Warren Gamaliel Harding The Man Years 1865 – 1923 Presidential Term 1921 – 1923

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Warren Gamaliel Harding - The Man

Years - 1865 – 1923

Presidential Term - 1921 – 1923
Material taken partly from Pictorial History of American Presidents by John and Alice Durant @ 1955

The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents by William A. DeGregorio @ 1984

Presidential Anecdotes by Paul F. Boller, Jr. @ 1981

The Presidents Tidbits and Trivia by Sid Frank & Arden Davis Melick @ 1984
Harding was of English, Scotch, Irish, and Dutch heritage that had come to his country before the Revolutionary War. “The Hardings moved to Ohio in 1818. Soon thereafter there arose gossip so widespread, so persistently whispered from one generation to the next, that it haunted Harding all the way to the White House—the rumor that the Hardings were of Negro blood. At school Warren and other Harding children were taunted as “niggers.” Whenever he ran for office, the issue cropped up. During the 1920 presidential race, the black question exploded in racist literature written by William E Chancellor, a self-avowed white supremacist and professor at Ohio College. The circulars charged that Harding’s great-great-grandfather Amos Harding was a West Indian black and that other blacks lurked in his family tree… As to how such a rumor could have begun at all, the official Harding family explanation is this: Shortly after settling in Ohio, Amos Harding caught a neighbor red-handed stealing his corn. In revenge, the neighbor spread the lie that the Hardings were black.” (DeGregorio p. 432)

Warren was born on November 2, 1865 in Corsica, Ohio and weighed 10 pounds at birth. His father and mother were both doctors. At 15 he entered Ohio Central College, 1880-1882 at Iberia, Ohio. He graduated with a B.S. degree in 1882 and delivered the commencement address.

He stood 6’ tall, large-boned, and full-chested, he was darkly handsome with a thick head of gleaming white hair, bushy black eyebrows above soft, gray eyes, a classic Roman nose, and a rich, pleasant voice. He dressed impeccably. At 24 he suffered a nervous breakdown and spent several weeks in a sanitarium. He returned sporadically thereafter for rest. After graduating from College he taught one term of school for $30 a month – and later confessed that it was the hardest job he ever had. At his father’s insistence, he studied law briefly but quit to become an insurance salesman. In 1884 he along with two other partners, purchased the defunct Marion Star newspaper. Here in Marion, Ohio he became a successful small-town businessman. He was also the director of a bank, a lumber company and the telephone exchange. He wanted more than anything else to be liked by his fellow man. He was extremely kind and sympathetic. In 36 years as publisher of the Marion Star he never dismissed a single employee. He was softhearted to a fault and could not believe that there was evil in any man. He never learned to say no. “It is a good thing I am not a woman. I would always be pregnant. I cannot say no.” he once told some Press Club friends.

At age 25 Harding married Florence who was 30, a divorcee with one son. “Flossie” was a headstrong woman, somewhat masculine in manner, with a piercing voice and cold blue eyes. From the moment she met “Wurr’n,” as she called him, she chased after him. Harding ducked her advances at first, but found himself engaged to be married. Her father, Mr. Kling warned her not to marry Warren. He even accosted his future son-in-law on the street, calling him a “nigger” and threatening his life if he did not leave his daughter alone. Theirs was an unhappy marriage. Harding neglected her and sought refuge from her shrill demands in the camaraderie of his poker pals and in the arms of other women. Still, her managerial skills helped him build his newspaper into a financial success. (DeGgregorio p. 434) She was the pusher in the family and was always ambitious for her husband’s success. Harding called her “the Duchess”. They had no children, but Harding had one illegitimate child born to Nan Britton.

Harding would go on to be Ohio State Senator in 1899-1903, Lieutenant Governor of Ohio in 1903–1905, and U.S. Senator in 1915-1921. Hardings Senate career was undistinguished. Present for less than a third of the roll-call votes, he had one of the poorest attendance records in the upper chamber.

“Harding had the ability to bloviate whenever he wanted to. He was a master at bloviating. He should have been, for he’d created the term himself. Bloviating is the art of speaking, for as long as the occasion warrants, and saying nothing…praising all the good things, damning all the bad things, and revealing one’s own position on not a single one.” (Sid Frank & Arden Melick p. 102)

In 1921 Harding became President of the United States for the Republican Party. In campaigning he always took the high road, pointing out the positive aspects of his candidacy rather than resorting to personal attacks on his opponent. He was the first President to ride to his inauguration in an automobile. As president, his small town habits did not change much. Twice a week he played golf, at least twice a week he played poker. He attended baseball games regularly, followed boxing, and occasionally sneaked off to a burlesque house in Washington. In the White House, Harding played cards with what he called his “poker Cabinet.” Once he gambled away in a single hand of poker an entire set of White House china dating back to the administration of Benjamin Harrison. Although as senator he had voted, albeit reluctantly, for Prohibition, Harding kept the White House well stocked with bootleg liquor. (DeGregorio p. 433-4) He loved to shake hands, loved people, but was a mental lightweight.

In Washington, Mrs. Harding became deeply interested in astrology. Early in 1920, when Harding was the Republican presidential nominee, she visited Madame Marcia, a noted clairvoyant in the capital, who predicted that her husband was a shoo-in, but added that he would die suddenly in office.

“Vice President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, mindful of their modest means, had a small suite at Willard’s Hotel in Washington while they served under President Harding. Then Congress finally decided to appropriate money for an official vice presidential residence, but Mrs. Harding, who disliked “those Coolidges,” and didn’t want them to have so fine a house, used her considerable influence to kill the bill. Ironically, “those Coolidges” moved into the White House itself, and Florence had to move out, when Warren Harding died before the end of his term.” (Sid Frank & Arden Melick p. 125)

“Warren Harding was a man who trusted the friends he’d appointed to key positions in his administration. He shouldn’t have, and he knew it, but only after the lid was off their Teapot Dome scandal and the corruption had boiled over. “In this job I’m not worried about my enemies,” said the disillusioned Harding. “It’s my friends, my Goddamn friends, who are keeping me awake nights.”” (Sid Frank & Arden Melick p. 84)

Harding had several long-term affairs during his marriage and Florence was aware of some of them. One 15-year intermittent affair was with Carrie Phillips, wife of his longtime friend James Phillips. The couples spent years socializing and took overseas trips together. The Secret Service finally offered her husband and her a trip to Japan and $20,000, plus a guarantee of more modest monthly payments in exchange for their cooperation and silence in the 1921 presidential race. The monthly payoffs continued until Harding’s death. (DeGregorio p. 434-5)

Even while seeing Carrie Phillips, Harding also was registering into hotels with his “niece” Nan Britton. She was 30 years younger and to them was born a daughter. Harding apparently saw his daughter only in photographs but paid Nan generous child support, hand delivered by trustworthy Secret Service agents. The couple continued their intimacy while Harding was president, at times making love in a small closet near the president’s office in the White House. (DeGregorio p. 435)

“Harding was the first president since the Civil War to speak out on southern soil for the rights of blacks. On October 26, 1921, in Birmingham, Alabama…he said, “I want to see the time come, when black men will regard themselves as full participants in the benefits and duties of American citizenship…We cannot go on, as we have gone on for more than half a century, with one great section of our population, numbering as many people as the entire population of some significant countries of Europe, set off from real contribution to solving national issues, because of a division on race lines.” (DeGregorio p. 441)

On June 20, 1923, Harding set out on a cross-country Voyage of Understanding, to meet ordinary folks and explain his administration’s policies. This he felt necessary as so many scandals in his administration had come to light. He suffered from high blood pressure and an enlarged heart. The dozens of public appearances exhausted him. He went even to Alaska – the first President to visit here. On the evening of July 27, he went to bed with severe cramps and indigestion. It was dismissed as food poisoning. In San Francisco on July 29th he developed pneumonia. On the evening of August 1st he died. Doctors concluded that he had suffered a stroke. He was buried at Marion, Ohio. In his last will and testament, Harding left the income from the bulk of his estate, valued at $850,000 to his wife. (DeGregorio p. 442-3)

Following the president’s sudden death, Mrs. Harding, herself weakened by kidney disease, returned to Marion, where she died less than 16 months later, on November 21, 1924. She was buried next to the president.

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