Tuesday, December 20, 2011

10 Fun Facts About Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the United States

1)  Warren G. Harding was born in rural Blooming Grove, Ohio, in 1865.   His parents had the unusual 19th century distinction of both being doctors - his mother had been granted a medical license because of her work as a midwife.  The family eventually moved to nearby Caledonia, Ohio, where they bought, and began operating, the local newspaper.  Warren was known by the nickname "Winnie."

2)  An advanced student, Harding earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1882 at the age of 17.  He was known as an accomplished cornet player while in school, and also edited the school's newspaper.

3)  After college, Harding raised money to purchase a newspaper in Marion, Ohio, which he built into a successful publication, respected state-wide.  The Marion Daily Star is still published to this day (as the Marion Star).

4)  Harding's principle opponent in the newspaper world was Amos Kling, the financier of Marion's most popular newspaper, the Marion Independent.  Competition between these two newspapers got so heated that one argument was, apparently, settled at gunpoint.  Harding, however, ultimately got the best of his rival - he married Kling's estranged daughter, a divorced woman named Flossie Kling DeWolfe.  Her father was so upset he didn't speak to either of them for eight years.  Winnie and Flossie never had children, but Flossie brough a young son to the marriage, who was raised, in part, by the Hardings.  Named Marshall DeWolfe, he eventually married and had children of his own, but died of alcholism in his early 30's, in 1915.  When Harding later came to the White House, the fact that he had a stepson who had died of alcholism was not widely known or reported by the contemporary media.

5)  A lifelong Republican, Harding entered politics around the turn of the century, and served several terms in the Ohio legislature, before serving as Ohio's lieutenant governor from 1904 to 1906.  He ran for governor in 1909, but lost.  During these years, he also continued to run his newspaper business, and eventually reconciled with his father-in-law and former nemesis.  A rising star in the Republican party, he gave the nominating speech at the Republican National Convention in 1912, and went on to chair the 1916 convention; in between, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1914.  By 1920, he won the Republican nomination for the presidency.

6)  During the 1920 campaign, Harding revolutionized political campaigning.  For the first time, newsreels and photo-ops became the norm in presidential campaigning, and campaign results were broadcast on the radio for the first time.  Harding brillaintly marketed his own quaint home in rural Ohio as his primary podium, instituting what he called a "front porch" campaign, in which he was routinely depicted in photographs on his front porch, and gave numerous speeches there to enormous audiences.  He was also widely regarded to be a handsome, and thus photogenic, man, and although there were many rumors of extra-marital affairs, Harding was popular with female voters, primarily because he had supported Women's Suffrage and not, as the legend says, because he was so good-looking.  The 1920 election, of course, was the first in which women were permitted to vote.  All the campaigning and women voters paid off; he won the largest landslide in U.S. history, taking more than 60% of the popular vote.  He defeated Ohio governor James Cox, whose running mate was a little-known Navy bureaucrat named Franklin D. Roosevelt.

7)  Rumors of African-American ancestry dogged Harding throughout his life (this was, apparently, the source of the gun-pointing episode with his future father-in-law, referred to above).  The rumors, apprently, had been around for a very long time, from even before Harding's own birth.  During the 1920 election, the rumors came to the forefront of a smear campaign, and were published, though without much widespread effect.  Historical research into Harding's family tree has never uncovered any African ancestry.

8)  As president, Harding made it his mission to reduce federal spending and cut taxes across the board.  He succeeded: by 1922, federal spending was only about half of what it had been in 1920, and taxes had been cut for every income level.  Harding was also instrumental in passing the first major budget and accounting bill in U.S. history, which helped establish the federal budget process still in place today.  Included in this bill was the establishment of the Office of Management and Budget, and the Government Accountability Office. Harding also established the Veterans Bureau - the first of its type in the U.S. - which later became the Veterans Administration.

9)  Harding's accomplishments in office were largely overshadowed by a series of scandals, many of which did not fully come to light until after his time in office.  Harding's primary involvement in most of these scandals was in his tendency to place friends and financial contributors into powerful government positions for which they were otherwise unqualified - and then turn a blind eye to how they operated.  Many of these appointees went on to take bribes, create under-the-table deals, and generally run crooked enterprises with government resources.  Several of Harding's Cabinet members eventually served prison time for various crimes, and at least one person committed suicide.  For this reason, Harding has been primarily remembered as a president who fostered a culture of corruption, and historians have generally ranked him quite low among other presidents.  During his own time in office, however, Harding enjoyed widespread popularity.

10)  As news began to leak out relating to various scandals in his Cabinet, Harding decided to take a long journey across the country to give a series of speeches, traveling as far away as Alaska.  His health noticeably declined on this trip, and on August 2, 1923, he collapsed and died while in conversation with his wife.  His sudden and untimely death left most of the questions unanswered in regards to his involvement in, and knowledge of, the scandals that rocked his Cabinet; his wife made matters worse by destroying virtually all of his private papers immediately after his death, in order to protect his legacy.  Serving a little over two years, he was the shortest-serving president of the 20th century.


Elissa Michelle said...

I thought he died of food poisoning from eating a bad tin of crab or some such thing. Where in the world did I get that one?

Scott said...

You might be thinking of Zachary Taylor, who died of food poisoning after drinking milk and eating cherries on a hot summer day in Washington.

Anonymous said...

Republicans haven't changed one iota in over 90 years. Same tired old ideas being practiced to this very minute. A morally and intellectually bankrupt philosophy that still manages to sway large numbers of people. And Coolidge and Hoover were much worse than Harding in terms of implementing/expounding that philosophy. Of course, the Great Depression was the result.

BC said...

I always thought Harding was a Democrat. Should have known better, given his legacy.

Anonymous said...

Im doing a report on Harding and this website helped alot. Very good facts.

Anonymous said...

this helped me on my report a lot now hopefully I don't fail

Anonymous said...

thanks so much i had a presidents week project and i got an A+ for it thank you =)

Scott said...

You're welcome! Glad I was able to help out.

Anonymous said...

I'm quite amused by the comments directed at each political party. Sometimes it pays to do a little research on where each party stood in regards to the "Blue Collar & White Collar" folks in the 18 & early 1900's....totally reversed of how each party is looked upon today....if you were a working stiff you were most likely a republican whereas the business owners tended to belong to the democratic party....don't talk (write) stupid, do your research.

Scott said...

Sorry to disagree with you anonymous, but "working stiffs" were traditionally Democrats, up until the Reagan revolution of the 1980's. The Republican Party, and their predecessors in the 1800's, tended to be the party of urbanism and corporate interests, while Democrats tended to appeal more to the "common man" and rural interests.

Anonymous said...

No one really knows how he died.

Scott said...

That's true. His wife refused to permit an autopsy. It was likely heart related, although a stroke is also a possibility.

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