a speech to the people in Seattle. He
told them about Alaska one day becoming part of the U.S. Several Times in his speech, the
president stumbled over words and toward the end of his address he appeared weak and
hesitant.(Ferrell, Robert H. The Strange pg. 143) This was his last public appearance.
The next day the presidents personal physician announced that the president had a case
of indigestion and ?Food Poisoning?.(Ferrell, Robert H. The Strange pg. 152) The condition
did not seem serious and they said that the president only needed a few days rest. Two of his
speeches were canceled and he stayed aboard his special train headed for San Francisco.
When his train arrived he was checked into the Palace Hotel, General Sawyer had reported that
the presidents condition had worsened, saying that he was suffering from stomach cramps and
diarrhea and he had become feverish. The following day his condition had become even more
serious, according to Sawyer, Harding had developed pneumonia. Also stating that food
poisoning and pneumonia had put a strain on his heart.
Over the next two days President Harding?s condition had seemed to greatly improve.
But after he had consumed two hard boiled eggs he was said to have some stomach problems.
The president seemed to be on the road to recovery, however, that evening the nation was
shocked when the news came that the president had died suddenly, apparently of a ?Stroke of
According to general Sawyer this is what happened on the night of his death. He was
sitting beside the president holding his hand, not for the purpose of taking his pulse or any other
professional reason, but simply out of his affection for him. The president was propped up in
bed, enjoying an article his wife was reading, ?That?s good, read some more,? Harding said.
Those were his last words, then suddenly, the presidents body shook violently and then became
still, almost instantly. Sawyer then said, ?The Presidents dead!?(Means, Gaston. The Strange
Almost right after his death questions started coming up about the presidents death,
those that served to deepen the mystery. For example, when the president first became ill,
General Sawyer said that he suffering from acute indigestion caused by eating crab meat. But it
was later discovered that the president hadn?t consumed any crab meat because there was non
on the presidential menu.(Means, Gaston. The Strange pg. 86)
The course of action of the two months before his death seem to show that the
presidents death was not a natural one. Could he have been poisoned, or did he actually die
from a stroke.
Harding?s death looks all the more suspicious because of his wives actions. An autopsy,
an inspection of the presidents body, was suggested as means of determining the cause of death.
Mrs. Harding would not permit an autopsy. Mrs. Harding also destroyed most of her husband?s
official papers.(Sullivan, George. Unsolved! II pg. 98)
There was another curious matter. It was the custom in those days to permit a sculptor
to make a death mask of the deceased, so his features might be preserved. But his wife would
not permit a death mask to be made of the president.(Means, Gaston. The Strange pg. 103)
One year after the presidents passing, General Sawyer died a death very similar to
president Harding?s death, almost identical. There were some rumors going around that maybe
he died because he ?knew too much? and ?he had to be shut up?.(Means, Gaston. The Strange
pg. 114) Several weeks later Mrs. Harding died, she fell victim to a kidney disease and heart
failure. The New York Times had noted that of the nationally prominent men and women who
had made the ?Voyage of Understanding? to Alaska the year before, Mrs. Harding was the fifth
to die.(Ferrell, Robert H. The Strange pg. 152)
Evidence that Mrs. Harding may have poisoned her husband out of fear of what the
Congressional Investigation might reveal was offered by Gaston Means. He was a former
investigator for the department of justice. He often carried out special investigations for
President Harding. He also happened to be a member of the ?Ohio Gang?. He had found no
problem in pointing all of the blame at Mrs. Harding. He recalled what she had said on the
evening she was interrogated about the presidents death.
?I was alone with the president… only about ten minutes,? Mrs. Harding Began. ?It was time for
his medication. I gave it to him; he drank it.?
?He lay back on the pillow. His eyes were closed. He was resting. Then suddenly he opened his
eyes wide and looked straight into my face.?
?Do you think he knew?, means asked.
?Yes, he knew,? Mrs. Harding replied.
?Then he sighed and turned his head away-over-on the pillow.?
?After a few minutes, I called for help. The papers told the rest.?(Means, Gaston. The Strange
Her reoccurrence of that night were very different from general Sawyers. She had a
good motive for wanting him to die the way he did. She helped to get him into office. She didn?t
want him to throw away everything, including his dignity. Means also recalled a conversation
between the president and his wife.
?Warren, I can feel it coming,? said Mrs. Harding.
?Complete exposure.? The president seemed to go to pieces, said Means.
He said, ?Let it come! Let it come! God, I?ll be glad to have it come and get it
?You will be impeached,? said Mrs. Harding.
?I will tell the truth.?
?You will be disgraced.?
?I will tell the truth.?
?You may be imprisoned.?
?I will tell the truth, the exact truth. There can be no jury of twelve American
men and women who would send me to jail. But even in a jail, a prison, would be peace
compared to this. I am not a criminal. Let them impeach me. God knows, I?m sick and
tired of it all. I?ll be glad to have it over.?
Mrs. Harding stared at her husband and gasped, ?Are you crazy??
?No, I am not crazy. But that, too, would be a relief, to go crazy.?(Means,
Gaston. The Strange pg. 83)
They knew that the secretes f the scandals were soon going to surface. It was only a
matter of time before it happened. And to save his good name Mrs. Harding might have done
something to be sure that it would happen that way.
Mrs. Harding was trying to hide something, but what? Maybe she was responsible for
some part in his death. There were too many suspicious Happening?s that were reported about
President Harding?s death. He had gotten a case of food poisoning. The cause was said to be
crab meat that wasn?t even on the presidential menu. So what was the real factor that had made
Another suspicious event was that the President was in great shape for a man in his age
up until the week of his death. It is very odd for some person to start getting violently ill from be
in great heath. He must have consumed something foreign to his body; either drug or even a
The two days that he started felling better is the time that seemed the most suspicious to
means. ?Someone could have tried it twice, and failed on the first try. The president could have
survived the first poisoning, started showing signs of survival. So the murderer then doubled or
tripled the amount that was given the first time to ensure that he wouldn?t survive the next
time.?(Means, Gaston. The Strange pg. 196) Mrs. Harding could have easily done it. She
even said that she gave the president his ?medication? just before his death.
The presidents death is defiantly an example of a drug over dose. The sudden violent
shaking is a typical reaction to an overdose of types of heart depressants.(Sullivan, George.
Unsolved! II pg. 122) When Mrs. Harding refused an autopsy, that brought up even more
suspicious to Means. This just made him think even more that his poison theory was
correct.(Means, Gaston. The Strange pg. 199)
If president Harding was poisoned, how come they did not investigate on this matter
even more then they did. Perhaps, maybe parts of the government also knew of this to help
keep their friends name a good one.
Ferrell, Robert H. The Strange Deaths of President Harding. Columbia: University of
Missouri Pres, 1996
Sullivan, George. Unsolved! II More Famous Real-Life Mysteries. New York:
Means, Gaston. The Strange Death of President Harding. New York: American Heritage
Anthony, Carl. American Heritage – The Most Scandalous President.
Groiler Online – American Presidency.