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Warren Harding was the 29th President of the United States. He served for just over two years and was the sixth president to die in office. Though brief, the presidential career of Warren Harding was plagued with scandal, and he is often considered the worst president in American history.
Warren Harding was born near modern day Blooming Grove, Ohio on 2 November 1865, the oldest of eight children. Harding's father was a teacher and his mother was a midwife. During Harding's teenage years, the family moved to Caledonia, Ohio, where his father became the owner of a local newspaper, The Argus. Warren Harding became interested in journalism and worked on the Union Register during his years at Ohio Central College in Iberia, Ohio.
After graduation, Warren Harding moved to Marion, Ohio and went in with two friends to buy the Marion Daily Star. Under their control, the editorial section of the Daily Star supported the Republican platform. Though Harding met with opposition from those who controlled local politics in Marion, the Daily Star became one of the country's most successful newspapers under his ownership.
Warren Harding married Florence Kling, an older divorcee with a young son, in 1891. Florence's father was Harding's professional nemesis and disowned his daughter after the marriage. With Florence's help, the Daily Star became even more successful than before.
Warren Harding began his political career in the Ohio State Senate in 1899. In four years, he was elected to the post of lieutenant governor, which he held for two years before returning to private life. In 1914, Harding reentered politics when he was elected to the United States Senate. He unexpectedly became the Republican candidate in the 1920 election, in part due to his political connections. His opponent was Democratic Ohio Governor James M. Cox. Harding's platform was a "Return to Normalcy." He had the public support of celebrities from Broadway, Hollywood, and the business world.
The 1920 presidential election was the first in which women were allowed to vote. Harding, who had publicly supported women's suffrage, won in a landslide, with 60.36% of the popular vote. During his term as president, Warren Harding formally ended World War I, signing peace treaties with Germany, Austria, and Hungary, and established the Bureau of Veterans Affairs, now the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Warren Harding came under criticism for appointing his friends to high-ranking government positions. The actions of this so-called "Ohio Gang" in office were rife with corruption. Most notoriously, Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall became the first presidential Cabinet member to go to prison as a result of the Teapot Dome scandal. In exchange for leases of oil reserves, Fall had been accepting illegal no-interest personal loans and bribes. Others in Harding's cabinet were convicted of taking bribes and engaging in fraud, and two committed suicide.
In addition to political scandal, Warren Harding's career suffered from personal scandals. He had a longstanding affair with the wife of his friend, Carrie Fulton Phillips, who successfully blackmailed the Republican Party. In addition, Nan Britton claimed to have had an affair with Harding resulting in an illegitimate daughter, but her claims have never been proven.
Warren Harding died just 27 months into his term during a speaking tour of the country. He developed pneumonia in San Francisco, California and died a week later, on 2 August 1923. The cause of death was reported as apoplexy, but some suspected it was the result of a plot. Warren Harding was succeeded by his Vice President, Calvin Coolidge.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who was Warren G. Harding and what is he known for?
Warren G. Harding was the 29th President of the United States, serving from 1921 until his death in 1923. He is known for his "Return to Normalcy" campaign following World War I, which sought to bring back pre-war mentalities and practices. Harding's presidency was also marked by significant economic growth, but it was overshadowed by several scandals, including the infamous Teapot Dome scandal, which involved the illegal leasing of federal oil reserves.
What were the key policies or actions of Warren Harding's presidency?
During his presidency, Warren Harding signed the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, which established the first formal budgeting process for the federal government. He also supported the Fordney-McCumber Tariff of 1922 to protect American industry, and he advocated for disarmament, hosting the Washington Naval Conference in 1921-22. Harding's administration also saw the establishment of the Bureau of the Budget and the General Accounting Office.
How did Warren Harding's presidency end?
Warren Harding's presidency ended with his sudden death from a heart attack on August 2, 1923, while he was in San Francisco during a cross-country tour of the United States. His death led to Vice President Calvin Coolidge being sworn in as the 30th President. Harding's passing was unexpected and led to a period of national mourning.
What was the Teapot Dome scandal, and how did it affect Harding's legacy?
The Teapot Dome scandal was a bribery incident that took place during Harding's presidency. It involved the secret leasing of federal oil reserves at Teapot Dome, Wyoming, and two other locations, to private oil companies at low rates without competitive bidding. Although Harding was not directly implicated, the scandal damaged his reputation and is often cited as a symbol of government corruption. It remains one of the most notorious scandals in U.S. political history.
How do historians and scholars generally assess Warren Harding's presidency?
Historians and scholars have traditionally ranked Warren Harding's presidency as one of the least effective due to the administration's scandals and his perceived lack of leadership. However, some recent scholarship has re-evaluated his presidency, acknowledging his efforts to stabilize the post-World War I economy and his success in reducing government debt. Despite this, his administration's scandals continue to overshadow his accomplishments in many historical assessments.