Chamblee54

Was Warren Harding A Bad President?

Posted in History, Library of Congress, Politics by chamblee54 on January 30, 2019







It is a cliche of history classes that Warren Harding was one of the worst men to occupy the oval office. (Richard Nixon was the POTUS the last time PG studied history. This cliche does not consider the last forty years.) PG is a fair minded person, who is always looking for something to write about. The question for Mr. Google was “was warren harding a terrible president?”. Answers dot com has a generous helping of biographical sketches. Some of the links used in this article no longer work.

Warren Gamaliel Harding was born Nov. 2, 1865, Caledonia OH, and died Aug. 2, 1923, San Francisco CA. (His birthplace is also cited as Blooming Grove OH, and Corsica OH.) He published a newspaper, got into politics, and was elected to the US Senate. In 1920, he was a compromise candidate, on the tenth ballot of the Republican convention. He clobbered James Cox, (His family firm, Cox Enterprises, owns Channel 2 and the fishwrapper.) and became President March 4, 1921.

The United States was in an economic downturn in 1921. The War in Europe ended in 1918, and a postwar depression was on. The last two years of the Wilson administration had been chaotic, with the President suffering a debilitating stroke. In a few years, the roaring twenties were on, and America was prosperous for a few years.

Mr. Harding was reputed to be a womanizer, gambler, and heavy drinker. He was not an activist President, but allowed his cronies to do what they wanted to do. This proved to be his downfall.
“I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies all right. But my damn friends. They’re the ones that keep me walking the floor nights!”
There was a major scandal involving oil reserves. It centered around a place in Wyoming called Teapot Dome. The details of this affair mostly came to light after the death of President Harding. Albert B. Fall, the secretary of the interior, was convicted of a felony for his role in the affair… the first cabinet officer to become a felon while in office.

Mr. Harding went on a trip to the west, to make speeches and deals. He was the first President to go to Alaska. While in Alaska, he read some documents about the crooked dealings of his friends. In a few days, he was in San Francisco. He had been in ill health during the trip.

“On Thursday, the President’s health appeared to be improving, so his doctors went to dinner. Harding’s pulse was normal and his lung infection had subsided. Unexpectedly, during the evening, Harding shuddered and died suddenly in the middle of conversation with his wife in the hotel’s presidential suite, at 7:35 pm on August 2, 1923. Dr. Sawyer (a homeopath, and friend of the Harding family), opined that Harding had succumbed to a stroke, but doctors there disagreed. … After some discussion, the doctors issued a release indicating the cause of death to be “some brain evolvement, probably an apoplexy”. Mrs. Harding refused to allow an autopsy. In retrospect, scholars speculate that Harding had shown physical signs of cardiac insufficiency with congestive heart failure in the preceding weeks. Naval medical consultants who examined the president in San Francisco concluded he had suffered a heart attack. “

The sudden and mysterious death of a President, with reports of a scandal surfacing, is fertile ground for conspiracy theorists. Mr. Harding did appear to be in poor health, so this may have been a natural occurrence. The truth will never be completely known.

One aspect of the Harding administration that is not well known is his attitude about race. In the years after World War I, America was engulfed in race hatred. The Ku Klux Klan had a revival.
“In a speech on October 26, 1921, given in segregated Birmingham, Alabama Harding advocated civil rights for African Americans; the first President to openly advocate black political, educational, and economic equality during the 20th century.” Mr. Harding supported an anti lynching bill, which a Democratic filibuster kept from passing.
Jimmysnax brings the Internet tradition of snarky commentary to the legacy of Warren Harding. Apparently, former newspaperman Harding could not write his way out of a paper bag. (In 1923, radio was a novelty. The printed word was the primary means of communication.)

Run your eyes over one of the best known examples of his waterboarding of the English tongue: “I would like the government to do all it can to mitigate, then, in understanding, in mutuality of interest, in concern for the common good, our tasks will be solved.”

Here’s what H. L. Mencken said about Harding’s speech writing and speech making: “He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.” The 20’s were a wonderful time for language!

Or as E.E. Cummings put it, announcing Harding’s death: “The only man, woman or child who wrote a simple declarative sentence with seven grammatical errors is dead.”

Pictures are from The Library of Congress. This repost is written like Kurt Vonnegut.





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