Warren G. Harding, Republican, (born November 2, 1865, died August 2, 1923) served as the 29th President of the United States of America during 1921-1923. He was conservative in his political beliefs and was a compromise candidate at the 1920 Republican National Convention. He defeated Democratic candidate James M. Cox by a huge margin on the promise of a better future and a return to normalcy after World War 1. He appointed a strong cabinet that included Charles Evans Hughes, Andrew Mellon and Herbert Hoover. He was known as an honest man but history classifies his Presidency among the least successful and most corrupt administrations. Is it justified. Let’s find out.
Plus Points : He was widely respected and greatly loved by all. He oversaw America’s rehabilitation after World War 1 and to enable people to rebuild their lives cut taxes. He created government agencies like ‘Veterans Affairs’ and ‘Bureau of the Budget’ which are in operation even today. This is ample proof of his foresightedness. He spoke out strongly against racism and the plight of blacks when it was highly unpopular to do so. He chose brilliant people like Charles Hughes (Secretary of State), Andrew Mellon (Secretary of Treasury) Herbert Hoover (for Secretary of State) to be part of his cabinet. In matters relating to foreign affairs, he signed peace treaties that followed as a result of the ‘Treaty of Versailes’. He played a key role in paving the way for ‘world naval disarmament at the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-22. In addition, he ratified a treaty to indemnify Columbia for its loss of Panama and created the Naval Petroleum Reserve 4 ( presently known as National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska).
Minus Points : Unfortunately, he erred in the selection of some cabinet members. His Secretary of Interior, Albert B. Hall proved to be corrupt leading to the “Teapot Dome Scandal” and became “the first member of a Presidential Cabinet” to be sent to Prison. Others like Thomas W Miller, head of the “Office of Alien Property’; Jess Smith, personal aide to the Attorney General; and Charles Forbes, Director of “Veterans Bureau” were accused of accepting bribes and earning kickbacks.
Till date, no evidence has emerged to suggest that Harding personally profited from these scandals, but his major crime was believing in the wrong people and his inability to stop them. To quote Harding “I have no trouble with my enemies, but my damn friends, they’re the ones that keep me walking the floor nights!”
He died at the age of 57 due to a massive heart attack in 1923 when he was staying at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, California. He was on a cross-country ‘Voyage of Understanding’ planning to meet ordinary people and explain his policies. His own self assessment was “I am not fit for this office and never should have been here”.
All these scandals emerged after his death which meant he had no opportunity to explain his side of the story. His administrative and leadership skills should be applauded. He is a great President in my book regardless of what the academic historians say. What about you?