29. WARREN G. HARDING
Before his nomination, Warren G. Harding declared,
"America's present need is not heroics, but healing; not
nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not
agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the
dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise;
not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in
A Democratic leader, William Gibbs McAdoo, called Harding's
speeches "an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape
in search of an idea." Their very murkiness was effective, since
Harding's pronouncements remained unclear on the League of
Nations, in contrast to the impassioned crusade of the
Democratic candidates, Governor James M. Cox of Ohio and
Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Thirty-one distinguished Republicans had signed a manifesto
assuring voters that a vote for Harding was a vote for the
League. But Harding interpreted his election as a mandate to
stay out of the League of Nations.
Harding, born near Marion, Ohio, in 1865, became the
publisher of a newspaper. He married a divorcee, Mrs. Florence
Kling De Wolfe. He was a trustee of the Trinity Baptist Church,
a director of almost every important business, and a leader in
fraternal organizations and charitable enterprises.
He organized the Citizen's Cornet Band, available for both
Republican and Democratic rallies; "I played every instrument
but the slide trombone and the E-flat cornet," he once remarked.
Harding's undeviating Republicanism and vibrant speaking
voice, plus his willingness to let the machine bosses set
policies, led him far in Ohio politics. He served in the state
Senate and as Lieutenant Governor, and unsuccessfully ran for
Governor. He delivered the nominating address for President Taft
at the 1912 Republican Convention. In 1914 he was elected to the
Senate, which he found "a very pleasant place."
An Ohio admirer, Harry Daugherty, began to promote Harding
for the 1920 Republican nomination because, he later explained,
"He looked like a President."
Thus a group of Senators, taking control of the 1920
Republican Convention when the principal candidates deadlocked,
turned to Harding. He won the Presidential election by an
unprecedented landslide of 60 percent of the popular vote.
Republicans in Congress easily got the President's signature
on their bills. They eliminated wartime controls and slashed
taxes, established a Federal budget system, restored the high
protective tariff, and imposed tight limitations upon
By 1923 the postwar depression seemed to be giving way to a
new surge of prosperity, and newspapers hailed Harding as a wise
statesman carrying out his campaign promise--"Less government in
business and more business in government."
Behind the facade, not all of Harding's Administration was so
impressive. Word began to reach the President that some of his
friends were using their official positions for their own
enrichment. Alarmed, he complained, "My...friends...they're the
ones that keep me walking the floors nights!"
Looking wan and depressed, Harding journeyed westward in the
summer of 1923, taking with him his upright Secretary of
Commerce, Herbert Hoover. "If you knew of a great scandal in our
administration," he asked Hoover, "would you for the good of the
country and the party expose it publicly or would you bury it?"
Hoover urged publishing it, but Harding feared the political
He did not live to find out how the public would react to the
scandals of his administration. In August of 1923, he died in
San Francisco of a heart attack.